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Charlie Chaplin interactive
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(c) 1997-2007
Snake Oil Productions, professional variety entertainment and other modern conveniences.

Lauren Muney, proprietress, designer, performer, producer, makeup artist, stitcher, props-fabricator, illustrator

Updated 12/23/2007

Charlie Chaplin Interactive Performances

"Chaplin Returns to Shanghai" improvisational video project

and the real story behind Chaplin's Return...

Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp is a much beloved character who has been portrayed throughout Chaplin's movies and copied by performers for decades. The reason is simple: this endearing personality shows the curiosity, care, hopes, and frustrations of the modern man (or woman). He demonstrates the joy of triumph, the distaste of ruthless authority, and the warmth of love. 

The Tramp in Women's Underwear

To investigate the power of Chaplin's global influence, Lauren Muney and collaborator Michael Menes, an internationally-renown performance artist, artistic juggler and new-media enthusiast, followed "Chaplin" with a videocamera through the streets and public transportation of Shanghai, China, in October 2007.

Three versions of the film:
[Quicktime video: get your free Quicktime player here]

--Left: quick preview:
1min 30 sec

--Excellent 6 minute extended version:
click here

--Full-Movie version

Lauren Muney has some interesting large shoes to fill - as an interactive-performer, she chose an appropriate character with which to enliven and entertain the audience. She began performing Chaplin (or rather, the Tramp character which Charlie Chaplin created) when a producer asked her to perform at the United States Presidential Inaugural Ball 1997. In her initial mimicry of the character, Lauren simply focused on the most simple aspects - the clothing, the telltale walk - and most clients and guests were pleased.

However, as her experience grew, Lauren discovered the genius behind the Tramp's character development. After research into Charlie Chaplin's views on the human condition, social interaction, comedy, tragedy, poignancy and compassion, she understood more about Chaplins ideas.

Yet, after logging almost 100 hours as the Tramp character just in one 4-week booking at an international clown festival, Lauren felt as though the costume elements were only a small piece of the Tramp himself - the part of the character came from Chaplin's own views and reflections, and the final detail was cemented with her interactive audiences themselves: the more Lauren's Tramp acted like a real person responding to the situations around him, the more they were delighted. Proof was apparent: the Tramp is a real person, and they respond to him the best as a real (albeit familiar) person.

Even more interesting, an interactive entertainer bases his/her audience interactions almost solely on improvisation - with no planned 'act', 'bits', or 'gags', Lauren must know the character, movements, likes, dislikes, and values from deep inside. Each response this Tramp has to the world around him is authentic, playful, curious, loving, helpful, engaging, experimental - and of course, relational. This Tramp knows that, at all times, he is in relationship with the guests around him as well as his environment. He is, in a word, holistic - part of the whole.

Professor Guodong Zhang, Executive Committee director of the Shanghai (China) Clown Festival, said of Lauren's work, "While you were performing, I felt as though I was watching Chaplin himself."

Available for interactive events around the world, Lauren Muney's Tramp character uses no words and needs none. The character is instantly recognizable, playful, hospitable, and perfect where interactivity is paramount, improvisation is required, and the audience wants to feel comfortable with a clown but not necessarily delve into a circus.

A deeper aspect to this special Tramp is the knowledge that the Tramp wears women's underwear; underneath the improvisation, the flirting, and the laughter - is actually a woman, one who finds it brave even to herself that she puts her own identity aside completely to accept a new role. It's an interesting psychological experiment: the audience fooled into seeing a man who is really a woman trying to create a 'whole person' who actually does exist - but who takes off the mustache before bedtime.

Extended version of the video "Chapin Returns to Shanghai" :
6 minutes 35 seconds
Click picture below, from the film
[Quicktime video: get your free Quicktime player here]

Full Version of the video (20 minutes)
Includes the beginning segments not seen in the above versions:
Click picture below, stills from the video
[Currently presenting Version 2 - highly compressed]

[Quicktime video: get your free Quicktime player here]

This links to the website of collaborator, videographer, editor,
and international performance artist
Michael Menes -

Photo shown here: Lauren Muney in a freeze-frame of the video "Chaplin Returns to Shanghai"

The Real Story behind Chaplin's Return...

The real goal of the Chaplin journey was to visit a statue of Charlie Chaplin in a far district of Shanghai - in the 1930's, Charles Spencer Chaplin toured through Asia, and it was rumored that he married and/or honeymooned in Shanghai, and visited there with the literary and artistic glitterati. The area in Shanghai, once a Jewish ghetto for refugees of Hitler's regime, is now celebrated as homage to the 'free thinkers' which influenced China, both Eastern and Western; the statue stands to glow of Chaplin's contribution to the new spirit reborn in China in the early 20th century.

Since every man, woman, and child in China seemed to know of Chaplin's legacy -- the Chinese pronounce his name "Chop-o-lin"   - Lauren wanted to see why there was a statue commemorating him in Shanghai, China. Michael Menes offered to videotape the girl-to-statue meeting, and Lauren raised the ante by suggesting that "Chaplin himself" journey to see 'his' own statue. They had only small bits of information to make the journey - all by public transportation, in costume, in a foreign city.

More interestingly, Lauren --who figured out the subway system and spoke a few words of Chinese-- would not speak to Michael during the filming, as not to give away the timbre of "Chaplin's" voice [to be female]. Michael could only follow the action unfolding: no script, no prearrangements, no coordination.

The journey through the public byways seemed to be quite an adventure. An improvisational adventure: for neither the performer nor the videographer knew what would come next. The only plan was to meet the statue, and to meet Shanghai at its own level. Working almost separately, performer and videographer simply responded to the situations in front of them: "Chaplin" with playfulness, and videographer Michael used his artistic eye to seek interesting yet 'invisible' angles from which to film. Image shown here: still frame from the video, showing the numerous "silent-film" placards throughout the 20-min full version of the movie - in both English and Chinese.

Photo shown here: Lauren with the Charlie Chaplin statue in front of the "Old Film Cafe", Duolan Road, Hongkou District, Shanghai, China - minutes after 'changing back into a girl'. This was the original destination for the Chaplin journey, caught on video.

What the film cannot accurately portray is the sense of wonder and excitement Lauren (and perhaps Michael...) felt when entering the gate of Duolan Road - the sense of entering a different world, one of old Shanghai, the ancient Chinese ways plus the burgeoning western culture - with a decidedly 1920's flavor. The cobblestone streets, the authentic storefronts, the distinct lack of neon and commercialsim... the aesthetics were heady, ancient, and palpable.

Both "old" and "new" Shanghai are shown through this film: the sleek modern city and its old roots of Chinese culture and 1920's western-influence decadence.

When Lauren and Michael viewed the incredible footage with the people, they realized they had the raw material to make a film project - simply to trim the movie for time and add music. One of the most amazing aspects of the film is the quality of camera work and point-of-view that Michael was able to achieve on his camera - a small consumer 1-chip DV videocamera - a piece of equipment which seemed glued to his hand for the entirety of the clown festival in Shanghai - and most of his international trips. Even more interesting than his ability to film well, was how this 6'1" athletic blonde man was able to blend in with the short, dark population in China -- to invisibly document the improvisational adventure. It is said that all great filmmakers are able to create a type of 'cloak of invisibility' - to film as if they weren't ever [seen] there.

Photo shown here: Michael Menes is caught by camera filming a scene of the Chaplin movie.

The story, simple as it was, would tell its own tale. As Michael and Lauren edited the video, many scenes lent themselves to certain methods: for example, to enter into the surreally anachronistic Duolan Road area, the movie changes the music and fades to black and white, thus even slightly giving the impressions that they encountered in person.

To further cement the video with China, as Michael worked with editing and music, Lauren coordinated with Xie Qin Lan, an enthusiastic university student and translator in Shanghai, to create Chinese subtitles for the silent-movie placards for the long version of the movie. (The short versions current do not have the placards).

Lastly, the actual journey does not even hint of the person under the Chaplin costume. The surprise only comes in the end "Makeup" segments, where "Chaplin" is shown removing the makeup and revealing the person underneath - the 'tramp in women's underwear'.

The project continues, as of this writing (Dec 2007). Michael Menes and Lauren discuss project revisions and upgrades via email and instant-messaging across countries and continents, and Lauren works with translator Qin Lan (English name: Sure) via email in China. This is certainly an international collaboration.

Link to video partner: Michael Menes:
~e~ productions

international performing artist and new-media experimenteur

The Shanghai Daily News wrote stories on "Chaplin Returns to Shanghai" and on Chaplin. The article includes stories of how the film came to fruition as well as a sidebar on Chaplin in China.

The articles are found here: