Howard Gayton is a dramatist, writer, and musician currently based in Devon, England. He has worked for over twenty-five years as a theatre director, performer, playright, and teacher specializing in Commedia dell'Arte, as well as other forms of mask theatre, physical theatre, puppet theatre, and theatrical clowning. He is interested in all manner of tricksters, zanni figures, fools, and sacred clowns, as well as in the use of masks in drama, myth, magic, and religious rituals around the world.
In 1991, Howard and Geoff Beale co-founded Ophaboom, a London-based touring company dedicated to contemporary Commedia dell'Arte.
In its earliest form (in 16th century Italy), Commedia dell'Arte married the rough entertainments of traveling street peddlers with the classicism of Greco-Roman drama and the masks of Venetian Carnival -- using stock characters to create a vibrant, slap-stick, highly physical (and often subversively political) form of comedy theatre. Performed outdoors on high trestle stages in busy piazzas and market squares, Commedia was beloved by audiences all across medieval and Renaissance Europe. Its themes can be found time and time again in the works of Shakespeare, Moliere and other great European dramatists.
Drawing on medieval theatre, trickster tales, and Commedia's origins, Ophaboom set out to create a contemporary style of Commedia dell'Arte that would resonate with modern audiences of all ages. Working in four languages (sometimes all in the same show!), the company has performed extensively throughout the British Isles and all across Europe, as well as traveling as far afield as North America and Southeast Asia. Ophaboom has been written about in books and journals, studied at drama schools, and is widely regarded as the leading Commedia troupe in England today.
Other Theatre Work:
In addition to his work as a director and performer with Ophaboom, Howard also directs shows for other physical theatre companies in England and abroad, and does consulting work as a director/ script-doctor for productions in need of special assistance.
He also teaches Commedia, mask work, physical theatre, puppet theatre, and movement at drama schools including East 15 and The Curious School of Puppetry in London, Hope Street in Liverpool, and ESMAE, The School of Music and Dramatic Arts in Porto, Portugal.
He has written, directed, and performed in puppet shows for The Little Angel Theatre in London and Norwich Puppet Theatre in Norfolk; and creates works with the DreamGrubber puppet collective in Devon. Among his current projects are connected:disconnected, a Live Art collaboration with Marcus Violette; a "theatrical red-nose clown" show under development with support from The Bikeshed Theatre, Exeter; and a collaboration with puppeteer William Todd-Jones to bring the art of Brian Froud to the stage.
Pictured above with Rima Staines, Dreamgrubber, 2013; and with Marcus Violette, 2015.
Howard plays guitar, mandolin, accordion, and percussion, and is currently a member of Nosey Crows, a Dartmoor-based alt-folk band consisting of Jenny Dooley (vocals), Stephen Dooley (percussion), David Wyatt (lead guitar and bouzouki), and Howard (vocals and rhythm guitar). The band plays a mix of original songs, traditional songs, and classic tunes covered in their own unique style, drawing upon a number of different musical styles.
Howard has created play scripts for Commedia dell'Arte and puppet theatre, radio plays with Owen Powell, and a graphic novel, John Barleycorn Must Die, with artist Rex Van Ryn. During the period of time when the comic was created, Howard and Rex published a weekly blog exploring the creative process behind their collaboration, and interviewing other artists, writers, filmmakers, etc., about their working methods in the "Around the table with. . ." series.
Howard's articles on mask theatre and Commedia have appeared in books and drama journals, and in the online Journal of Mythic Arts. He has also published a chap book of poetry, To the Desert, with art by the Arizona photographer Stu Jenks.
Raised in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, Howard attended Exeter University in Devon, and was then based in London for many years while he toured around the world with Ophaboom. He returned to Devon in 2004, where he now lives in a small village at the edge of Dartmoor with his wife, writer/artist Terri Windling, and a dog named Tilly. Their daughter, Victoria Windling-Gayton, is an award-winning pastry chef in London.
In addition to receiving a BA in Drama and English from Exeter University, Howard studied Physical Theatre at the Desmond Jones School in London, and The History of Western Esotericism as a graduate student at Exeter University. He has also researched the use of masks in Native American and Mexican-American communities in Arizona with the aid of an Arts Council England grant.
His other interests include travel, dog training, sleight-of-hand magic, learning new instruments and new languages, reading history, and training in Bagua Zhang at the Dragon Temple School of Internal Martial Arts.
Ophaboom "Casanova" rehearsal sketch by Stephen Dooley, 2005
Ophaboom, St. Marks Square, Venice Carnival, Italy, 1996
"Cindermouse," Little Angel Puppet Theatre, London, '90s
Ophaboom, National Theatre, London, 2002
Unicorn, Devon, 2005
The Daughters of Elvin: Medieval Music & Mask Troupe
Fool, Northern Ireland, 2006
The Daughters of Elvin: Medieval Music & Mask Troupe
DreamGrubber Theatre, Devon, 2013
Nosey Crows performance, Devon, 2014
"connected:disconnected," Devon 2015
Participants in the Red-Nose Clown Workshop,
Bikeshed Theater, Devon, 2015