Monthly Archives: October 2011

The clown who was not dead (or beginning adventures with my nose)

Ever since I started clowning I have been itching to take it outside the playspace. Just to see what happens. Quite sensibly our teacher hasn’t really discussed us taking our clowns outside  but today’s Zombie march seemed to good an opportunity to miss. So I went a bit feral and decided to take my clown to the streets of Bristol to see what if any reaction I would get and to practice my performance skills. I hadn’t done anything like this before, bar a stint in show promotions when I was younger which involved performing in costume and singing songs from our musical up and down Chatham high street whilst teenagers threw chips at us.

I decided to use the zombie march as it was a reasonably safe space to do something a bit out of the ordinary and to test reactions and audience interactions. The costume I put together was really a bit cobbled and could have been better – I wasn’t really sure what I was going for as long as it looked colourful and out of context against all the other zombies. All clown rules applied which was a bit confusing for others as I was only communicating using gesture, sound and eye contact.

Comments received from both zombies and zombie spectators:

  •  ‘Yeah thanks very fucking much for that’
  • ‘Whats that about?
  • Er?
  • ‘We really are dead, we are really really dead’
  • ‘Clearly you are not dead, are you’
  • ‘That’s awesome’
  • ‘Your sense of humour appears to be’
  • ‘What does it mean?
  • Is it about life?
  • Is it about how we should celebrate life?
  • An optimistic zombie!
  • Can I take your photo?

I think I probably learnt more walking on the way to the march than throughout it as I got more of an impression how people react to a clown in public. When set against the context of the zombie march it was easy to disappear amongst all the frenzied zombie activity, so at these times it seemed more sensible to be still and frozen in a high place or just to walk in a really calm manner so as to juxtapose the two types of activity. Normal clown behaviour (mimicry and play) was also often difficult as people were trying to act in the same way I struggled with coming up with anything that was more exaggerated than the existing performance.  I did manage to get a few laughs – specifically with some zombie morris dancers (my clown was a bit sulky in the morning as she felt her legs were not musical enough) so it was a lot of fun to find a group of jingly zombies and enthusiastically copy their dancing which they seemed to find hilarious – also I made friends with zombie clowns and also had a habit of following anyone carrying a similar umbrella to my own, much to the amusement of onlookers.  I made friends with a couple sitting in a street cafe and a number of children seemed to find my pranks quite funny.

The march provided a halfway house to test out my performance ideas – the only downside was interacting with people that were out in our group or that I saw and knew – I couldn’t drop out of character until I took my nose off, but after a while they worked out what I was doing, and I stayed in clown for around 2.5 hours.

The event seemed to pass peacefully  – it ended in Castle Park and it was a shame there was no music or dancing after. Whilst I am conscious I have been neglecting my photography lately the chance to take my clown out was too much to pass up. That being said I did miss my little clown troupe. The reactions were interesting and certainly made me aware of how the same thing can be interpreted differently by people and that performing/art is going to attract an array of feedback, but as long as people have something to say or at least think about it then I am happy.

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Clown is… (a reflection)

I’d already decided I was going to write up my thoughts on clowning so far, (based at the Folk House, Bristol and run by http://hollystoppit.com/) but the group exercise we did at the end of class prior to half term ended up as a great poem which pretty much sums up the views of all of us. So I am trying to think if there is anything else I could say.. ….So then I wondered which words would be the most effective at describing A) some of the things we get up to in clown class and B) my feelings about it, but I am learning that a lot of the times, words are not actually necessary.

Truth

I’d always heard lots about ‘truthful acting’, and I was trying to get my head around how this would be achieved given (I’d imagined) how exaggerated and slapstick clowning could be. Its true that action and reaction can often be bigger and played directly to the audience but I’m learning that authenticity is at the heart of the clown. For me, it is quite a profound thing to get in touch with your inner child, but I was surprised how strong and evident our individual personalities are underneath as we learned to (re) engage with our primary selves and each other.

Trust

This is something I have struggled with in other classes – the idea of benevolence is often encouraged but this is the first class where I have felt truly comfortable to explore every idea without being reprimanded or criticised. Often in a more traditional classroom or teaching environment I have often been self-conscious of exploring my ideas or too keen to please – both of these instincts have blocked both my creativity and my authenticity. Being in an environment where there is no pressure to produce but just explore, play and create actually means I am far more effective in what I/we create and in touch with myself than in a traditional environment. The role of the ensemble is central to the idea of clown and working together with other people in such a trusting equitable environment makes creating so much easier.

Trial without error

Experimentation without consequences has led to greater performance possibilities. Coming from a mostly traditional theatre background expression is something which can feel tightly confined within defined roles, structure and action. To take this framework away and combine approaches has opened up a world of both personal and performance opportunities – both physical and temporal. Exploring bodies, sounds, movements, emotion, space, colours, rhythm. I even became a chocolate eclair in one lesson! Making new stories from old stories and building stories together – exploring what works and what doesn’t work…..S-T-R-E-T-C-H.

Presence

Presence is something that is also central in clown class. The idea of being present in the moment is something I find hard to do – I’m always busy or worrying about the day job, things I need to do. I’ve always found meditation, relaxation or maintaining my focus or attention on things difficult but in clown class its a lot easier. Additionally from a concentration perspective it encourages us to be present at regular intervals as well as at the beginning and end of a session which I found really helpful.

Humanistic

My favourite thing about clowning is that it is transferable. Skills learnt in clowning can bleed into ‘everyday’ life..but more than that the clown transcends normal barriers, language, class, race, as the simple common stories are played  out. No sets, no scripts. You could go anywhere in the world, spread happiness to people who need it and make people laugh. A universal language. No words necessary.

So. After six weeks of our course, the story so far is that clowning is….

well.. that’s the whole point really…

It just is.

(and life is better for it)

Get it?

IHAVENOIDEAWHATYOUARETALKINGABOUT  

www.sociologicalimagination.org

Clown is… (a poem)

More thoughts to come from me shortly on clown class, but I just got this through and had to share it. Our lovely teacher Holly Stoppit http://hollystoppit.com/  put together a poem from our thoughts and feedback on the first six weeks. It’s half term this week. No class!! What will we do??!! *gasp*

Clown is…

Clown is much better than real life.

Clown is simple, honest chaos.

Clown is creative, positive focus.

Clown is uncensored, flexible silliness.

Clown is a philosophy.

Clown is a lifestyle.

Clown is a social moooovement.

We move, we jump, we leap, slide and roll,

Dancing and singing our way to presence.

Being present.

We clown from da gut,

From our Instinct

and intuition.

There we find truthful stillness

And spontaneous release

We are the Jackass Monkey

Bending the rules

And our legs

We are the Fruity Lizard,

Not trying,

Just relaxing

In the moment.

Clown is the lowest form,

Yet it’s harder than it looks

Clown is engaging, connecting with others,

Clown is pure raw vulnerability

Clowns try to be brave,

Stand tall, let go.

Clown is bruised and happy knees.

Clown is tribal, experiential, conceptual,

Clown is boing boing boo bah boo

With splongelicious playfulness

Clown is all about

Learning

About

You.

Clowning is best when not forced,

Unless forced is funny.

So clowning is going with whatever works,

Looking into each others eyes

and feeling

Whatever

We

Feel.

Then playing.

There are rules,

But rules

Can be played with,

Then tampered with,

Then thrown out the window

For

A

Laugh.

Ha ha.

Clowning is laughter

Released by sharing

Our authentic, subversive Selves with others.

Together we dive into the unconscious

In search of the inner child.

Together we side-step the inner critic,

Gaining freedom and energy

To be as daft as we really are.

We don’t know where we’re going,

But that’s OK!

We are a team,

United by our noses

And a thirst for fun

And friends

To inspire us.

(by Holly, Nick, Tripper, Amy, Ollie, Jules, Alice, Phillip, Carlos, Pawlala, Garath, Rachel)