Tag Archives: Clowning

‘Once Upon A Time in A Western’ by Le Navet Bete at Circomedia


Originally written for Theatre Bristol Writers

‘A tumbleweed silently rolls across the dusty stage… The clink clink clink of spurs echoes throughout the theatre… The saloon door opens with a long, drawn-out creak… Welcome to Kidneystone’

Kidneystone is a place where the characters are many, the adventures are aplenty and where idiocy is an art form. From the moment you enter the building Le Navet Bete embroil you in their plot to save the town of Kidneystone from outlaws, a corrupt mayor, a likeable yet naive sheriff and fulfil their ultimate mission to find the true hero of this land.

The action is non-stop from start to finish, fast paced, high energy and demonstrates physical theatre and slapstick comedy at its best.  The audience is essential to the performance and we continually share the joy, jubilance, despair and confusion that the fools experience. Le Navet Bete are relentless in their enthusiasm and the performance is choke full of hilarious, ridiculous and occasionally squeamish fall-down-and-get-up-again moments, including the adventures of a guy with a beard in a tin bath, extreme line dancing, the three amigos, several deaths/near deaths/life after death experiences , something quite dramatic involving adverting a runaway train and a subsequent marriage proposal. Its fair to say ‘ Once Upon A Time In A Western’ doesn’t just take you to the saloon, -you’ll leave feeling that you’ve drunk the tequila and swallowed the worm as well.

A notable thing about Le Navet Bete is the genuine pleasure they take in performing for us and with each other. Underpinning their non-stop madcap routines and clowning calamities lies a precise sense of complicity and comedic timing that is perhaps demonstrative of a troupe who have been working together for years rather than months and who ‘like to perform as much as is humanly possible’.

‘Once Upon A Time In A Western’ is a rollercoaster ride of colourful characters, confusing situations, dramatic happenings, comedy moments, in jokes, out jokes and everything in between. With a shambolic finesse, sublime ridiculousness and through relentless laughter they reveal the humanity and flaws in us all.

Go and see it. You are sure to see somebody you know.

Le Navet Bete are an Exeter based collaborative clown troupe whose members are responsible for all aspects of the company and its work.

‘Once Upon A Time In A Western’ is Le Navet Bete’s flagship production and is showing at Circomedia until Friday the 25th October.

Culmination – a Mayfest journey from audience to stage and how to fall off a precipice

‘you have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own and you know what you know, and you are the person who’ll decide where to go’ – Dr Suess.  

If things don't change flyer Mayfest amended.JPEG

Two years ago I experienced ‘Mayfest’ Bristol’s annual festival of contemporary performance for the first time. I’ve previously written about my experience of the participatory theatrical intervention called ‘Fortnight’ brought to Bristol by Proto-type Theatre which prompted me to think about both my life and the city of Bristol in a different way. As a result I set up this blog and continued my journey after the two-week ‘intervention’ was over.  At the time I was at a bit of a crossroads. I felt I had attained quite a lot over the years career wise but I still felt unsatisfied. Like there was something else I should be doing. Something more meaningful than I was currently doing. I felt like there was a hole somewhere. I hole that I liked to fill with food, mostly.  I felt disconnected from my local community, disenchanted with my job and was left wondering what my contribution to the world but also to myself, actually was.

To begin with I thought that at 33 I was too old to ever seriously consider being an artist. I figured it would be impossible to develop knowledge and experience without returning to formal and expensive study. I had read about the cuts to the arts and in the context of a declining economy I worried about the financially reality of making changes to the career path I had been treading for so long.  Few people I knew valued the arts themselves, at best tolerating my tales of the things I had seen, thought about or experienced. I also wanted to understand how something so subjective as performance/art (which could be as academic intangible or impenetrable as it could be accessible) could make an impact on communities and individuals and what difference this could make. Why did I feel, inside, it was so important? I doubted my own convictions in my ideas and ideals. I doubted if it was just too late to stop everything and start again.

These were the barriers to change that I had decided on.

However it seems overall the ‘why you should’ argument outweighed the ‘why you shouldn’t. I did my best to resist the little thought seeds that had been planted. The ones that were growing into ideas about what sort if things I could write about, what sort of theatre I could make, what could I do with the photos I take, what sort of community I really lived in, how I could contribute to that community, how could I be healthier and happier, but most importantly how I could I live my life and career in line with my true values and do something that I was passionate about?

I realised the barriers were not all as I presumed. So, just in case you do have a passing interest or fleeting thought…. here is (on a very broad brush basis) – is what I have discovered so far:

Overcoming barriers, seeking opportunities and building communities.

I was pretty convinced that my age would be prevent me from changing fields or finding opportunities in an area I had little experience in. Its probably more common to access to opportunities if you are under 25, however many artists, theatres, and community groups are Opening Doors and working on a range of projects many of which encourage participation from anyone. Over the past two years I’ve been involved with both community and ‘professional’ projects, which are also designed to be accessible to anyone who wants to be involved, with some specifically targeted at non-professionals. No experience necessary. Likewise I’d convinced myself that I would need to return to formal study but this again wasn’t the case. Whilst most performance graduates I have spoken to enjoyed their degrees and built valuable networks, many have also told me that in most cases their courses did not prepare them for their launch into the ‘real world’ of theatre or art and that in most cases you just have to start from where you are with the life experiences that you already have. Bristol offers a wealth of arts opportunities from traditional choral groups, to circus, to African drumming and a wide variety of places to do it in. I’ve been a clown at Windmill Hill City Farm, Bristol Folk House, and Co -Exist, performed at The Trinity Centre and documented at the Station Arts Space.  I’ve seen work at most of the key theatres and arts venues across Bristol including Bristol Old Vic, The Tobacco Factory and the Arnolfini, however often the most memorable and perspective changing experiences are those that are conducted outside of the theatre or gallery. Some of the most special happenings and performances  around the city include those at Parlour Showrooms, St Johns Crypt, St Paul’s Crypt, Bristol Bierkeller, The Milk Bar and a captivating old Victorian public toilet. I’ve run around on several occasions, broken out of jail at the college project, been chased by hounds  around Old Market and fought to catch up with small people hanging precariously off of bus shelters and window ledges or wedged behind bins.

I’ve done my best to SAY YES to new experiences. It’s hard to pinpoint within this seemingly holistic city approach to arts and performance when the light switched on, or each time I saw things from a different perspective. Sometimes its not an overnight change but often a more subtle accumulation of experiences over a period of time.

Once I started to explore my local surroundings, rather than feeling alienated by my own starting point, I was actually overwhelmed with the possibilities. Whilst in the first instance opening a door, picking up a pen, walking on a stage, dancing to a beat, finding your voice or trying a musical instrument can seem daunting, there is always someone else around to share the experience, give advice or laugh at your comedy routine. The advantage of one of my preferred pursuits CLOWN – is that you can find joy in doing things badly, messing up and being real so as long as you are truthful in your work it will always be interesting and gain a response.  It’s a different philosophy but very enabling if you can learn to step outside yourself and start where you are. This also means that anyone can be a clown as you already have everything you need to begin your journey.

A key thing that has come from my experiences and exploring’s so far is the impact that the arts can have in building and strengthening communities and benefiting individuals.  This has been revealed in every group, performance or project I have been involved with.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a project working with older people, children, or your average office worker, it may be work which explores self identity, biography, community, encourage health and fitness, explore life, death, politics or religion, either way – I believe the arts play a fundamental role in creating meaning, connection and in sustaining communities.  For the economists among you, stand by for my highly sophisticated and complex equation: People who are supported or connected to their communities through activities which create a sense of meaning and identity, ritual, connection, a sense of a ‘bigger’ picture, which celebrate and recognise life, death, equality, and the natural world – will – in most cases, ultimately cost less to social support systems as they progress through life than those who do not have such opportunities. Rather than thinking about the cost of arts funding and grants, how about thinking about the savings that can be made elsewhere and the benefits to society overall?

You can’t stop the passion

Cuts to arts funding and economic recession is the reality in which the arts operates today. There is always a wealth of debate around this and many philosophical and pragmatic discussions to be had about the constraints and opportunities of the current economic climate.  I started my journey modestly, without expectations and my perspective as a ‘newbie’ is likely to differ to those who have been plugging faithfully away for years, living with a good measure of uncertainity  in dedication to the work they love. At this stage I do know this – that Bristol is a unique place where, in spite of difficult funding circumstances, the dialogue, passion, creativity and impetus for social change, critique, protest and celebration will always exist. On a personal note, if your measure of success is to ‘love what you do’ this often enables other aspects of your life to work in different ways to how you may first expect. Solutions can be found, resources can be shared, communities will open up, problems will be solved.

Changing direction and starting again

There have been many changes for me since Mayfest 2011 including lots of theatre-going as well as performing and training, and two years later I am preparing for a showing of my first solo piece ‘If thing’s don’t change’ as part of  ‘Mayfest at the Wardrobe’  new writing collaboration. Whilst I don’t know where the work is heading, and I still feel like there is a long journey ahead, it’s an exciting opportunity to be given the chance to perform work that I’ve written myself as part of the festival I participated in as an audience member two years ago.  Whilst to some it seemed like a risky decision to change direction, I realised I have nothing to lose, and when looking around at the world and seeing it in a different way – much to appreciate.

Sometimes ‘modern’ or ‘avant garde’ art and performance is hard to explain. Sometimes it will have no obvious story or make any immediate sense. It will often challenge you to think in a different way explore themes which you may not be comfortable with or couldn’t see before, beneath it all I’ve learnt that if you look hard enough to see it, there is a story and it’s yours.

The show

The show is biographical, and started out as a volunteer community storytelling piece developed with the support of Windmill Hill City Farm. Through drawing on my own memories of my grandmother, growing up and growing older I first developed the original story for performance at two community farm events. I was also influenced by the older people I had met who talked to me about their lives and the process of ageing, something which none of us really can fully appreciate until we experience it ourselves. It was this and losing my nan last year which prompted me to develop the work which as well as being personal to me, I felt could also resonate with many people.   Ultimately it aims to draw attention to the fragility and possibility of life and the extraordinariness of the seemingly everyday experience, which we can so easily take for granted in an often busy, frequently consumerist and sometimes spiritless world.

I hope you can come to see it.


‘If thing’s don’t change’ is being performed as part of a double bill with Chris Dugrenier’s   ‘Wealth’s last caprice’ a sensitive and funny reflection on what we value. Showing at the Wardrobe Theatre on Thursday May 23rd 6pm/£5 email tickets@thewardrobetheatre.com to reserve your seats.

The Wardrobe Theatre is ‘a place where anything can happen. Where fresh nutritious performance is premier, where arts cuts don’t stop the passion, and where the people of Bristol can experience the thrill of live performance’ and is located above The White Bear Pub, St Michael’s Hill, Bristol. You’ll have a nice time.

Clown jam – down at the farm..

Our first ever clown music session at Windmill Hill City Farm  – Clowns – we don’t know what we are doing and it’s okay!! – with Pawlala Flaming, Jules Allen, Carlos Pulido, Agüi Garcia.

A Christmas made visible (altruism is dead, long live reciprocity -) a second experience of ‘Caring at Christmas’

As with many things (a song, a poem, a sample of data, a performance) a blog post can represent a glimpse, a single account and perspective of a specific moment in time. I wrote about my first experience of Caring at Christmas in 2011 having volunteered the previous year.  Despite having enjoyed my time, I left feeling cynical. I completed only three shifts but the memories of the people I encountered stayed with me, as did the knowledge that their lives would not change radically. It seemed the shelter provided an all too temporary respite from the realities of an often harsh everyday existence. This I now understand is a common ‘first timers’ reaction, referred to fondly as ‘The Florence Nightingale effect’.  Whilst I never ever set out to assist with any kind of life ‘intervention’ I left feeling frustrated at the ways of the world, at the cycle of poverty, crime, addiction, prostitution that it was possible to get stuck in, at the ‘system’ which was struggling to support people with complex needs and which often could not, and also particularly with cases of addiction, the inevitable inability of many people to help themselves.

Yet, in spite of this, this December I was back at the Shelter and in it for the long haul. So what was different? Well my circumstances for one. Due to a change of career direction I found myself, to begin with, with a little time on my hands. This year it wasn’t possible to make the long rail journeys to visit family scattered around the UK. Whilst I probably I could have blagged a place somewhere local for dinner on the 25th, as I am sure many others could testify there are few things to make you feel  more like an alien appendage than being tagged onto someone else’s family dinner on Christmas day. I’d been keen to get more experience working directly in frontline positions with people and I felt time at the Shelter would provide this.  I wasn’t done with this topic of volunteering and my ongoing quest to understand if altruism really existed, but mostly I was just cheesed off with the ‘same old, same old’ engine of (often conspicuous) consumption Christmas had become.  I can’t say I’d previously given religion that much thought (and caring at Christmas is not a religious organisation) but I’m pretty convinced had Jesus ever had the misfortune of witnessing two grown women locking horns like stags in a trolly fight over the last figgy pudding in Asda, it’s fair to say our bearded friend he would be ‘turning in his cave’.

Having had some experience of Caring at Christmas my expectations of the overall impact I might have on the lives of guests were lower, but perhaps more significantly I’d been forced to admit, that this year as a volunteer, I needed the Shelter as much as the Shelter needed me. This year I completed just under 12 shifts. From set up on Christmas eve I was there until we said goodbye when the shelter closed on New Years day.  My task was the same.. a ‘general’ assistant – which meant working in the day room alongside the guests – companionship, tea drinking, talking and listening, toilet duty, some housekeeping tasks and ‘mucking’ in with anything else that was needed.

The stories I heard and sometimes the scenes I witnessed could often be challenging… serious abuse, rape, extreme self harm, multiple addiction  (in some cases) but also something as simple as needing company, a joke and a nice cup of tea at an often emotionally testing time of year.

I could relay their stories to you, as I did in my last blog post, but truth be told.. this year I decided they are not mine to tell.  From my experience I can say however that the terms: homeless, vulnerable, mentally ill, in crisis, addicted, psychotic (I could go on) often melt quickly into insignificance when you realise the person you are speaking despite their circumstances is just like you.

The shelter gave me an opportunity to apply my clown training in a way that I had not anticipated. I didn’t perform, mime or roll about with a red nose on, but the skills I learnt through clown enabled me to engage with guests at the shelter.  To be able to see the humanity beneath behaviour and context is vital and clown training helped me to do this. A guest told me that life on the street is ruled by the ‘laws of the jungle’ and it was perhaps this primal basis of clown communication which often helped me engage with people comfortably in a way that I couldn’t have done before.  Additionally the potential of the creative arts was emphasised as I was amazed at how a painting, drawing and often rap or poem could have such power as a tool of expression, understanding and source of discussion and meaning.

I put in some hours this year, and I also learnt the need for ‘care of the self’ in an often emotionally demanding role. I managed effectively and only really began to feel emotional towards the end during the last few shifts. As I had previously questioned the impact of the shelter years before, I was humbled when a guest shared his view with me. Yes, he said, the shelter was temporary, but for those few days it was often the only time of the year that the guests knew where they would sleep, were guaranteed a hot meal and most significantly, he said tearfully, a safe space.  As a performer I know that the need for a ‘safe space’ in order to create is vital. Whilst the context was radically different I could suddenly comprehend the daily roulette wheel that life on the street could be and that this short term provision over Christmas was vitally important and meaningful to our guests, particularly when other support services were shut.

My experience at the shelter gave me so much this year. It reminded me of the necessity and experience of everyday and simple work, gratitude, friendship, teamwork, companionship, and acceptance. Whilst all of the 300+ volunteers each had their own reason for being at the shelter this Christmas I learnt the potential of goodwill en masse from people of varying and also no religion. In short, I discovered that those long forgotten perhaps more traditional principles of Christmas were still very much alive, when I gave Cribbs Causeway and the EastEnders Christmas omnibus a miss and actually bothered to go out and look for them.

I also learnt more about the organisation – how it acts as kind of broker for other charities, how none of the donations received are wasted and are passed on. I found ways to continue to help beyond the Christmas period both with ‘Caring at Christmas’ and associated new charity ‘Safe Stay Bristol’ – a sudden homelessness intervention scheme for 16-25 year olds.

My choice to volunteer with the homeless at Christmas could be met by others with bafflement around my own motivations or expectations, and its true not everyone could see the value in such an activity. So I will admit now that its not altruism, in fact I am a very, very selfish person. I volunteered because amongst the communitas and Christmas spirit, this experience allowed me to see further potential in my own skills and abilities, and gain confidence in their application.  It wasn’t always easy, and I accepted that my impact on the lives of the guests is unlikely to engender any measurable or significant change. However if I have learnt anything from the guests I’ve met its the ongoing daily need for hope, companionship and laughter in the face of great adversity.

The real truth is that I had a choice to be there, in that moment, and hold the hand of a rape victim while she recovered from her ordeal… or not… and this time I chose to be there regardless of the outcome, in the knowledge that she was holding my hand too.


next Christmas,

you’ll know where to find me.

Caring at Christmas is a registered charity that helps homeless people at Christmas and throughout the year

Please visit the website above for further information about the organisation and volunteering. I’ll also be running the Bristol 10K in May so keep your eyes peeled for my Justgiving page coming soon – Happy New Year!

Clown is a philosophy… (a little radio interview I did about clown..)

Happy 2013. Here is a little interview I did with radio presenter Kirstie Paul who presents ‘Backchat’ which goes out on BCFM and some other stations.. listen past the interesting discussions about pilgrimages and tax evasion and you’ll get to the interview..

Backchat clown interview

Stay tuned! 😉

Why I couldn’t become a Dr without being a clown first – Flying Awkwardly 2.0 – 2 years in the life of a PhD student.

Its been almost a year since I wrote my previous Blogpostflying awkwardly, a year in the life of a PhD student. I can’t say it went viral, but I got picked up in a few places and I’ve had a few requests for an update.. also as my regular followers will know that I’ve been documenting my clown/artistic journey and here also I’ve reached a bit of an ending point. I’ve realised that I can’t separate the art from life so I’ve decided to combine the two in more of a personal reflection about me, rather than a review of my institution.

Flying awkwardly struck a chord with lots of other PhD students who were at similar stages in the process. I still stand by the valid points I made, but also in hindsight, I’m now questioning If I was in anyway handling the situation like a bit of a knobber.

My journey in clown has been profoundly influential in my personal development this year. Through various Clownish processes I’m not going to go into, as well as a myriad of performance I’ve attended, it is almost as if a mirror has been held up and I’ve been able to become more self aware of my own behaviour. Not everyone’s clown journey has to be a soul-searching one, but I realise now that the type of wisdom I was seeking when I went back to university was in fact an internal one.. another reason why I was disappointed by the PhD process.

I’ve often been accused I thinking too much – this is true – so I am trying to keep the below brief and bullet point the realisations I’ve had through clown, which I’ve applied to my everyday life.  Here goes.

1) Be here, now.

Live in the present, not the future or the past. Commit fully to the moment you are in and never try and recreate what’s passed. This should hopefully mean you worry less and live more (I’m still working on it) and let go of things when its time to move on. If you cant commit fully to a situation or process the best thing you can do is walk away from it.

2) Play is fundamental aspect of life – do things for pleasure and share your gifts.

Make room for play and relaxation as this is where creativity flourishes and new ideas form, life is for living and I’ve realised there is nothing shameful in doing what makes you happy. Do not be afraid to share your gifts with the world. I now know that on completion of my PhD I will pursue  different areas. Work/life balance is essential, but this is easier when you pursue a true passion and fulfil and realise your full potential.

3) I sometimes let my overall life experience colour my opinions and reactions to people and situations which do not warrant them (The war is over).

When I feel threatened I shut down and all my defences kick in.  Often I project my previous negative experiences on people who I feel threatened by.. this was what was happening with my supervisory team.. once trust had been lost they became ‘the enemy’ I forgot that I had had very positive experiences of them previously and that they were often, in an overly complex and academically verbose way – trying to help me. I was instinctively fighting a war that was once necessary years ago but isn’t happening anymore. In short ‘I got in the way of myself’ and lost sight of my research. Rather than taking ownership over my disappointments, frustrations, team and my study, I bleeted profusely about the negatives and waited for a rescue. It’s been two years. Noone is coming. This is it. I stayed static hoping for change rather than accepting the circumstances , embracing the opportunities and looking for solutions.

It is, what it is.

4) The only constant is change

Says it all really.. get used to it and embrace it. This is true for both life and research.

5) Admitting your mistakes and embracing vulnerability

Closely related to point number 3. It takes courage to reveal yourself and your work to others. I’ve struggled with this and I’m still struggling but improving.. this leads me onto my next point..

6) An environment where we only give positive feedback, makes us feel safe but doesn’t do us any favours in the long run

This has been an important and recent realisation for me. Clown is taught in different ways and I felt blessed and nurtured when we only ever receive positive feedback from each other in this particular approach – it was exactly what I needed in the beginning. However, my only doubt about clown exists in this one little thing. I guess at uni I was concerned at the type and nature of feedback – in academia generally its not always delivered sensitively criticism is incessant and I think there are more effective ways in getting the best from someone. However I now see, that a world where we only focus on the good things is a world where we do not grow as effectively as we could, but more importantly, do not get a chance to build our defences.  The truth is in life, people will hurt you. Maybe not always intentionally but they will. Nobody goes through life without being tested. Nobody goes through life without conflict or incident with others. More importantly If I’m acting like an idiot, I need the people around me that I trust to tell me. As humans, we all act like idiots sometimes. Me, moreso than your average ape.

In research we need to be able to defend our values, our ideas and the only way to do that is to test the work for strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for growth. I still think that giving feedback is a skill, and as human beings we need to learn to accept (or not accept) different viewpoints of ourselves, and our work, and be honest and take ownership of the feedback we give to others. If I only receive positive feedback on my work at uni I would feel safe, but would fail to defend myself when really necessary. The harsh truth of life is, some people will get it – some wont. Its just the world we live in. We need to embrace this contradiction and be able to deal with both sides of the coin.  

7) Embrace uncertainty, risk and enjoy the journey

I’ve worked in planning for years. I’ve always had a plan. I didn’t plan any of my clown journey  and is been amazing. Sometimes its better to stray from the path you’ve been set, because in the uncertainly and unbridled exploration  is where you will begin to make discoveries both in life and research. I’ve always planned milestones and processes.. but whenever I reach one its on to the next thing.. embracing the ‘now’ means enjoying the journey for what it is.. Research journey, life or otherwise. At times your route will be diverted. Go with it. It may lead you to interesting and necessary places. 

8) The quickest way to showing compassion to others is practising self compassion and is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do (it’s okay to be you).

The research journey is an individual one, it is easy to compare yourself to others but that’s futile.  You need to manage yourself, be kind to yourself, take responsibility for your emotional and physical health as well as your intellectual development and keep your expectations realistic. Then it becomes easier to show this compassion for others. I’m still working on this. Really I am. Clown has taught me to start accept myself, my real self underneath all the other things that can shape and influence your identify. I’m not perfect, in fact I have many flaws  but I’ve made some encouraging discoveries.I’m also trying o manage my expectations of others, and accept that noone is perfect and we all fall down – even those in positions of responsibility. What matters is supporting those people as best as you can to help them get back up regardless of your role. I really want to get better at this.

9) When all is said and done the most important thing you can take away from any situation is friendship

I guess this is harder for me to apply in a PhD context, but I certainly know that despite the valuable performance skills I’ve gained and the insights I’ve had into myself, the most significant gain I’ve made through clown is in the people I’ve met. Life moves quickly and it can be difficult for me to find and make lasting and sincere friendships. I’m grateful for the people I’ve come into contact with I’ve made some good friendships and the other benefits pale into comparison to this.  Self reflection can be aided by good and trustworthy friends and performing is probably quite empty if you have noone who is genuinely behind your efforts. Being a PhD student is challenging and you need good people supporting you. For the most part, I’ve found some up for the job.  Sure – both research and performing require an independent self sufficient approach but there is strength and inspiration in the pack, and hopefully I’ve evolved enough to make myself vulnerable enough to trust them.

Coming full circle: What happens next?

So I guess you can say I’ve come full circle. Is been one hell of a journey and alongside all my other arts based reflections and therapy its been one hell of a year of self definition and discoveries  which have admittedly detracted from my studies. Its been essential that I go through this process, but after a year I am genuinely raw and exhausted. As far as my research goes if I was an OFSTED rating I would be in ‘special measures’ and there is every possibility that my lack of significant progress will prevent me from continuing beyond my annual monitoring in the autumn. But, thanks to clown school ,I’m in a place now where I can accept that whatever happens will be the right thing for me, and I know that I can handle whatever does.

I’m not sure if any of the above insights are transferable to other PhD students but this is where I am at the moment.. my immediate plans are a well earned break in the middle of July. Then I return and commit myself fully to the intense year I’ve got left, which will hopefully involve lots of research and cultural projects  as additional community engagement outputs/impact.

I’m hugely grateful and indebted to the clown course leader Holly whose patience, support and mentoring have been invaluable and a source of ongoing inspiration, and to all the other clowns I’ve met on my journey this year for sharing their hearts and minds.

Its been a life changing year of laughter and tears, and I firmly believe the skills I’ve learnt at clown school have potentially saved my PhD and the things learnt will continue to help me get through the process next year. I am challenged everyday to be strong enough to be trusting, vulnerable, truthful, emotionally calm, compassionate of others and full of laughter. It will always be a struggle but I hope I can get better a it, or at least it will become more natural to me. I hope that one day in the future I will be experienced enough to deliver this gift of clown to other people. But right now, I’ve got a theory that there are older people out there, alone in their homes who are about to lose their bus services – this being their only contact with the outside world. I need to find them and I need to ask them if they would like to share their story.

Why you should wear your clown shoes at a funeral – on dying, wake’ing and crematorium parakeets

My nan died recently. It wasn’t much of a surprise, I mean she was 97, and that’s a bloody good age. In fact in the end it was a relief for her and the family. She transferred to a nursing home last year and she sort of settled in but she suffered from dementia, often being confused and never really seemed that happy there.

I last visited her at Christmas, being so far away makes seeing family difficult but I was really glad that I got the chance. The home was well equipped and the staff were amazing… really taking care of her well. It was funny actually – the day I visited was the day of the Christmas panto, and nan along with the other residents were wheeled out, and put in rows to watch this supremely cheesy Christmas song and dance routine by guest entertainers. To be fair to them they were amazingly energetic considering  the audience were in many cases, erm not. My nan always had something to say though often shouting out that’s she didn’t know what the Elvis impersonator thought he was doing!!

They sang lots of Christmas songs, rock and roll, cockney favourites that sort of thing. It’s hard to know if some of the other residents enjoyed it. It seemed hard to know if some of the other residents were even there. For as many people exchanging stories and chatter there were also bodies, laying twisted and contorted, motionless with teddy bears strewn around them. There was one lady I remember, she was really unresponsive keeled over in her chair and didn’t acknowledge anyone, but then a Bing Crosby song came on – immediately she looked up and out of the window and her face lit up with wonderment to see snow falling…There wasn’t any snow but it was a line of the song that seemed to inspire this. She looked so happy listening to the music… and she could see the snow. It was right there, and it was beautiful.

After the performance was over I said goodbye to Nan for the last time. I had to get really close to her as she was very deaf and couldn’t see or hear me very well. She would ask me a few times who I was.. get me confused with cousins or aunts. We would tell her and then she would forget…  She would cry and say how much she hated it at the home. Then ask who I was again. But there was this one moment when she touched my face and looked at me and I really believe she knew who I was.. her face was so old and wizened and wrinkled yet exactly like a childs. Both old and young in the same body.

She looked me in the eyes… ‘Amy’ she said confidently.

‘That’s right Nan. It’s Amy’

Then she smiled and she stroked my cheek.

And then she was somewhere else again.

Visiting the home made me think about old age and how it’s often always so hidden. How community and family structure has changed so much in more ‘advanced’ times and how as a society we undervalue older people.. almost as soon as they stop work… and definitely up until the point their ability to spend money and consume runs out. I wondered who the people were that were sitting around me. What they had loved, who they had loved, what they had achieved and dreamed of. I almost saw them standing in front of me as young adults with hopes, and fears and passions. Many of them still had these things, others were just traces or shells of the people they once were.

My dad rang me on a Saturday afternoon to tell me Nan had finally passed away. I still cried. Events in the family – weddings, funerals often result in the churning up of old memories, events or incidents. I think I cried more at the time that was lost through the family ‘estrangement’ than I did at her death. Death is always inevitable but If I had just tried to find my dad sooner than I did, I could have had more years with her, or if I had managed to get back to Kent more often, I could have seen her more.

But she is gone.

This is how I remember her:

  • Home made jam (often plum)
  • Toffee apples
  • Fruit cake
  • Yorkshire terriers fed on maltesers
  • The smell of tomato plants and geraniums being nurtured within a humid greenhouse
  • Fat brown teapots
  • Lace doilies
  • The bathroom doll in the knitted dress that sat on top of the toilet roll
  • Imperial leather soap and flannels.
  • The TV on extra loud
  • Bossing everyone.
  • Gold jewellery

I remember less about my granddad (Bert Reuben Webber) he died some years earlier but I’ve got notes and photos from my parents (set 2) about his life and am going to do something with this in the future. I know he was hit by a car so he couldn’t serve in the war due to injury. I know he loved music and was disappointed none of his children grew up to play the organ/piano like he did. I know they managed a shop once. I know he was a devout labour supporter and I have a letter to him from Neil Kinnock. I know he loved my Nan very much. He was also a Mason like my Dad and uncle.

The day of the funeral drew near and I was apprehensive. I didn’t want to be hysterical and upset or distraught with emotion or regret (it happens). I have this one damn black dress that I always wear to funerals, sensible auditions and job interviews. Its really nice but its getting to the point where I’m sick of the sight of it now – it just makes me feel grim.  I wore it anyway though.

But I also wore my clown shoes. They are magic shoes. I call them my clown shoes because clown as a philosophy starts from the feet up. The feet are important and symbolic because they are what ground you and connect you to earth (of which we are all a part). The feet are the starting point for your journey through life (they take you places) and they are what supports you.  People seem to assume they are my clown shoes because they are red, clompy and funny looking. This may also be true. They didn’t go with my dress at all, but as they are magic shoes that didn’t matter. And it really didn’t matter. In fact all but one person thought they were happy and cheery, and they were kind of grateful to have a talking point at the wake.

And that’s when I realised how important clown as a philosophy is. In clown, death is inevitable part of the life cycle, and it’s okay to engage with it. In clown, being grounded gives you strength when others need it and I realised that  during the ceremony.  So at the funeral I wasn’t this mess that I thought I would be. I was accepting and grateful and there for other people and yes I provide laughs. But looking at my nan there in a box for the last time, it suddenly didn’t seem so bad…because if I have learnt anything from older people is that we are all equal in death, and in life it is the laughs and pleasure and sharing moments that are important.

Outside after the service we stopped and looked at the flowers. It struck me how odd it seemed that people leave wreaths saying ‘mother’ or ‘father’ as if they were only ever defined by that role. I guess how you remember someone is a very individual thing. All the flowers were beautiful.. and up in the trees  (and very surreally) parakeets squawked. (London has around 3100 urban Indian parakeets apparently and some of them live in the trees around the crematorium) the noise was reassuring. It almost felt like the gull-stuffed Bristol of home.  They must be stubborn little buggers to survive over here, beautiful too.


They played the ‘circle of life’ at the end of the funeral which is a great song. I’ve posted the version below for you. The first few minutes are phenomenal. TURN IT UP LOUD!!!

I loved my Nan but truth is,  I know, know, know she would have disapproved of the below version even before she had heard it. So… I thought that was all the more reason to post it.

Because people change…… and so can families.


It was a good age.

Clowning Part II – end of course clown showing

Some photos from the first public Clown showing we gave in March – pre showing warm up workshop – more thoughts to come on the journey that was Clowning Part II but for now – here are the pics!  SO MUCH FUN!!!

Performers:  Alice Goodman, Amy-Louise Webber, Orla O’Carroll, Carlos Pulido, Nik Howden, Sara McCluskey, Tim Speight, Marcin Plocienniczak, Lucy Harrington (I love Lucyface), Phillip Hartland

Directed by Holly Stoppit

Photos taken by Paul Blakemore http://www.paulblakemore.co.uk

I disabled my facebook profile (call the police!)

Last week I did something radical…


And so far – it’s been interesting.

Facebook has experienced huge growth since its launch in 2004 with a reported 845 million active users in February 2012. The social networking site provides a shared online webspace for individuals and their friends to chat, post messages/email and share uploads /activities relating to their interests.

I’ve been a member of the site since around 2007/8. Since I joined I’ve spent a good amount of time using the site. I currently have around 250 friends (although at one stage I was hitting 700). I have been in contact with old friends from school, joined groups for events, shared photos and communicated with friends across the world both whilst at ‘home’ and whilst abroad travelling. I can literally communicate ‘on the move’ picking up facebook from my smartphone at any time where I have a signal. It has had some positive impact on my life, increased my online presence and connection with others.   So why the change?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where the tipping point was that made me want to take a step back from it.  From a practical level the site has been subject to constant upgrades and re-designs with privacy rules and process changing frequently. This unsettles me as I feel less in control of the data that I share.  The most frequent introduction ‘timeline’ encourages you to input all your personal history and it got to a stage where I didn’t understand why that was really necessary. The accuracy of the targeted marketing on facebook is frightening (with ‘bots’ often picking up key words from status updates etc ) and whilst its great to share info on line this can also backfire with the world being informed of your relationship breakup or latest family drama. This is pretty rubbish if it’s something serious such as a hospital emergency or similar.

One of the key things I have noticed is the more that I have shared on facebook the less people in my life have felt it necessary to actually to talk to me.  Being a research student can be a lonely process at times, and whilst other people have felt that they are up to date with my goings on via facebook, I’ve really missed having face to face contact with them. My main resolution is to try and get back into the habit of having actual conversations with people and hopefully encourage them to do the same.

I started to also wonder what the implication was in terms of emotional investment in the past. Having your entire life history mapped out in front of you may not be the best thing in terms of relationship break up or family dispute and who really needs to be reminded of certain past events?  I know several of my friends who have completed the obligatory ‘facebook stalk’ of their new partners torturing themselves with photos of their current beau in previous relationships.  I was also contacted by a ‘bully’ from years gone by who seemed to have no recollection of what she put me through.  So I silently ignored her friend request and the more I ignored her well guess what? She attempted to bully me again via the internet. Not really sure I needed that… is it really necessary to get back in touch with everyone from our past.. maybe if we’ve not kept in touch it’s for a reason and it’s better to let them go?

I noticed other changes in social activity too. One of my interest is photography and lately I have been making greater attempts to understand and document different aspects of social life. I want to understand and represent social issues (by social I mean those concerned with society) using photography to try and do that. So I am trying to think more about the meanings of the photos that I take.  I’ve been on a few nights out recently where the activity seemed to be taking photos for facebook. Not enjoying the moment, or celebrating a specific event but for taking photo after photo of ..well..not a lot really. The whole dynamic of an evening out seems to be shifting from enjoying the moment to documenting it. Performing it even. Don’t get me wrong I’ve been just as guilty of this in the past as others have.  I guess from my clowning training I am learning to try and live in the moment,  but I witnessed how facebook is changing our sense of ‘being there’ with people posting on facebook groups about the night out whilst all being on the night out and a few metres away from each other. I started wondering if this was quite right. Also my research is concerned with the older people and they highlight so much the need for ‘being there’ with others. It made me more aware of my own absence in the present through technology/facebook.

I’v e been having these thoughts for a while and Shelly Turkle’s book ‘Alone Together’ has been on my amazon wish list since last year.  Recently I picked up on a TED talk via Twitter (Oh the irony) given by Sherry regarding her research which discuss this concept of almost individual/group isolation.  Have a look and see what you think.

One of the most interesting things is the way people react when I tell them.  It’s become such a social norm that most people think I am bonkers. In addition more and more activities are being organised via facebook and my lack of an account has been seen as a real inconvenience. Also interesting to note is that a lot of people weirdly assumed they had done something to me personally and that I had singled them out for deletion rather than cancelling my own account.

I didn’t delete my facebook profile as I have lots of info I need to pull off as well as contact details of friends and family. I can go back in at any time and restore things if I want to, it has had some great benefits and in the past I have enjoyed sharing certain things with my friends and family. I guess what I’m doing currently is taking stock. Trying to exist in the moment and rekindle the physical co-present aspects of my relationships.   Although people think I’m weird I’ve felt a lot better. Maybe I will re-boot the profile at some point in the future, but currently I am enjoying a new kind of freedom,  – one of privacy, of acting in a different way, of trying to be in the  here and now…. and to be honest the strongest feeling I have is a strange sense of relief.

A certified clown!! the end of clowning part I

Today was officially the end of clown school.  Luckily I could make the lesson and I’m so glad I did.  It’s all a bit emotional for us clowns tonight. We have made such good friends and learnt so much about ourselves.  I will do a proper write up on my progress this year  just as soon as I have had some chance to reflect.For now here is my official certificate and feedback from the rest of my troupe as to how the other clowns viewed me or my memorable moments. I’m really looking forward to next term – getting up early to sign up at the folk house was a good ideas as all the places went within 24 hours! Four of my current troupe will joining a range of other stage II clowns next term. New playmates and it’s a mix of ‘professionals’ ’emergers’ and hobbyists!!!  Am I becoming clown dependent? ;-0

So thank you clowns and thank you Holly..for fun, trust, laughter, love, seeing and healing.