What’s Clown Got to do With It?
We all want to be more authentic and present. But how does one harness these qualities? Whether in everyday life, or as an actor playing a character on stage or screen, we are always striving to reach this wonderful ideal.
Words and phrases like ‘letting go’, ‘letting our guard down’, ‘unmasking’, ‘to be seen’ get thrown around a lot but they all mean and seek the same result. Deep down most of us want to be real and live in the moment. Granted, peeling open the banana and revealing who’s inside can be a vulnerable experience for some. Though making friends with your vulnerable side shouldn’t be something to run away from (oh how I’ve tried!), it’s a quality we should all aim to admire and embrace in others and in ourselves, it’s a chance to say: ‘hello here I am, aren’t I beautiful and imperfect.’
It has nothing to do with this!
I’ve found that clown training is beneficial for accessing this state of beautiful imperfection, not simply to amuse an audience – the clown has a need to communicate observations about the world. The clown is you, warts and all. To be totally engaged in an action, in the now. I’m not referring to a painted faced character, circus-oversized shoes and flower water squirters. Even though this has its merit within the circus tradition. I am actually talking about clown theatre or the modern clown – in fancy words sophisticated approaches to reflecting reality. Clown training requires us to be truthful; and laughter is often a common result. It can inspire us to be our genuine selves and observe the effect we have on the world – the audience.
Clowning takes us back to basics. It’s not about character or about scripted material. A clown is simply a beautiful idiot that is plugged into the audience, playing for them. Clowns are always playing and playfulness is at the heart of creativity. At Lecoq during improvisations our teachers kept telling us to play and find the pleasure in playing. At the time, admittedly, I didn’t quite understand what they meant by this, maybe because they were speaking in French, but finally this all made sense to me when we approached the clown. If the work is playful it becomes pleasurable and when you’re enjoying yourself you get braver and take more and bigger leaps. We can apply and extend this philosophy to making art, to your cat, washing the dishes, relationships… anything and everything!
We all have our own poetic idiot buried deep somewhere, we’ve just told it to go away way too often because we prefer to hide behind our sophistication, intellect and what’s been perceived or reprimanded as socially acceptable. Think Sacha Baron Cohen, Woody Allen, Buster Keaton, Chris Lilley, Rowan Atkinson, Lucille Ball, they’re all beautifools and have shown us over time that it’s perfectly normal to be an idiot.
Some actors are suspicious of clown work because it does not seem ‘serious enough.’
If you’re an actor seeking openness and vulnerability I bet there’s a little clown waiting to pop out of you. As an artist and director clowning has definitely helped me keep my work nice and fresh, and coach others to trust their instincts more.
During a clown class I’ll invite you to be who you are, we will work on you being a real human without any pretence; you’ll be thrown into the unknown and we will see you ‘making a poop’… figuratively speaking. I typically focus on rhythm, amplifying your expression and physical attitude, timing, finding lightness, accessing your imagination, pleasure in playing and in the game, improvisation exercises and learning to play the moment, and developing skills in complicity with a partner and an audience.
Clown classes are both fun and challenging and the benefit of clown work can provoke more than just laughter, clowns are also ready to share wonder, joy and light with the world. And who doesn’t need a little more of that in their day?