Authentic Gifts

Theatrical Clown technique is an indisputable art form, and I am a biased insider.

Theatrical a.k.a. Personal Clown is a centuries-old performance tradition. The myriad clown pedagogies I’ve learned, performed, observed, and taught throughout two-plus decades each boil down to a conscious transformation of one’s “mask.” It’s a funny business, this particular type of mask work, with or without a red nose.

A successful stage clown surrenders their protective persona to wield their unique idiocy as the stronger, more transparent—therefore more foolproof—costume. Like a cloak of invisibility worn inside-out. I remove the thing I’d donned as a disguise, then reverse it to magnify that which I habitually hide. Therefore, the taking-off of my armor is a simultaneous putting-on of what’s raw and tender within me. I must be willing to exaggerate my fallible humanity, the weirdness that stokes a fear of social exile. Clown is indeed a tricky and humbling art.

Stage clowns live in a joie-de-vivre world of Opposite Day. Clumsy foibles are neither withheld nor obscured, in stark disobedience of how we people are socially groomed. I’ve trained an anti-reflex to look up-and-out in moments of perceived social embarrassment, i.e. tripping in public, to resist the gravitational pull of a downward gaze. If I accidentally trip or—worse—drop my ice cream cone, I search for anyone around me with whom I can lock eyes. A nonverbal Who saw that?! to share my “whoopsie” with my witness. Through this eye contact, I can:

  1. acknowledge the reality of the situation (Behold! The tragedy of my ice cream!), and
  2. instantly cue my witness with permission to connect and share the story.

I revel in theatrical clown technique, yet after twenty-some years, I still fear this flavor of eye contact. I’m the person who positioned herself behind a music stand to avoid the full-length mirror during voice lessons in college. I didn’t want anyone to set eyes on me while I sang (and made mistakes…for the sake of learning). And ohmygod, karaoke. I’m now a skilled singer who has yet to overcome a paralyzing fear of karaoke because of its inherent demand for blatant showmanship, a.k.a. display of my vulnerable passion for music. I revere those who find strength in their heart’s passion.

Theatrical clown is presentational, not psychological. Stripping my emotional shield for the sake of performance is an excruciating challenge because my psyche has a fear-of-death grip on maintaining an appearance of “normality.” Staging an open characterization of my insecurity is a steep demand, besides multitasking that with the omniscient presence of mind necessary for executing the art of live performance. We humans are hardwired to favor belonging over exile. I’d appreciate a special clown meditation app that repeats the mantra “Audiences want your authenticity!” on loop inside my subconscious every time I get spooked and retreat into my buttoned-up defense mechanisms.

I seek an answer to the final riddle of my personal/professional escape room. What is the last thread I can yank or sever to allow for my full surrender to the craft, and drop my heavy armor to the ground?

Wait, wait, wait.

Is sharing one’s authenticity an act of surrender, or an act of unconditional giving?

I’m saying “I give you what I guard” when I telegraph my self-judged character flaws in a clown character. In other words: “I give you my vulnerability.” Even more specific: “I give you my genuine, precious truth.” And if Brené Brown’s theories prove substantiated, then baring my vulnerability is indeed one powerful move. So…

What if the art of personal authenticity propels a new movement: the art of generosity?

Art of Generosity. There’s a squeaky contradiction to our grand social system. Changes the power paradigm, yes? If it’s anything like Fred Rogers’ verb version of “love,” then generosity is an actionable perspective to practice. I must (re)frame this offer, again and again, to share my sensitive, bruise-able truths. And remind myself that giving is not about seeking the witness’ acceptance.

The act of “I give you my genuine self” is a leap of faith. Faith in the present moment and attuning to the infinite possibility of every unknown. That gift is a generosity of power that releases my own control over the response or outcome. It’s a giving-into honest connection.

Maybe generosity is the key to how I’ll shed my shield.


One response to “Authentic Gifts”

  1. Lisa says:

    I love this! Imagine a world where we all studiously practiced our own clown. Let’s go there. I’ll follow you :-)))