Posts Categorized: Mid-Edit

Clown, clown, clown, clown, clown…

I am determined to restore a centuries-deep cultural association with the word “clown.” I want to move us away from its latest turn of horror and return to one of positivity, reverence, and medicinal quality.

Actor Donald O’Connor planted the seed of my mission when he told (er, sang) me to “make ‘em laugh!” Throughout thirty years of my performance training and career centered around theatrical clown technique, I’ve struggled with O’Connor’s directive for at least two reasons. One obstacle is the laughter itself: to make someone laugh means that one must laugh at me. My work to welcome that laughter, onstage and off, provokes a mind-body dissonance that often gets in the way.

What an undesired prospect, to be the recipient of a laugh, says the thorny misnomer deep down in my cells. By the time I learned to read, I already understood and agreed to the invisible social code that laughter = bad. Being laughed at is a nightmare for many, not unlike the dream of arriving at school or work in the nude. I’ve witnessed the same frightening internalization for my niece who, as of grade school years if not earlier, started wilting in response to our familial, loving laughter whenever she’d make an unintended funny.

As I grew, no one explained the physical phenomenon of laughter to me. I lacked an interpreter of those bubbly sounds to reassure me of their delight and appreciation. I missed that type of guidance until my early twenties when it arrived cloaked in the form of a mask and clown coach, and in several clown experts thereafter. They surely would’ve told me sooner that I held a lot of power as one who initiates laughter.

Instead, I was left to my own logical devices and causal associations. The more I witnessed laughter in response to innocent mistakes (on TV with America’s Funniest Home Videos and countless scripted shows, in passing conversations, anywhere), the more critical my internal voice grew. Projecting my internal/intrapersonal thoughts (i.e. “how stupid of me”) onto the intention of those laughing (i.e. “they think I’m an idiot”) has been a recipe for trouble, lots of misunderstanding, and a natural inclination to avoid public/interpersonal laughter.

…to be continued…

October

Who would believe that trees survive the wet, frigid wind

slashing against their bare arms and mottled skin

speckled with mites or bruises,

reminders of a careless foot or eager embrace.

Their generous color showers nod

to celebration of ample growth and festive harvests,

yet wink slower still to brief breaths, shallow

and constricted, the nod toward

slumber and

quiet.

Doris of Reedsport, OR

I drove into the lush sunset for hours en route from Portland to Reedsport, delighting along the welcoming river through peaceful trees. I won’t mind surrounding myself with this view for a while. I should always remember OR-38 as a great road trip highway.

Doris of Reedsport hums while she scrambles eggs and bakes waffles at 9:00 p.m. for her tour guests. The song reveals itself: “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera.

Doris started singing from the show once I’d introduced myself. However, it wasn’t the typical Christine, Christine! everyone at the Paramount sang whenever I walked into a room. Why didn’t I wait to apply to work for Seattle Theatre Group until after the touring production of Phantom closed? Oh, now I grow nostalgic for Anatoli and Linda and the other ushers from work.

My home this week is an original from the 1800s. I’m assigned to the Princess Suite complete with a miniature edition of The Little Mermaid on the nightstand. Doris decided to favor me before my tour partner and I set foot in her palace. My door has an old-fashioned latch complete with a skeleton key lock. This is another week of no phone and no internet in the home-stay. I’ll catch up on writing and reading.

In Plains, MT, Bob calls me Little Mermaid. He and Diane want me to visit through the weekend when I return post-tour. The backyard pool will be ready and Maury will prepare the horses for riding. Diane and Bob watch for cowboy boots to crop up in the town thrift stores. Perhaps while the dogs are groomed in Missoula, we can go to a boot store then.

Mother Hen Doris is quite a character, resemblant of Felonius Gru with her broad shoulders, barrel torso and skinny legs, sharp eyebrows and long, pointy nose with deep nostrils, and a faint wheeze when she breathes. She’s one of those Oregonians who add a bold “r” in “Warshington.” She avows, “The sign of a good cook is that they always serve their maple syrup hot.” Indeed.

I already admire her sense of humor. My tour partner Brian has two twin beds in his room, and he claimed he’d switch beds mid-week in order to enjoy both. When Doris pointed out the quilt rack in my room, she said, “And these are the quilts…if Goldilocks here gets cold,” pointing her thumb over her shoulder toward Brian.

She said something during our late waffle dinner that struck a chord. A boy named Adam, born of alcoholics, raised amidst turmoil, didn’t do well in public school. She said, “His brain didn’t connect; he had no conscience, no remorse.”

Is there such a thing? Can a human lack a conscience? And what would that look like? When she went on to describe his violence and scaring other children, I felt compelled to write a play about such a ten-year-old boy and tell his story.

She answered her rhetorical question “His future?” with a grand thumbs-down. Why was Adam cast aside so easily? As a long-term substitute in school, she taught him under the philosophy that “every day is a new day.” …but how did he run out of new days?

The yellow smiley face clock on my bedside table reports 10:07 pm. Downstairs, Doris’ TV murmurs on.