Posts Categorized: What Is Clown

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…

Behind the Mask: A Clown’s Vulnerability

From the moment I read Brené Brown’s Women & Shame and saw her classic TedTalk speech, I was thrilled that someone else was talking about vulnerability. Finally. And on a very public stage.

I’ve spent the past 25+ years obsessed with the same vulnerability phenomenon and its inherent superpowers, only I’ve researched through a different avenue (albeit like Brown’s interest in storytelling). My method was theater. More specifically, the theatrical form of Clown. Yes, Clown. If theater reflects society for society’s sake, then Clown technique pierces straight to every individual heart in the audience. There’s a reason it’s known in theatrical pedagogy as Personal Clown. The trouble is – and my frustration boils because – U.S. popular culture believes that “Clowns are scary.”

Don’t laugh: I’m creating a podcast series around the question “Why are people afraid of clowns?” I ask counter-questions aplenty; I interview experts and laypeople alike. I tug at the threads of vulnerability, failure and fear, humor and beauty, to see how all connect in the tapestry of human experience. There’s a wealth of insight to be mined – a lot to unpack from theatrical clown technique, plus its vast cultural and historical evolution tracing back to early civilization’s shaman. This unique art form showcases and reflects our inherent wisdom, flaws, innocence, and medicinal magic. Maybe a shift in the public’s perspective will inspire collective courage.

My investment stems from a preschool-age moment where a delighted stranger’s laughter caused a lightning-fast, harmful ripple effect of embarrassed behavior, confused desperation, and unhealthy relationship patterns – all of which I’ve been sub- and consciously unraveling from my being as I age. I wonder if people are afraid of their own vulnerability (i.e. their Personal Clown), perhaps afraid of the power in embodying their wholeness. Brown’s research seems to support this theory, among others I’ve pondered. I wonder if this obsessive curiosity, to piece together the source and logic* of laughter, is my inner child’s lifelong quest. What conclusion will I uncover that might provide a satisfying peace of mind?

I feel vulnerable in advertising this work-in-progress. I’m still learning how to share as a vessel of abundant, potent ideas rather than guard them as precious and exclusive. Who knows, maybe all my years of notes, inquiry, practice, observation, Clown Labs, continued education, and gameplay would be fun and useful in a new collaboration. If so, I trust that you’ll communicate with me!

 

*The topic of “Clown Logic” is an entire department unto itself.

Harsh harmony

Breakfast in the neighborhood aviary surrounded by diverse birdsong.

A silent crow then interjects its presence within the company of cascading sparrows, robins, tits, finches, warblers.

Is it trying to blend in, this stowaway of song?

Perhaps it loves a melodic morning as much as me.

Musings of a Wanderer

I lift my gaze from the sidewalk to lock eyes with a beautiful, petite red-headed baby who’s maybe five or six months old.

From the bundled confines of the stroller, their entire tiny face stretched into a bright smile: toothless mouth agape, brows raised high.

We simultaneously exchange an inaudible, “Wow!”

Overheard: On Tour with Missoula Children’s Theater

1.6.07 nearby conversation at Tipu’s Tiger restaurant:

Person C: My biggest problem with technology is that I hate technology. My energy knows it. I can sit in front of a computer, and my energy will short it out. It stops working.

(later)

Person A: Have you ever heard of the movie An Inconvenient Truth?

Person B: Yeah, all the comedians are making fun of it… I walked in skeptical, and walked out nervous.

(later)

Person A: (reads the dessert menu) Chocolate tofu?! What happened to good ol’ fat, you know?

(later)

Person C: Do you have vanilla ice cream?

Staff: No.

Person C: What kind of ice cream do you have?

Staff: We don’t have ice cream.

Person A: It’s seasonal.

Person C: Well, it’s cold! This is an appropriate season for ice cream!

 

 

2.6.07 THE LAUNDROMAT

Woman seated near the dryers, talking on the phone: Hello. This your mother. Have you seen your father today? …Oh, okay. He was supposed to meet me at the office, but I haven’t seen him. I had a client, so… (laughs) Anyway, I’m a little nervous. I’m very excited. I’m doing my laundry now, so if I need to crash, I hope it’s okay to crash. . . yeah! That would be a novel idea. I think Daddy’s excited, too. Okay, hon, I’lll let you get back to work. Workin’, workin’, workin’. I was gonna ask how your face is doing. …Oh, wonderful.

– – – – –

Man: Oh, sorry.

Woman: It’s okay. There’s only one of me, and three chairs.

Man: Hey! How’ve you been? I haven’t seen you in–

Woman: Many, many moons.

Man: You still with the old man?

Woman: Yup, he’s working a new job now. Roofing, or something. Guess that’s good.

Man: You still with the Eagles?

Woman: Yup, been with them for four years now.

Man: Wow, that long.

Woman: Time flies when you’re having–

Man: Yeah…

Woman: …

Man: …

Woman: …

Man: So, it was good to see you.

Woman: You, too.

Man: Have fun with those Eagles.

Woman: Yeah, ya gotta have fun, no matter what you do. Keep having fun, right?

Man: Yeah.

 

 

2.9.07 Eating at Mitzi’s:

Waitress: Thanks for coming in today.

Kindergarten Girl: You’re welcome.

Waitress: Your grandpa sure was nice.

Kindergarten Girl: His name is Papa.

(Kindergarten Girl tries to push open the heavy glass door to no avail)

 

 

2.16.07 with my billet host:

Doris: Do we need to scare you to get rid of those hiccups?

Me: Oh, I get ‘em all the time.

Doris: …Disgusting.

 

 

3.14.07 at the courthouse in Virginia City:

Person A: It was a Child Protective Services meeting.

Person B: …They could’ve “child protected” out here.

 

 

2.16.07 during preshow, applying makeup on the young seahorses in Sandpoint, ID:

Courtney (age 12): I have bad news for you.

Me (age 23): What?

Courtney: You have a grey hair.

Me: What do you mean “bad news?” I like my grey hair. I have a whole patch of it. See?

Courtney: You mean you WANT it?

Me: Of course.

Courtney: My mom’s trying to get rid of it, you’re trying to grow it… I’m so confused!