Serious or just solemn?

jmclown1.jpgOver the past few weeks I’ve done a fascinating course in clowning skills run by the delightful Carol Thompson of Nose to Nose.

I love work that takes me to edge of my comfort zone – I end up exhausted and challenged, but with a big appetite for more. That’s really my idea of the place we go to learn and grow.

Some people think this must be a course in being foolish and operating squirty flowers. It’s not like that at all. I experience it as a very stripped back and challenging form of improv. When you’re performing in clown mode, you constantly realise that your efforts to make the audience laugh often fail. What becomes fascinating is noticing the things, often accidental, that do generate a laugh.

What actually works is hard to capture in words, but being authentic is a wordy pointer in the general direction of truth. The practice of exploring what does and doesn’t create connection is challenging because it touches on very primal stuff around our need to belong.

Courage2be36a.jpgAnother exciting aspect of the work is how we become aware of a kind of field in which the clown and the audience play. So often, watching a scene unfold, the audience has a very clear sense of what they want to happen next. When the clown does that obvious thing, it can be remarkably satisfying. As Rob Poynton pointed out to me a while ago, people then laugh not because of some clever bit of scripting, but because of the satisfaction of feeling really present to something true (more on that here.)

It’s easy to dismiss clowning as mere foolishness or “just play”. That attitude is easily taken to any form of disruption – and therefore innovation. Being serious is about committing to trying things out and risking failure. Being solemn, in this context, is a bullshit version of serious that’s actually the opposite of being truly engaged in the struggle.

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