clown – 1
clown classes for professional development
Recently I’ve begun devoting a lot of time to clowning – going to classes to learn the tradition by doing. When I say “a lot of time” I’d estimate about 10 hours a week, when I add up class time (4 hours) plus travel time and homework. I don’t know where I’ve found the “extra time” for this hobby and I’m not sure I have. But one thing I’m certain of is that I feel tremendously enthusiastic about the topic.
To make myself feel better about investing so much of my time when I already have so many other projects on the go, I consider these classes “professional development.”
There’s a lot of psychology to being a clown, practicing mindful attention and being alive to what’s happening right now and a lot of un-learning unhelpful, unhealthy ways of being. This all relates directly to my work with activist and community groups too.
One colleague remarked that she had never seen someone so enthusiastic when they talked about their professional development before. And it’s true, I haven’t felt this excited about something in a long time. Maybe the last time was when Lula joined our family. Or it reminds of the feeling of falling in love.
Clown school days
I am 9 weeks into the school year so far, and I probably am moving beyond the “honeymoon phase”. This week in one of my classes I felt a wee grumpy and not particularly “clowny” or like my usual “clowny” of the weeks before. I took it as an exercise in feeling whatever it was and accepting it.
So right now I have two clown classes a week. One, Tuesday morning from 11 to 1 at a circus school in a nearby village and the other Wednesday afternoons from 5 to 7 at a neighborhood gender equality center. The Wednesday teacher is from a clown school in a different nearby village.
The Tuesday class runs all year until June, and the Wednesday one is a short community course, only 5 weeks long. I learned about the short course because I have taken a couple of weekend intensive courses at the clown school. These weekend courses run Saturday and Sunday from 10 until 7. They are powerful but exhausting weekends. Next weekend I will take another one – Clowning for Social Transformation. I’m super excited about that and thinking already about how to manage my energy so I absorb all I can from the weekend.
So you see? A lot of time devoted to clowning! I have gone a bit clown crazy these days! Even I have enough self-awareness to notice that.
what’s clown class like?
The classes are similar yet different in terms of the teaching-style and the way we engage with the content.
But a class is more or less like this – the teachers suggest games or activities that also function as warm-up exercises that build on each other, in turn growing our confidence and skills to then do a (usually) more complex activity like doing a performance, completing some task or playing a game.
We do talk and work with voice and sound, but a lot of the work (so far) is exploration of our clown’s inner world and giving that expression through body and movement.
The teachers I work with believe that the “clown” represents our best other self and the possibility, therefore, of practicing healthy schizophrenia. That “clown” emotions are the motivation for action, and clowns always say “yes”.
The teaching styles are different. One teacher is more “free-style” and the other is bit more “directive”. Taking orders can be difficult for many people, including me, and I’ve had to work with myself about that, but I’m softening to her approach.
She may sound like a drill Sargent because she uses a whistle. Any and all actions and responses are “right” and “welcome”, yet she always encourages a bit more. “Keep going and make them laugh if what you’re doing is working. And if it’s not, don’t give up, do something else. Keep trying. Give more, we have it to give, we are energy,” she says. I can tell she has the students’ best interests at heart, even if I sometimes feel annoyed with her.
The other teacher, by contrast is more collective and reflective in her approach. After an improv performance exercise — imagine three clown students come on stage and are asked to collectively explain why they are late and where they have been. The idea is to co-create a fantastical story, acted out with gestures and built on the foundation of “yes”. That is no matter what a colleague says, the other clowns respond affirmatively and say more.
When the performance is over, this teacher first asks the public (the other clown students) and the performers what worked and why. She also asks about missed opportunities, when a proposal was made to the group that wasn’t picked up. Finally after we’ve thought it through ourselves, she offers comments. It amazes me how she can hold all the details of these performances in her head. She hardly ever takes notes.
Both teachers are very good at what they do, and loving, caring and supportive towards the students. They just express it differently.
I could go into a lot more detail about these classes, and I’m sure in some post some day I will. I’m studying the content and design carefully and thinking about my own work. But for now, and in brief, in clown class: we play games, laugh a lot and have a ton of fun. And I while I don’t know actually how I’m growing or what I’m learning, I must be because I am exhausted after class and still thinking about things days later.
Intrigued to know more?
I am and I expect I’ll have more to say soon.
Links to the schools
Espai de Circa and Associació Valenciana de Circ — Located in nearby Alboraya, this school teaches circus arts to professionals and the general public. It also holds lots of events and performances. A great place.
payaso 1 -es — If you read Spanish, in this blog I describe the clown school’s basic course in clown emotions that everyone must take before signing up to other courses: Navegating Clown Emotions, basic level.