clown 2 – the red nose, the smallest mask in the world

what is a clown?


What’s the first thing you think of?

The red nose? Mismatched clothing? Funny shoes?

Not all clowns wear red noses. When I was recruited into the (ssshhhhh!!!) Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, or CIRCA, for short, the red nose was optional. Everything in the Clown Army is optional. But more about CIRCA another day.

One of my teachers of clowning described the red nose as the smallest mask in the world. Powerful. And true. I had never really thought about it. And she said that the nose is the only part of our body that continues to grow and change as we age. The red nose is the perfect disguise.

initiation to the red nose

Some clown teachers iniate students into wearing the red nose early on (or not at all). Or at least that’s been my experience.

My teacher at the circus school had us training and preparing for 10 weeks before we wore our red noses.

We didn’t even begin by talking about noses, costumes or clown names. The teacher opened the door to this clown world through games, improvisations, body movement and imagination.

Imagen-0004After a month, we had homework:  we had to make a “practice” clown nose from an object we found around at home. I made mine from a beaded broach a friend had made for me. Ian helped me to tie a sting around it so I could wear it as a clown nose. We wore the practice nose for a month, and finally last week we were initiated into the red nose.

Wrapping up the class when we first wore our practice noses, we did a touching exercise. On a piece of paper, our teacher told us to write the sentence “My nose is … ” and complete it using adjectives we would use to describe our nose. Mine read: “My nose is … natural (it’s a flower), happy and pretty, powerful, colorful, a source of food for many creatures, collaborative (my friends helped me to make it).

We went around the circle, everyone reading their lists out. Our descriptions ranged from funny to sweet to odd. People had made noses from the most natural of sources like an orange peel, to the practical a spoon, to ingenious adaptations of dolls and toys.


Then the teacher invited us to read a second time this time substituting “I am … ” for “My nose is …” Again, a funny, sweet, odd and I’d add clever and moving exercise.

Then we wore these practice noses for about a month. Along the way there have also been other rituals and rites of passage.


One early in the semster was to walk from our classroom and go outside, across the street to the park blindfolded. We all walked in a line. Each of us with our hands on the shoulder of the person in front of us. The teacher guiding us. And then in the park we did some games and had some encounters before finally taking off the blindfolds and talking about the feelings we had doing the activity.

The other one just the other day when we got our red noses. Again blindfolded, we ran across the length of the circus studio and ran into a mat held up by two classmates against the wall. The teacher ran alongside each student guiding us. Afterwards, again, we talked about the feelings that exercise brought up for us. Then we went inside and did an improv exercise to finally “win” our red nose. Running into the wall, I suppose, symbolizes running into our own self, our clown self. Like boom! Hello. I’ve always been here. Do you see me? Do you see me now?


a clown world or just the normal world?

How does all this sound to you? Crazy? A bit odd? Interesting? Intriguing? Confusing? Normal?

In the field I work in, education for nonviolent social change, it is normal, or at least not out of the ordinary. In fact I know many of the games and activities we do in clown class. They come from the traditions of improv, games for actors, popular education and more. But in clown class they are framed differently and the learning objectives are adapted to the context.

Both of those exercises felt very familiar to me, and I got a lot of joy out of doing them. So often I am on the other end of the exercise, facilitating the learning.

nature_mother_natureTwo days before the blindfolded walk to the park I had been teaching a course where we did a similar thing.

The whole group starts out in “home base” in the forest (in our case). People work in pairs. They decide who will go first. And then one person is blindfolded and led by their partner to a tree in the forest and for 3-5 minutes they get to know the tree through senses other than sight.

Their partner then leds them back to “home base”, the blindfold is removed and now just using sight the person has to identify “their tree”.

People then swap roles so the other person can have the same experience.

Sweet huh? Try it sometime, you’d be surprised. In all the times I’ve done the exercise, people almost always can find “their tree”.

Imagen-0005This last time however, it was raining. And raining cats and dogs. So I couldn’t ask people to go out. So instead, I brought logs to the classroom, all similar sizes and shapes, and we essentially did the same thing but instead of trees, logs! Clever, huh?

Coincidentally I also recently did the running into the wall blindfolded exercise. I was in a gathering of people who support others doing human rights observation in conflict zones. It’s an exercise that can be used to open up the topic of fear, or at least that’s how we used it that day.

phew! that was a big tangent

self_awareness003Sorry about that, dear reader, I went off on a tangent about the work I do in the middle of a post about clown class and the red nose.

But what can I say? I’m a clown!

One of the “rules” of clowning is to pursue what makes your clown happy and gives your clown pleasure.

My teacher recently shared this quote (by she couldn’t remember who but a clown) who said:

“Clowns don’t exist to make people laugh but to live a life of joy.”

I love that quote I think it’s one of the great attractions for me to studying clown. It brings me joy. And my teachers agree, find what makes your clown happy (or connected to whatever you are truly feeling) and do that, it will bring the audience with you because they will catch your wave of feelings.

my work and clowning

I am not amazed, but I am pleased, thrilled and intrigued how much overlap I am finding in this world of clowning to the topics I teach. I could go on forever, and I am filling notebooks with reflections. Years on, I think I will remember now as “my year of clown”.

More reflections on clown life.

clown 1 – clown class for professional development

clown 3 – clown slump

clown 4 welcome to the (so-called) normal world, Pop Corn

payaso  -es:  Más reflexiones escritas en español sobre la vida payasa.


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