Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book Report: "The Clown In You" by Caroline Dream

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If you perform as a clown, variety artist, physical comedian — whatever you want to call it! — you've no doubt taught workshops. Sometimes workshops are a more dependable source of income than performing. Such is life, but the result is that some teachers, and they may be excellent performers and instructors, never get beyond a few sure-fire hours of classroom material, guaranteed to entertain, and more often than not liberally borrowed  from their own favorite teachers.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with this, I've done it myself, and the experience for the student can still be a valid one. There are, on the other hand, teachers who dedicate years, even decades, to developing their curriculum and their teaching sensibility. They are more poised to go deeper into the material and to offer full-length courses that cover far more ground and potentially bring the work closer to a performance level.

Caroline Dream is one such teacher. A transplanted Brit, she lives and works in Barcelona, and not so coincidentally is married to Alex Navarro, who writes the excellent Spanish-language blog, Clown Planet. They have often taught together, and no doubt bounced ideas around, much to our benefit. Caroline is very active as a performer — I've seen her and she's quite good — but she has also dedicated herself for many, many years to teaching, and now to writing about it.
Unfortunately, there are still teachers who use physical or psychological abuse as part of their training method, believing that this profession is not for the weak spirited. That may be so, but having taught clowning for over a decade, I have come to believe that such abuse, albeit used as a means of releasing the clown in students, for many acts merely as a deterrent and for some can create lasting damage.

Long story short, The Clown in You is a very useful book for the serious student of clowning (professionals included) as well as for beginners. It is, as the subtitle promises, "contemporary clowning," aka the "personal clown" or the "clown from the heart." There is very little on clown gags, no formulas for creating material. It really is about using your own innate joy, silliness and, yes, stupidity, to forge a clown character unique to you. As the old saying goes (no, I don't know who said it first), clowns characters aren't created, they are uncovered.

We've built up civilizations, eradicated many threats to our survival, invented a myriad of objects to facilitate our existence. We have also created a cultural heritage, dominated natural resources, explored space, etc. But, even so, we have never ceased to be stupid.

The first half of the book seeks to define the key attributes of the clown, drawing especially on the playfulness and imagination of the child, while also outlining the defense mechanisms that make it difficult for the would-be clown to surrender to all that frightening freedom. It's a book, and devoid of video examples, so this can get a bit theoretical, but in the second half Caroline walks us through a lot of clown exercises with very helpful examples, enriched considerably by the insightful side coaching she was doing as the exercise progressed. This is not intended to be a manual, there's no step-by-step do this, do that, but the actual classroom experiences are invaluable in understanding the work.


I teach a three-step process that I call "absorbing failure." Absorbing failure begins with the recognition that something has failed; the clown then feels the failure internally (admitting vulnerability), before externalizing the feeling and playing with it.... 

But don't take my word for it. Those of you who will be anywhere near the New York City area next weekend (Sept. 6th & 7th) should seriously consider taking advantage of Caroline's first-ever workshop in the Big Apple at the New York International Clown-Theatre Festival. The festival continues for three weeks with a stellar line-up of performers, plus more workshops by the likes of Eric Davis, René Bazinet, and Aitor Basauri. Don't say I didn't tell you!

You can purchase The Clown in You here.


Ben said...

great article and heads up about upcoming clown festival in NYC.Now i know.

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