Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Guest Post: Sacred Clowns by Mike Funt


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It is a pleasure and honor to have Mike Funt, artistic director of Four Clowns, join us as a guest contributor. Mike is well-known internationally for his workshops in clown, mask, and circus arts, and for the many physical theatre shows he has directed, including Servant of Two Masters, a stage adaptation of the 1971 film, Cold Turkey, and his own translation and adaptation of Molière’s The Imaginary Invalid. Clown training includes work with Philippe Gaulier, Aitor Basauri, Stefan Haves and John Gilkey of Cirque du Soleil, Avner the Eccentric, Aziz Gual, and instructors from Ringling Brothers. He has also studied with play expert Dr. Stuart Brown and trained extensively in Laughter Yoga with Dr. Madan Kataria. Here he shares his longtime interest in the sacred clown, which has led to him teaching a workshop on it this weekend (Dec. 3 & 4) in Los Angeles. Check it out here!


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Jacques Lecoq, the renowned clown and theatre teacher was famous for his pedagogy. He helped to inspire and train some of the most brilliant and innovative theatre artists currently working. And at the heart of his teaching are the principles of le jeu (play), disponsibilité (openness), and complicité (connection or togetherness). When I became a clown twenty years ago, I found these tools useful as a performer. Now, more than ever, I find them useful as a person.

I suffer from anxiety disorder, with frequent bouts of depression. For years I was on medication as I worked to start a career in the performing arts, not a task that is exactly helpful for those two issues. Then, as I began to work in clown more and more, I suddenly found that I no longer felt the need for the medication. So with the aid of a doctor, I was slowly able to ween myself off the medication and use clown as my anti-anxiety/anti-depression drug. (I repeat that I did this with the aid of a medical professional. I do not recommend taking a clown class and quitting any medication cold turkey.) For eight years, I have been without any medicine for my mental issues. As I began reading up on this, I discovered that there was an anthropological and scientific reason why this works.

When was the last time you sang?
When was the last time you danced?
When was the last time you told a story?
When was the last time you sat in silence?

These activities are fundamental to a person’s well-being, and early humans knew this before they knew how to farm. By doing these things in a regular practice, the way you would yoga or tai chi, you begin to feel a sense of well-being and peace. So I began to understand why these aspects of performance can make a person feel good, but these things are not exclusive to the clown. What is it that clown adds to the process that made clown, at least for me, such a soothing panacea?

Then I came across a book called Trickster Makes This World by Lewis Hyde. This is a fascinating book and it was eye-opening in answering my questions. The trickster is the “laughing shadow of the shaman.” The trickster sees the pageantry and ceremony of the shaman, and simply cannot take it all seriously.
Illustration of Coyote the trickster

In fact, according to Byrd Gibbens, Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, “Many native traditions held clowns and tricksters as essential to any contact with the sacred. People could not pray until they had laughed, because laughter opens and frees from rigid preconception. Humans had to have tricksters within the most sacred ceremonies for fear that they forget the sacred comes through upset, reversal, surprise.”

Heyoka, sacred clown

With this insight, I added a fifth question to the shaman’s list: When was the last time you laughed? And so my answer was clear. Why did clown help me so much? Because it has been helping people for thousands of years before I set foot on this planet. With this in mind, I created “The Sacred Clown,” a workshop that takes the principles of the clown and transforms it into more of a healthful mindfulness practice rather than exclusively a performance tool. Those familiar with clown will recognize Lecoq’s principles:

Le jeu. Play. Do everything you do in life with that sense of play and joy and childlike innocence. Do your job this way. Go to school this way. Go on vacations this way. Treat every situation like you are the dumbest person in the room, and you will learn more, discover more, and be amazed by more than most people. And you will have a lot more fun.

Complicité. Connection. A sense of "oneness" with others, what Emile Durkheim calls “communitas” or “collective effervescence.” Find that human connection with everyone in your life. Your friends. Your family. A stranger across the room at Starbucks. The person next to you on an airplane. Connect with other people, make eye contact, talk to them, touch them, share affection. Find your complicité, change the way others breathe, and you will meet new and fascinating individuals every single day.

Disponsibilité. Openness. Give 100% of yourself to everyone you come in contact with. Hide nothing and share everything. Oh sure, there will be people who will respond negatively to this. They'll say you're weird or dumb or irresponsible. They'll try to take advantage of you. But don't take it personally. "This is not my audience," says the clown. But if you keep celebrating your flaws in public, you will eventually find your audience. You will find your people because, as Philippe Gaulier says, the clown’s motto is, "Next time it will be better."

In “The Sacred Clown,” you will find elements of Lecoq and Gaulier as well Richard Ponchinko. However, you will also find a lot more tools to help you bring your clown off the stage and into your real life, and of course there will be LOTS of singing, dancing, stories, silence, and laughter. It works. I know from experience. To me Anxiety is an overwhelming and uncontrollable worry about the future, and Depression is an overwhelming and uncontrollable worry about the past. The clown lives only in the present. And when you force yourself to play and live exclusively in the present moment, a nifty little trick is played on Depression and Anxiety: there is no past or future for them to feed off of.

Every day I still wake up to those two foes of mine, and they are worthy adversaries. I don’t always beat them, but I do fight them, every day. And my clown is my greatest weapon against them. The clown is pure goodness. He is the opposite of everything that is evil in the world. Joy and peace await the trickster if you try to stay in the mindset of what Gaulier calls the “Beautiful Idiot.”

A Photo Essay on the Heyoka Clowns:




A little info about Pueblo Clowns: 

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