<![CDATA[CLOWNDANCE.CO.UK - Blog]]>Wed, 31 Jan 2024 11:32:58 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[Clowndance- process or genre?]]>Thu, 12 Oct 2023 23:00:00 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/clowndance-process-or-genreAlmost all of my process comes from either dance or clown, not from traditional drama.
​Is clowndance a process, not a genre?

Journal entry, 06/12/22
The first full devising process in which I tested out the performance-making possibilities of the clowndance techniques I have been developing was neither with dancers nor clowns, but rather with acting-based performance students (See MAPP – The Capitalist Self-Care Club). Working with them gave rise to some reflection about the difference between a genre and a process, and made me question which I was attempting to create or describe. 
 
I think initially, I was aiming to coin the term ‘Clowndance’ to describe a genre; to stake a claim for a particular corner of the physical performance landscape where dance and clown intersect. Increasingly though, I’m questioning the purpose and value of genre descriptions. This came up in my interview with with Frankie Thompson, and she poured scorn on the whole system of categorising performances by genre, particularly when those labels are externally imposed and come loaded with expectations:
I was very resistant to being put in comedy, because (of the) pressure of the award system, the money and the almost quantifiable sort of aspect that there is, like: am I laughing every minute? I just feel like that is like capitalism in its most extreme applied to art, like: if I'm not laughing every minute, this is not worth my time, because it's a comedy show.
 
…sometimes when you're put in a frame, it's quite useful because you're breaking things, and then sometimes it brings completely the wrong audience and it's really harmful. And then sometimes it's just about money. And that sort of lie just makes me feel like the whole system is just ridiculous, really.
(Thompson, 2023)
I don’t think she’s alone in feeling that way, and it’s certainly a continual frustration I faced when making work for my company; having it oversimplified or misrepresented by venues for marketing purposes. Performances, like people, are more complex than the label by which we seek to define them. Perhaps by continuing to subdivide and claim areas of performance practice, even in research contexts, we’re merely reinforcing a transactional, capitalist way of thinking about art. 
 
Practice as Research sometimes seeks to pinpoint genres more accurately, as artists' voices are more centred in academic discourse, but p
erhaps the whole question needs to be thrown out. Is it possible to find a language that describes performance work without pigeonholing it in a reductive way? Is there any point, when we're faced with the reality that under our current system, art must be sold to ticket-buying audiences? Socialist Feminist writer Lynne Segal suggests that ‘a more utopian spirit may actually be... essential for us to resist mere accommodation to the known harms of the present’ (Segal, 2018, p. 22). Frankie went on to describe a night that she co-curates, that perhaps offers a glimpse of some post-genre-pigeonholing utopian thinking:
…the idea of Miss Ellaneous is that it's not quite drag, not quite comedy, not quite clown, so that you don't have to come on and feel like you're going to be judged as comedy. Or we ask people, would you like people to expect to laugh or expect to not laugh? And it's interesting because the most common... People really don't want the audience to be controlled in the main way. They want to come on and assess what the vibe is just of the work alone, which is so interesting. 
 
We've created a space where we're asking, what do you need when you come on stage? And most people go like, no, I'd rather work it out, which is just so exciting and free.
(Thompson, 2023)
Picture
Image from 'Miss Elleneous and the Lavender Menace Bath Bomb' at The Puppet Theatre Barge, October 2023
Alissa Clarke, when I discussed this idea of genre versus process briefly with her, suggested that my resistance to the fixed-point task of defining Clowndance as a genre perhaps ties into a strand of feminist thinking that runs through all of my work and research. She reminded me of Hélène Cixous’s concept of ‘l’écriture feminine’ (Cixous, 1975 in Clarke, 2017, p. 258), where the writer follows her own pleasure, revelling in the process, rather than the phallo-centric climactic endpoint. In a contemporary article discussing Cixous’s play L’Indiade ou l'Inde de leurs rêves (written, perhaps not surprisingly, for a clown-based company; Ariane Mnoushkine’s Le Théâtre du Soleil), Judith Miller says ‘Cixous… portrays feminine being as an unending, continuous, and transformative development.’ (Miller, 1989, p. 136). So for Cixous, process is feminine.

As I planned this research project, I felt strongly that I did not want my practical outcome to be a final performance. As a director and choreographer the breadth of my work isn’t necessarily visible in what the audience sees, it’s in every stage of the journey to get to that performance. I didn’t want to create a ‘masterpiece’ that attempted to encapsulate what clowndance is. It’s many things, made by many people; what right do I have to claim unique ownership? So I am not attempting to coin the term clowndance as a genre, as that feels bound up in patriarchal, capitalist thinking. I am instead working towards a definition or description of a process, which my clowndance syllabus will attempt to teach.
Picture
Kitty in rehearsals for 'The Capitalist Self-Care Club'
Via a somewhat circuitous journey (Hélène Cixous might approve), this brings me now to share a train of thought that I recorded in my journal towards the end of the Capitalist Self Care Club devising process, where I reflected on and set out some defining features of clowndance as a process, rather than a genre. The approach to creating, structuring and performing material is informed by clowning and dance, whether or not the final performance outcome looks like either (in the case of this production, it didn’t!) This was written partly for my own clarity, but also for the MA students I was working with, to help crystallise the process that we had been undertaking together. I wrote:
As a director, I’m provocateur and editor, keeper of the dream and representative of the audience.

Performers in this process need to be present, open, playful, responsive. To do this they need to feel safe, that they can make offers that may or may not be right, but that will be honoured, not mocked.
Everyone needs to have a secure enough structure to trust that the show is going somewhere, even if that journey isn’t narrative, or always clear. Think: what do we want, or need, next?

Responses to provocations (often games) could be improvised, scripted, conceptualised, choreographed or designed. They might form sections- blocks of material equivalent to a scene
OR transitions
OR themes


I’ll sometimes add elements to create more through-line- a sense for the audience of something progressing, repeating, developing and completing. As such, this process for making performance (theatre, clown, dance, clowndance…) is compositional, not dramaturgical. More like choreography than devising narrative. 

In performance, everything serves the idea in the moment.

We always include and acknowledge the audience.

All the material is treated as ‘text’ be it spoken text, movement, dance, interaction with objects, something visual or aural, song…

​We must always be clear where the focus should be. It might be in more than one place at a time.
Journal entry, 06/12/22
I'll come back to the multitude of ways in which I now see feminist thought running through the clowndance project in another blog. For now, I'm thinking about how to systematise the processual in a way that allows for continual change, as I map out material for my next clowndance intensive.
Bibliography

Clarke, A. (2017) ‘The Pleasures of Writing about the Pleasures of the Practice: Documenting Psychophysical Performer Trainings.’, in Documenting Performance: The Context and Processes of Digital Curation and Archiving. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, pp. 253–270.

Miller, J.G. (1989) ‘Medusa and the Mother/Bear: The Performance Text of Hélène Cixous’s Llndiade ou l’Inde de leurs rêves’, Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Fall 1989, pp. 135–142.

Segal, L. (2018) Radical happiness: moments of collective joy. Brooklyn: Verso Books.

Thompson, F. (2023) ‘Clowndance interview: Frankie Thompson’.

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<![CDATA[Bodies (Re)Searching Bodies]]>Wed, 19 Apr 2023 10:36:40 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/bodies-researching-bodies
I'm collaborating with two fellow PhD students, Francisco Sani and Satkirti Sinha, on a short series of workshops exploring power, affirmative action and co-creation in practice based research.

My workshop, The Disruptive Power of Joy, is on Thursday 11th May at DMU in Leicester, drop me a line if you'd like to join! Here's the blurb:

Who are we when we dance like nobody’s watching? 
 
This workshop plays with the embodied states of vulnerability, pleasure and community, using a toolkit of games and movement provocations drawn from theatrical clowning and contemporary dance. It asks how we could explore the Socialist Feminist idea of Radical Happiness (see Lynne Segal (2018) Radical Happiness: moments of collective joy. Brooklyn: Verso Books) to enrich our practice research, performance making, and pedagogic approaches to physical performance.

Who could we be when we dance like everybody’s watching?

For more details on the full workshop series click here.


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<![CDATA[3 Minute Thesis 2023]]>Fri, 03 Mar 2023 12:56:46 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/3-minute-thesis-2023Here's a video of my presentation for De Montfort's 2023 3 Minute Thesis event, where PhD students explain their research, logically enough, in three minutes or less. My title is Clowndance: Disrupting Perfectionism
Access note: This video is captioned, click the captions icon to see them.
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<![CDATA[Bubbling with Pleasure: Part 2]]>Tue, 16 Aug 2022 23:00:00 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/bubbling-with-pleasure-part-2In my last post, I talked about finding the state of play, communication with the audience and readiness for laughter that Athene Seyler in her iconic book The Craft of Comedy calls ‘bubbling with pleasure’ (Seyler and Haggard, 2013, p. 55).
In my 2022 summer Clowndance course we found a way into this state with a game I called Dance Like Everybody’s Watching (see TUESDAY). It's perhaps logical that dancers should derive pleasure from dancing, but what we watched felt like more than simply some nice movement to music. We need to go back to clown to think a little deeper about what the state was that we were conjuring.

Louise Peacock (another fan of Athene Seyler) pulls together several strands of thinking on the state of flow, and clowning’s particular version of the same, which she defines as ‘the pleasure to be in the moment’ (Peacock, 2009, p. 11). We definitely saw that here. The biggest Boss Clown of them all, Phillippe Gaulier, talks about the need for a sense of pleasure to make a performer watchable; ‘No pleasure?’ he declares, ‘You are boring’ (Gaulier in Hendricksen, no date). Again, we were neither boring nor bored. 
 
However none of the clowning-based games we’d played up to this point, enjoyable and funny as they had been, had had quite the same effect as this ridiculously simple one. Other games followed that had that same quality of pleasure and flow; the Save the Show Game (Davison, 2015, p. 84) (see WEDNESDAY) and the Instant Song Stories (Simon, 2012, p. 54) (see THURSDAY) stand out to me, and both involved dancing with music. Dancing, in this context, had released the bubbles of pleasure more effectively than any amount of flopping, bafflement, or putting each other in the shit. So again I ask myself, what was going on? 
Picture
Sarah Butler and Samantha Bosworth attempt to put each other in the shit
We started to pull at a thread of thinking on the latter two days of the course: Clowning seeks to reveal hidden part of ourselves- it’s often phrased as finding our inner idiot or fool. It seeks to reveal the parts of ourselves that we feel ashamed of, in search of something vulnerable and laughter-inducing, and the assumption is often that that hidden something will be our stupidity. In a workshop I took with Mick Barnfather, I remember he encouraged us to ‘only be as stupid as we really are’ (Barnfather, 2012), John Wright says that ‘clowning turns idiocy into an art form’ (Wright, 2006, p. 180), while De Castro’s now legendary introductory clowning course is called ‘How to be a Stupid’ (De Castro, 2022).
Participant post-it note reflection, 20/07/22
 
Your clown version is a way to explore and laugh (in a healing way) at the personality traits that you want to hide.
I think it’s quite telling that the dancer who write the note didn’t specifically mention idiocy, foolishness or weakness. She just mentioned something she normally wants to hide. I wonder how much of the accepted thinking around clown revolves around masculine shame and fear of weakness and foolishness. Perhaps the parts of women that we seek to conceal are not so much about our weakness but rather our power; our noise, our anger, our desire to take up space. On the final day, the three of us left standing talked this idea through. I summed up our thinking like this:
Journal extract from group discussion, 21/07/22
 
We’re been releasing- un-squashing- the parts of ourselves that we usually (unconsciously) squash, repress.
 
That’s slightly different to revealing the part of yourself that you usually conceal because you are embarrassed by it- your idiot self.
 
Women squash themselves to be less threatening.
 
Boss Clown says: reveal the part of yourself you’re not proud of
 
Dancing Clown says: reveal the part of yourself you are secretly proud of
One of the dancers, Samantha Bosworth, wrote to me a little while after the course ended, having had time to reflect. She’s a drama therapist by day and had some wonderful insights to offer on the emotional work we were uncovering throughout the research process, for which I am immensely grateful. She said:
As a dancer and importantly as a woman (cis), the games, tasks and exercises allowed me to explore the parts that can feel ugly, or society deems less desirable qualities. I enjoyed being in my body with emotion. Pissed off, angry, silly, goofy, child-like and curious. 
Perhaps to bubble with pleasure, we had to dismantle some of the armour of beauty, lightness and control forged by dance technique as well as by society’s expectations of women. As well as creating the safe, nurturing space that I identified after making Mark and the Marked (See Bonding, Needs and Boss Clowns), there was a sense from this group that what they wanted and needed from me was permission to un-squash. 
 
Samantha’s parting shot was this gem:

You invited us to own our gravity and take up space. Yes and yes, this echoes in my bones every day. I also felt an undertone of not giving a f**k.
I’m proud and fucking joyful; bubbling with pleasure; to have enabled some of that. 
Picture
Lucy Wordsworth, Kitty Winter and Samantha Bosworth bubble with pleasure. In hats.
Bibliography

Barnfather, M. (2012) ‘Clown workshop for Wriggle Dance Theatre’. The Core at Corby Cube.

Davison, J. (2015) Clown training: a practical guide. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

De Castro, A. (2022) How to be a StupidThe Why Not Institute. Available at: https://thewhynotinstitute.com/when-are-the-courses/.

Hendricksen, C. (no date) ‘Part 3: No Pleasure? You Are Boring’. Available at: https://shows.acast.com/an-interview-with-philippe-gaulier/episodes/part-3-no-pleasure-you-are-boring (Accessed: 24 March 2022).

Peacock, L. (2009) Serious Play: Modern Clown Performance. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Seyler, A. and Haggard, S. (2013) The Craft of Comedy. 21st Century Edition. Edited by R. Barton. London, New York: Routledge. Available at: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/dmu/reader.action?docID=1128307&ppg=3.

Simon, E. (2012) The Art of Clowning: More Paths to Your Inner Clown. second edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wright, J. (2006) Why is that so funny? a practical exploration of physical comedy. London: Nick Hern Books.

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<![CDATA[Bubbling with Pleasure: Part 1]]>Tue, 16 Aug 2022 23:00:00 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/bubbling-with-pleasure-part-1‘Comedy, shall I say, is the sparkle on the water, not the depths beneath… But note, the waters must run deep underneath.’

- Athene Seyler

(Seyler and Haggard, 2013, p. 26)
On the first day of my Clowndance summer course in July 2022, I introduced the dancers to Athene Seyler’s extraordinary book The Craft of Comedy (Seyler and Haggard, 2013). First published in 1943, it takes the form of a series of letters between Seyler, an experienced and highly regarded comic actor, and Stephen Haggard, a younger, more serious actor, keen to learn. The concepts and language Seyler uses are so fresh and contemporary feeling, and so close to how I approach comic theatre, that I’m almost outraged that I didn’t encounter her book sooner. 
Picture
Figure 1: Athene Seyler, from RADA's archives
Seyler suggests to her reader that in order to play comedy successfully, the performer needs to be in an appropriate state, which she variously describes as comic spirit  (2013, p. 25), ‘tingling with knowledge of the joke to come’ (2013, p. 51) or ‘Bubbling with Pleasure’ (2013, p. 55). It was this last phrase that stuck with me, as a beautiful description of a physical state in which we could explore a new physical comic form. Not just feeling pleasure as an emotional experience, but our bodies bubbling with it. How though, could we generate this state?
 
We first attempted an exercise taken straight from Seyler, who suggests that her pupil try to recapture ‘the excited little twist in his diaphragm that he must often have experienced just before he is going to tell someone a funny incident that has happened to him.’ (Seyler and Haggard, 2013, p. 51) This is developed in the 21st Century edition of the book into an exercise where the actor delivers a speech cold, then spends a little time chatting nonsense with a friend before attempting it again (ibid 2013, p. 55). 
 
My three dancers each performed a short solo sequence they had prepared, in leiu of the speech, once cold, and then following a quick and silly chat with another performer. The second performances had some distinct shifts: 
  • - An unexpected deepening of muscularity and embodiment in the movement quality, perhaps as the dancers relaxed and ‘owned their gravity’ more (see Monday)

  • - There was a lot more happening in their faces- we all found we were watching faces more than bodies the second time

  • - There was a sense of commenting on what they were doing, as in ‘whee! A cartwheel!’ or ‘oh, I’m stuck’ at a moment of bound tension.
So to a degree, we were seeing what Seyler described, particularly her concept of comedy as a point of view, a comment on what’s happening onstage. The dancers were excited by the possibilities of working this way, particularly coming out of a full day of working on a state of play…
Participant post-it note reflections, 18/07/22
 
I can see life differently, everything can be funny. My body can feel joy and share joy with others. Wow! Who knew!
 
It’s not about the laughter, it’s about the joy. I feel like I’ve found the gold!
I was excited too, but I didn’t feel that we’d quite found the state of bubbling with pleasure yet. 
 
I had been thinking about the phrase ‘dance like nobody’s watching’- wondering what that looks like for dancers, and also why we associate dancing for your own enjoyment with shame. The phrase implies that if someone were watching you wouldn’t dance like that, or indeed, at all.
 
From this thinking came a game, Dance Like Everybody’s Watching, that I’ve described in the course write up (See TUESDAY). I wasn’t specifically seeking comedy here, but a sense of openness and connection with the audience that we struggle with, I think, in dance. We feel a connection among ourselves as we improvise and make material, but it’s not something we proactively train dancers to develop. 
 
The dances that we improvised, with no other instruction than to ‘fucking love it’ and to share that with the audience, felt revelatory. Watching them back on video gives only a tiny sense of what we all experienced. One dancer was close to tears afterwards, saying she never thought she’d be able to dance like that, as honestly as that, to the piece of music she’d chosen, in front of other people. Our discussion immediately afterwards centred around vulnerability, feeling free from judgement, and being OK with not being perfect. Thinking back on it though, what I saw from everyone was a different kind of perfection. They were perfectly themselves, and there were moments of pure, perfect pleasure. We were bubbling.
Picture
Lucy Wordsworth
Picture
Esme Blood
Picture
Samantha Bosworth
Picture
Ana Raquel Azevedo
Picture
Kitty Winter
Picture
Sarah Butler
Participant post-it note reflection, 19/07/22
 
A massive sense of freedom. Being able to experience new versions of myself.
So what was going on? How did this game make us feel so profoundly different to any other dance improvisation task? I have a few theories, that I would like to test further:
 
  • - We built up to this very exposed, solo improv task with lots of games, play and conversation. That conversation included swearing, jokes and anecdotes (Seyler’s route into bubbling with pleasure). We felt as if we knew each other a little as people, not just as dancers.

  • - I actively seek to create a playful and nurturing atmosphere to make any kind of performance work or training. I’m only now starting to identify this as a key strand of my practice as a director and educator (see Bonding, Needs and Boss Clowns). 

  • - By using music we had each chosen, and giving no choreographic instruction beyond enjoying dancing to the track, we were dancing (as you would for joy, for fun, at a party, when drunk), not doing dance (as an artistic discipline we train hard to do.)
 
Asking dancers to simply dance, making full use of the emotive power of music, seems such a simple way in to a state of pleasure that I’m slightly stunned. In fact, it's something I already use but hadn't seen in that light; one of my go-to rehearsal warm up activities is to ask everyone to put a tune onto a playlist (sometimes the song that was number one on the day of their birth), and all simply have a groove together.  
Journal extract, 20/07/22
 
Dancing IS bubbling with pleasure!
​ 
Figure 1: Portrait of Athene Seyler. Photographer unknown. From https://www.rada.ac.uk/profiles/athene-seyler/
 
Bibliography:

Seyler, A. and Haggard, S. (2013) The Craft of Comedy. 21st Century Edition. Edited by R. Barton. London, New York: Routledge. Available at: https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/dmu/reader.action?docID=1128307&ppg=3.
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<![CDATA[Clowndance Questions]]>Tue, 16 Aug 2022 21:41:19 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/clowndance-questionsAt the start of each day of the Clowndance Summer Course 2022, I wrote a series of questions that I thought the day’s work might address. In true clown style, we failed to answer any of them! 
Here are each day’s questions, left open. Some I'll return to in a later blog post, some may fall by the wayside, and some might become central to a later stage of the research. Most will birth further questions, and I suspect none will have definitive answers.

Monday: Play

What does play do to your body?
 
What do we see in others as they play?
 
How can we dance as we play?
 
How can we play as we dance?
 
What happens to technique?

Tuesday: Audience

How much communication can we have with the audience non-verbally?
 
What happens to dancers’ faces and their bodies if they constantly seek to communicate with the audience? Can they turn away?
 
How transformative can simply having an opinion be?

Picture
Sarah Butler and Samantha Bosworth play together

​Wednesday: Clowns (dancing)

Can we find a genuine feeling of failure with trained bodies?
 
How do we feel about failure and the flop, if what we want to make is dance?
 
What does John Wright’s state of bafflement feel like, look like, in our bodies?

Thursday: Choreography

Setting material gives a tighter structure, but can it work like game rules?
 
How do we make material that always considers the audience?
 
Is there a particular movement quality that feels like clown?

Picture
L-R Lucy Wordsworth, Kitty Winter, Samantha Bosworth. We have no answers, only questions
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<![CDATA[On Failure and Perfectionism: Part 2]]>Mon, 27 Jun 2022 23:00:00 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/on-failure-and-perfectionism-part-2Can deliberate failure- setting impossible tasks, allowing yourself to look stupid and un-beautiful- help dancers feel less frightened of failure, more comfortable with being vulnerable? 
A couple of weeks after my failed introductory workshop (see my last blog post) I attended a researcher training seminar on documentation in practice as research (Lerpiniere, 2022). The final practical task Dr Claire Lerpiniere set was to create a mind-map of a practical research activity as if it were a person; out of mine emerged the figure of Mama Clown, a persona I have already started to explore in my analysis of my work on Mark and the Marked (See Bonding and Boss Clowns blog). A researcher colleague pushed me to expand a little on this, and I made a few brief notes in my journal summing up our discussion:
Nurturing, adopting the misfits, the weird kids

Failure and perfectionism
(Journal- 19th May 2022)
Somehow the research-as-a-person exercise had allowed me to find a link between the emerging, nurturing clown persona that I have started to recognise as how I direct and teach, my experience of playing with failure at my ill-fated workshop, and the phenomenon of perfectionism in dance.

Dancers' mental health and wellbeing has been of increasing interest among the students I work with at Rambert School, and there have been several thoughtful third year dissertations in recent years touching on destructive perfectionism and negative self-image in dancers. There has also been an increase in formal research on the subject, mostly coming from a sports and dance psychology perspective (Atienza et al., 2020) with one study highlighting that 'shame may be a strong characteristic of perfectionism in dancers... (that) both shame and fear of failure are inherently focused on self-evaluation, and both connect failure to a loss of love and abandonment.' (Eusanio, Thomson and Jaque, 2014, p112).


So if dancers fear failure, and clowns embrace it, perhaps there is something here that clown can offer dancers? Here follows a longer train of thought on the subject from my journal:
Dancers train towards an ideal- this fosters perfectionism. We (dancers) know that ‘perfect’ is time-limited and requires constant vigilance. Technique leads us to perfection and protects us from injury and failure.

Dance is both a skills-based and a creative, communicative practice- as are all artforms, but the skills side of the equation is particularly large. Acquiring skills is slow. 

Dance has built-in expectations of beauty- dance training creates conventionally beautiful bodies. We don’t find beauty funny.

So failure is terrifying to dancers- it might mean injury, not working (not dancing), not being beautiful.
Clowns train idiosyncratically- there isn’t a ‘perfect’ to aim for. That is both frightening and liberating.

Skills are important, but only in the service of the idea, the communication, the personality. You can learn by doing, without necessarily naming and codifying the technique. Training is shorter, in blocks.

Clown has in-built expectations of comedy- it relies on an audience laughing to assess its success.

Clowns use failure as a starting point, but don’t want the output to fail. Being comfortable with one kind of failure protects and insures against the other- if the clown is comfortable in their failure, they aren’t failing.

If we’re frightened of failure we either can’t be vulnerable, or we’re so vulnerable that it’s painful to watch. When a performer shows us vulnerability it makes them human, relatable and sympathetic. If we like them, we are more likely to laugh. So failure leads to laughter via two routes:
So: Can failure- setting impossible tasks, allowing yourself to look stupid and un-beautiful- help dancers feel less frightened of failure, more comfortable with being vulnerable? Does that communicate to an audience, even if what they’re performing isn’t failure-based?

Is failure the only route to being comfortable with being vulnerable?

Can we encourage the same feeling by nurturing?
(Journal- 19th May 2022)
Eusanio et al conclude with the recommendation that ‘dancers, a population that frequently receives intense negative social evaluation, have much to gain from programs that enhance self-compassion and self-esteem.’ (2014, p. 112). As I observed in my analysis of Mark and the Marked, (see blog post) I use humour in a rehearsal process as a fast-track to complicite, bonding and a sense of belonging and esteem among my company, so perhaps there is a broader principle to build on here when working with dancers. Perhaps laughter; in particular laughing at failure, and with other people; could function as such a tool for building self-compassion and self-esteem.

Bibliography

Atienza, F.L. et al. (2020) ‘Examining the Mediating Role of Motivation in the Relationship between Multidimensional Perfectionism and Well- and Ill-Being in Vocational Dancers’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(14), p. 4945. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17144945.

Eusanio, J., Thomson, P. and Jaque, S.V. (2014) ‘Perfectionism, Shame, and Self-concept in Dancers: A Mediation Analysis’, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 18(3), pp. 106–114. Available at: https://doi.org/10.12678/1089-313X.18.3.106.

Lerpiniere, C. (2022) ‘The Role of Documentation in Practice-Based Research’. De Montfort University, 19 May.


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<![CDATA[On Failure and Perfectionism: Part 1]]>Wed, 15 Jun 2022 23:00:00 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/on-failure-and-perfectionism-part-1What if failure to do something is in fact an invitation, a provocation, to do something else?
In May 2022, I was due to run the first trial workshop of my practical Clowndance research. I had a lovely studio space booked at DMU on a Friday morning, and I had advertised the session to the entire dance department; undergraduates and MA students. Perhaps I didn’t pitch the session in the right way to appeal to the students. Perhaps they had a deadline looming. Whatever the reason, nobody showed up. I had been hugely looking forward to the session, to finally getting to work on some of the ideas that had been sloshing around in my brain for months with some actual dancers. Now nobody had turned up, I was worried that the practical strand of my research was doomed to failure; this had been designed as an introductory session where I could hopefully recruit participants for my longer summer course. I was disappointed, frustrated, hurt. I felt like a failure…
Picture
Alone in a big empty studio
‘‘Here's me with ALL my workshop participants’ I wrote in a Facebook post; making a self-deprecating joke of my own failure.
 
… and then that word started to resonate. Failure. One of clown’s most potent starting points (Davison, 2013, pp. 198–199) (Simon, 2012, pp. 65–87). What if failure to do one thing is in fact an invitation, a provocation, to do something else? I had a sudden vivid memory of one of the first clown shows I ever saw, Avner the Eccentric’s Exceptions to Gravity (Eisenberg, 2002), a show consisting almost entirely of Avner waiting for someone who doesn’t show up. A show playing with failure. Here I was, with space, music, props and a camera, and a need. A need to communicate something to the imagined students who weren’t there with me, and to others who might like to be. A need for people to come and play.
 
I’m not a performer, but this felt like the moment to put my money where my mouth is and try some of my own ideas out. The alternative was to compound my failure to attract any students by failing to make use of the resources and time I had available to me. So this is what I did:

Bibliography

​Davison, J. (2013) Clown. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (Readings in Theatre Practice).

Eisenberg, A. (2002) ‘Exceptions to Gravity’. London.

Simon, E. (2012) The Art of Clowning: More Paths to Your Inner Clown. second edition. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
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<![CDATA[Clowndance Summer Course 2022]]>Fri, 20 May 2022 10:58:30 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/clowndance-summer-course-2022
I'm running the first ever clowndance course, in Leicester, UK, in July 2022, and I'm looking for dance artists and students to join me. We'll play, discover, experiment and throw some shapes.


Over the four days, we'll explore some of the fundamentals of theatrical clowning and physical comedy, reworked and specially tailored for dancers. We'll look at:
  • Playfulness in your own body - finding a state of openness and exploring how to be a fully functional human when you move.

  • Finding games together - building complicity and worlds-within-worlds with each other through play, improvisation and shared experience.

  • Failure and vulnerability -  how to be happy while being no good.
  • Encountering the audience - building rapport and having an opinion when you dance.
  • Making clowndance, and clowndancing existing material.

​The material is derived from established clown, physical comedy and choreographic methods, and my own techniques and approaches, developed over more than fifteen years of professional practice.

The course is suitable for professional dance artists (performers, choreographers, teachers and community dance facilitators) and dance students age 18+. If you're interested in interdisciplinary performance, in making dance theatre work for diverse audiences, including families and children, and in making people laugh with your body, then this is for you!

The course will take place at De Montfort University's beautiful PACE building, which has fully accessible, professional standard dance studios. The campus is in central Leicester, which has excellent transport links.


The course is being offered for free, to make it as accessible as possible, and because it forms part of the practical, studio-based research within my PhD. Places are strictly limited to 12, and booking is essential.

Contact me for more information and to book your place!
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<![CDATA[Bonding, Needs and Boss Clowns]]>Mon, 16 May 2022 23:00:00 GMThttp://clowndance.co.uk/blog/bonding-needs-and-boss-clownsAm I too gentle, too safe, to go to properly dark places? Is that OK? Can I push performers far enough to challenge and do justice to negative emotions?
… OR do we fetishize pain? 

From my director’s journal for Mark and the Marked (Box Clever Theatre, 2022). Day 7 footage observation.
Not long after Mark and the Marked opened, I heard others’ observations on my directorial style, and the atmosphere of my rehearsal room, from two different post-show debrief sessions. I paraphrased them in my journal:
 
Michael Wicherek, Artistic Director of Box Clever described mine as ‘a calm rehearsal room; safe and warm’ 

(Journal- 7th March 2022)
Joanne Blunt, producer at Nottingham Playhouse, told me that the stage manager I worked with on Little Red Riding Hood (Middleton, 2021) called me and my process ‘unbelievably patient and calm’
(Journal, 8th March 2022)
Is that how I see myself, I wondered? These comments surprised me, so perhaps not, and my first impulse was to feel defensive, or disappointed. Am I not edgy, risky, or any of the other adjectives often used to describe exciting physical performance processes? Calm, warm, patient and safe feel like feminine, mothering words, on which I automatically placed a lower value when I heard them. I suspect this judgemental, patriarchal thinking creeps in whenever I think about myself as a director, despite my deeply held feminist values. I’ve always sold my work as playful anarchy, and I’m fairly sure that in my best and most personal work, that is what the audience see onstage, but perhaps the process I use to get there isn’t what I think it is. 
 
A core part of clown master Philippe Gaulier’s approach is the Boss Clown model of working, where the teacher or director brutally insults the efforts of performers when they fall short of his personal tastes and standards. Many claim that it’s meant playfully, and that Gaulier and those who teach his method are in role, in their clown persona, but it can also be seen as pretty abusive, particularly for those who experience any form of institutional or social prejudice (Amsden, 2016). Gaulier talks about forcing students to make work in desperation, saying that when they’re feeling ‘I am a shit, I don’t know what to do’ they will discover something (Hendricksen, no date). The theory being that uncertainty and self-doubt, by breaking the performer down, lead to greater risk and inventiveness. But do they? 

In a researcher training session with Sophy Smith (2022) that I attended at DMU, we talked about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Mcleod, 2007), apropos a fellow doctoral student taking a full month off after their probation review and doing lots of cooking. Creative endeavour is in the very top ‘self-actualisation’ step of the pyramid (R), suggesting that in the view of this school of psychology, we can’t really be creative unless our other needs are met. 
Picture
Figure 1: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid
If that’s the case for actors, clowns and other performers, why do we buy into the notion that we have to suffer for art? We may be good at making work in desperation, but in doing so, are we actually trying to meet one of the lower needs; belonging, or esteem?
Reflecting on my process in directing Mark and the Marked, I noticed how much time I gave to bonding with the cast, and having them bond with each other. In particular, I noticed how they immediately rekindled a feeling of gentleness and playfulness with each other after working on more emotionally challenging sections of the piece. I noticed them wipe paint off each others’ faces, rather than their own. I noticed that Joel made a silly fart noise as soon as we ended a scene with him in tears, to make us all laugh. In my journal, I likened this observation to doubles tennis players touching hands between every point, reaffirming the connection and unity between them. 
Picture
Joel Nash and Lucy Wordsworth in Mark and the Marked (2022). Photo by Pip Thurlow
I also noted how I’d seen myself each day, the roles I had assumed, and I was surprised how often I self-identified as clown. I’ve always liked building in-jokes with casts; nicknames, running gags, silly names for sections of material, all of which happened in this process. I have tended to think of it as, at best, a guilty pleasure that had no relevance to the making of the art, and at worst something I was doing from a need to be liked. However, I have been directing for many years now, my working process feels fairly secure and produces consistent results, so perhaps there is value in my gag-making. Performing is a frightening thing to do, and I suspect that anyone who doesn’t feel that is either not taking enough risks, not making themselves vulnerable enough, or is feeling confidence at the expense of others. In order for a company to play together, and feel safe enough to be vulnerable onstage, they need to feel bonded and trust each other. Perhaps what I’m attempting to do through humour is to fast-track complicite. 
 
Once a company start making their own in-jokes, I know they’re ready to go on tour together. The in-joke that this company took with them was that they were a clutch of little fluffy chicks, hatching from their eggs; a reference to Joel’s fuzzy shaven head, Lucy’s love of eggs preventing her from embracing veganism, and Zaki’s youth; and that I was their mother hen. Again, a maternal metaphor. Renowned fooling teacher Franki Anderson describes her infant son’s wide-eyed take on the world as the starting point for her journey into fooling (In Conversation with Franki Anderson and Holly Stoppit [YouTube], 2021). Hers is the lineage of clown practice that I’ve encountered most, particularly through John Wright who trained with her, and feel happiest following. In the same conversation Anderson, De Castro and Holly Stoppit all talk about the clown/fool space as somewhere nurturing; warm, safe, and held. So perhaps rather than attempting to unpick and detoxify the role of Boss Clown, there’s an alternative identity that I can start to identify with; that of Mama Clown.


Bibliography
 

Amsden, L. (2016) ‘When they laugh your clown is coming: Learning to be ridiculous in the pedagogy of Philippe Gaulier’s pedagogy of spectatorship’, Dance, Theatre and Performance Training, 7(1), pp. 4–16.

Box Clever Theatre (2022) Mark and the Marked | Box Clever Theatre. Available at: https://www.boxclevertheatre.co.uk/mark-and-the-marked/ (Accessed: 10 March 2022).

Hendricksen, C. (no date) ‘Part 3: No Pleasure? You Are Boring’. Available at: https://shows.acast.com/an-interview-with-philippe-gaulier/episodes/part-3-no-pleasure-you-are-boring (Accessed: 24 March 2022).

In Conversation with Franki Anderson and Holly Stoppit [YouTube] (2021). (The Why Not Institute Presents). Available at: https://youtu.be/s7DAGDG65pE.

Mcleod, S. (2007) ‘[Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs]’. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html (Accessed: 24 March 2022).

Middleton, S. (2021) ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. Nottingham Playhouse.

Smith, S. (2022) ‘Practice-Based Research: Lego Serious Play’. De Montfort University, 9 March.
 

Figure 1: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid from: 
Mcleod, S. (2007) ‘[Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs]’. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html (Accessed: 24 March 2022).
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