I asked my friend Lisa Voth to write a guest blog for me, because I had taken one of her workshops and enjoyed it immensely. I found it stretching, uncomfortable in the best sense, and illuminating. I noticed many parallels to the art of spiritual direction, or soulfriending, and I would love to see the soulfriends of my acquaintance learn from what Lisa speaks very eloquently about below.
You can read more about Lisa and her work on her website, necessaryshenanigans.com/
You can find her resumé at lisavoth.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/lisavothresume.pdf
At this point, many of you may have the mouse arrow hovering over the ‘previous’ button, or perhaps your finger is resting on the delete key. Please keep reading!
There may be images of Ronald McDonald, or flashbacks to childhood and carnival clowns flying through your head and making you feel queasy. Hold on!
I promise you that THIS, what I’ll be talking about, has little to do with THAT.
I’d like to talk about what I consider to be the h-art of clown – presence, lightness and possibilities. Cultivating this I believe to be essential for all of us, not only those training to be stage clowns.
Believe me when I say that studying, performing and teaching clown for the past 10 years is not something that I come by naturally, or ever thought I’d do. I grew up with two counsellor parents in a half-Mennonite family dedicated to social justice. I grew up outside of small towns outside of small cities where there was never anyone to play with. I suppose this is why I do the work I do–the work of rediscovering play.
When I talk about play, I am talking about being play rather than doing play. I’m talking about making space in our bodies in order that there be a possibility for play in all circumstances.
“Play is always a matter of context. It is not what we do, but how we do it. Play cannot be defined, because in play all definitions slither, dance, combine, break apart, and recombine. The mood of play can be impish or supremely solemn … this is the evolutionary value of play–play makes us flexible. By reinterpreting reality and begetting novelty, we keep from becoming rigid” (Stephen Nachmanovitch).
The clown plays with everything. The clown is always looking for what can be played with and conscious of when we are being too precious with a certain idea, role or way of being. When I started clown, I was too precious with EVERYTHING. I took myself very solemnly. It was painful and it took me a long time to begin to get a sense of what my teacher, David MacMurray Smith, meant when he said that
“Clown is a Human Being. One who can take delight in the experience of being Human and enjoys conversing about the experience.”
The clown plays with the roles we play.
The clown is not a specific type of playful persona, for example, the jolly person who is always bringing balloons to parties and putting whoopy cushions under chairs. The clown has the ability to play with however we may happen to be, starting with whoever it is we happen to be in a given moment: who I am when I turn into a 10-year-old back at my parents’ house; the person I am on a blind date; the person I am when somebody else is winning at a board game; the person I am when I’m at work being a professional; the very serious what does this all mean person. The clown is consciously aware of these roles, honest about them, and able to play with them rather than be trapped in them. The clown likes to take these snapshots of who we are and extend, comment on or exaggerate them.
These roles we play are necessary. However, what happens when we unconsciously play roles? What happens when I wear a smile all the time and don’t realize that I’m wearing it? The clown wants to play in many situations.
The clown is aware that I just put on my overly-serious face in the midst of the argument and allows me to comment on that or extend it to the point that it’s a bit ridiculous, lightening the mood while still honouring the subject of discussion.
The clown is able to play with the sacred, keeping me from taking myself so seriously in the rites and rituals that they start to lock me in.
The clown is able to recognize the fact that though I’m putting on lipstick and a fancy dress, I can play with this role to the extreme and that I am not trapped by that way of being.
The clown perhaps notices my teacher voice and asks if this really is the best way to connect with the students. The clown might extend it and let others know she is aware of “playing the role of teacher.”
The clown does not allow itself to be “pegged.” It is ready to move from one side of a dichotomy to the other, always bridging worlds and putting things slightly off balance. It takes itself seriously and not seriously at the same time.
The clown plays with the emotions we have.
My teacher often said that the clown “is an equal-opportunity employer of emotions.” Agony and ecstasy, or fear and courage, are merely two sides of the same swing, and they can move between them both with ease. The training for a clown is largely about how to rediscover a playful emotional body and share that with others in an open, honest, and present-time conversation. Clowns are able to play with, and take delight in, all of the states we find ourselves in as humans, giving no preference to what we typically see as preferable states or emotions.
A clown is able to play with emotions rather than holding judgments about them. A clown shakes these emotions out and loosens the meanings that are attached to them. The clown teaches you how to wear all emotions with a twinkle in the eye.
The clown is greedy.
The clown wants to play with everything. In my life it fearlessly approaches those things I have barricaded up for good, sometimes in a very sneaky way.
The clown says to me:
- “Create a piece about how you desperately want to attract a giant orange ball, even becoming an orange ball just to try to make it happen.”
- “Create a piece about how you can’t move through the door because of the giant rock tied to your arm that you don’t know what to do with.”
- “Create a piece where you cry so hard when he leaves that you need to dry out your tissues on a clothesline so you can reuse them.”
And I do, and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes things are just too close to the bone to be able to play with them, and it takes me a while to get enough distance so that they become “playable.” In this process I have learned a lot about gentleness, kindness and patience, as I wait for the humour to surface.
What I do.
In terms of what I do, I find it important to differentiate between the art of clown and the art of therapy, given that I do both in different situations. Clown is great for discovering our playthings, the patterns, delights and roles we play. Therapy is great for when our playthings are too sticky and not yet playable.
And about being funny…
I’ve gotten this far in an article about being a clown and not mentioned the word funny. Quite simply, the ability to share honestly and from a light heart is often funny. The ability consciously to extend the weird and wonderful things we’re already doing and sharing them with others is often hilarious.
My teacher, David MacMurray Smith, a wonderful clown teacher, and my mentor, always says, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re missing the best joke of your life.”