Two weeks into the third and penultimate term and we’re making big comedy steps into the world of the clown. Well, tentative, silly steps anyway. I think plenty of us have been looking forward to this term just because clown stuff can be a lot of fun. When it’s not being frustratingly difficult. We each hope to find our own particular clown this term. If we have one.
This process has so far involved a lot of individual work, which is a change from previous territories. Each of us has to get up in front of the rest of the class and, well… do nothing. At first anyway. Most of us have first stood up there, in front of thirty or so fellow students plus a teacher, and just tried to relax.
The state we’re trying to reach is a bit like a very young child who can unselfconsciously stare at things. When I was a kid, while we were on holiday at our caravan, I was standing watching the neighbouring family packing stuff into their car. My mum told me to stop staring because it was rude. “I’m not staring,” I said, “I’m looking.” And that’s what we need to do: just relax, look at our classmates, make contact with them, and then let whatever comes — smiles, laughs, sighing, fidgeting, etc — come.
After this has gone on for much longer than feels comfortable we go off and return wearing our red nose. Which seems like more of a mask than just a little nose — like a proper mask it gives one more of a sense of freedom to do things one wouldn’t normally do. You’re not quite you any more.
We start off standing again, looking at everyone, before the teacher provokes us. Each teacher does this differently, but we should always say a mental “yes” to whatever is suggested while we usually end up doing ever stranger and, hopefully, funnier activities. Not that we try to be funny as that generally kills things. Just try to do something well, no matter how impossible and maybe it’ll work.
Part of this process reminded me of the “song exercise” I’ve done a couple of times in Stanislavski classes elsewhere, which I described doing in 2005:
I dumbly volunteered to go first and, standing in front of my classmates, sang “Happy Birthday to you…” v.e.r.y. s.l.o.w.l.y and LOUDLY. Look at one person, sing a syllable for a long time until the breath has gone, then move to the next. Although I’ve signed up to perform in front of my similarly game new friends, this was the hardest thing I’ve had to do since that exercise where I had to speak the words to a song in front of a class. The point here was to open up the voice and again, as Georgina poked and prodded us, to loosen up all those bits of our bodies that were tense or held in peculiar positions.
There’s the same difficulty involved in standing in front of people and completely relaxing — even though we think we’re still there are often lots of little tics that make us twitch or tense. And some of the results of both the clown and song exercises are similar in the emotions they unleash. Something about the openess and relaxation and vulnerability can cause people to burst into tears, often fighting to get out through laughter.
We’re nearly done with that now, with most people having found a clown if not the clown for themselves. Mine, at the moment, is the “Gazelle”, capable of fantastic leaps through the air… but I’ve no idea where it all goes from here.
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