Clown Play: Time to Let My Mind be Pulled into Joy by My Heartstrings
Sparking Sacred Foolish fire to light up my true essence
Guess what? I love all things clown!
Well, maybe not the horror clowns in Stephen King’s It, or how Batman’s nemesis The Joker expresses his ‘creativity.’ But even those examples are fascinating as sociopathic expressions of the Fool archetype.
When I wrote my aging vs evolving article on March 30, I hadn’t connected all the dots — yet. Duh!
At the end of that article, I describe my captivation with the Sacred Fool archetype. At the time of that writing, I was focused on the spiritual implications of the word sacred and applying humor to even that sort of writing.
But then I stumbled across the Sacred Fool’s message from Alana Fairchild’s Sacred Rebels Oracle deck. It so captivated me, I invested in the deck. Even though I hadn’t fully connected all the dots, nor have I yet, it spoke to my heart. Here’s what it said in part:
This oracle brings you a message: It’s time for you to play. It’s time for you to let life happen in a completely unreserved, unscripted way — the more bizarre, left-of-field, unexpected, and utterly ridiculous, the better.
I do get that it’s time for me to play.
Even though writing is my passion and humor within that. I bring my playful spirit to just about everything I write, even my confessionals about adultery and addiction.
But now I get this is about play play! Getting up from the computer and dancing around the room, acting silly, engaging with toys and props, and even red noses.
It sounds silly or crazy, but when I wrote that piece back in March, the thing with and for clowning did not cross my mind. If It had, I would have mentioned it and responded to that oracle message with a faux French-accented butt, of course!!!!
The clown in me needs that extra “t” in butt!!!
This is going to sound out of the clear blue since I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here on Know Yourself, Heal yourself, but I’ve been studying various forms of clowning for the past few years, well before COVID.
It began as a sideways segue from my Improv classes at Stagebridge.
Shameless plug for Stagebridge:
I’m blessed to live within walking distance from the U.S.’s longest-standing non-profit performing arts schools aimed at us older folk. Fifty and over doesn’t sound old from my 67 years. There is nothing like it, anywhere. It’s in a class by itself.
Attracting quality teachers from all over the Bay Area, lots of Stagebridge students have hefty musical, theatrical, or dance creds. And some of us, like yours truly, are newer to the scene.
While I’d done lots of writing, including scripts for stage and screen, this was the first time I took performance classes. It was like going back to school! I took improv, theatre francais, hip hop theater, devised theater, playback theater, and yes, clowning.
At first, because the improv teacher was a clown and offered it. Since I adored her, I just signed up. With no idea how much I would love it.
Maybe it was just her, but something came alive in me that had been asleep in the improv classes — not that those weren’t wild and wholly fantastic fun, but this was a whole new way of playing.
Improv is based on wit and zappy one-liners. A little scene can take on the added stress of searching for that closing zinger. While it’s more effective if the characters are physically embodied, it’s easy to get stuck in our heads.
But even as I got better and better at those zingers, I loved learning to use my body to create and inhabit a character.
Well, clowning is mostly that!
Language plays a much smaller role. In fact, the clowns I learn and play with speak Gibberish. Which I think is the international language of clowns.
The fun is learning to emote non-verbally. Yes, there can be sound — wails, guffaws, grunts, groans, sighs, and all kinds of breathwork. But words become superfluous. Or just a dab of icing on the cake.
Wow! Here I am, a writer with heavy doses of literary pretensions falling in love with an art form where words don’t matter.
I’m learning to express myself in a myriad of ways — almost all without words. And I love it! Talking about breaking away from my self-imposed conventions!!! This certainly does that.
Unreserved, unscripted, unexpected, and utterly ridiculous.
Even though some teachers have us work out clown bits to practice and perform, I draw on my improv skills. Even if I’ve worked on doing the same bit more or less the same way, I don’t like to rehearse it to death. I stay open to happy accidents and discoveries in the moment.
Memorizing a routine feels like snuffing the life out of it. Besides, if you’re working with props, another person, or my porous brain, something’s likely to change anyway. I gotta be ready.
Variety is the spice of clowning.
Over the course of these few years, I’ve delved into general clowning, social clowning, and Commedia dell’Arte. I’ve worked with five or so teachers, all great. Yet each other markedly different in their approach.
When I say social clowning, this is the Patch Adams MD service version. He and others go into hospitals to engage with seriously ill kids. Some of my teachers do similar work as Medical Clowns in San Francisco.
Clowns Without Borders is another healing example.
These international ‘Patch Adamses’ engage with traumatized kids in refugee camps. Patch does, too, I just found out. I donate the pennies I make on my clown and humor stories to both organizations.
Some of us plan to take our social clowns into nursing homes when it’s safe to do so. In the meantime, I’m in a Commedia class where we’re working on a scene from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.
We’re finding the comedic moments in that play. Hint — it’s the minor characters who get to have all the fun! In our case, Portia the lover, and Nerissa, the servant. She’s the Columbina character in the world of Commedia. I’m playing as Nerissa.
Let me wrap this up with another quote from the Sacred Fool oracle’s message:
You may feel that you are quite possibly going insane, but you are not crazy. You are just approaching enlightened awareness. The sacred fool in you urges your mind to let itself be pulled into joy by your heartstrings.
Joy indeed! Play, after all, is about joy. Writers play with words. Clowns play with their bodies and life itself. So yes, it’s time for me to play — with ALL of it!