More Melancholy Malarkey: Clowning to keep from Crying
Listening to my body’s sacred and sacredly foolish wisdom
Of all the things to miss during COVID, I miss my clown class the most. It was the highlight of my week. I knew it would be fun. I knew it would get me connected to my body in new and unusual ways. I knew I could pull from my background in Improv. But I never realized how healing it would be.
Over the years, I’ve had bouts of deep sorrow and depression. The word melancholy describes me well. In the personality system based on the four blood tempers--choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholy, melancholy fits me to a tee. Many, many creative types are in this category. So it’s not a dysfunctional label at all.
Melancholics tend to be artistic, good with details, introverted, and task-oriented. And many of us can wallow in the blues. Perhaps this explains why many comics and comedians have danced with depression over the course of their lives. The humility that comes with that sets us up to be masters at the humor of self-deprecation.
I wasn’t thinking about any of this when my class started. And the virus had not yet slammed onto our California shore. The new year had just started and we were fussing about the election, the plethora of Democratic candidates, and the hope for a female president given the great women running.
Mediocre agnst compared to where we are now. INto this milieu, Joan introduced our class to the Somatic Clown. Developed by Giovanni Fusetti in Italy, the somatic clown draws from the wisdom of the body. We start moving around the room, settling into the way our bodies move naturally.
Now the exploration began.
We each picked three aspects of how we move to play with and exaggerate. These ranged from flapping hands, arrogant up-pointed chins, to splayed out feet. Change one area of the way a body moves, and the effect ripples through the entire clown persona, as we’re called when our noses are on.
In short order, by following ways of moving that delight us and feel good, we arrive at our very own clown form. They just feel right. They are true to who we are, and ring authentic to ourselves and our fellow clowns witnessing this immediate transformation.
I chose to hunch my shoulders, tuck my chin and turn my feet inward, pigeon toed fashion. Melancholy in motion, which felt good. I ceased forcing my body to look confident, but let her tell me what feels good and right.
As I moved that way, every so often I’d honor an urge to stop, look up, throw my shoulders back, lift my chest and look around with the bright eyes of curiosity. When I did that, those moments of awe and wonder felt juicy, too. I played with a dance back and forth between the two, honoring both impulses in me.
First the body, then the duds.
The next step was outfitting our clown personas from grab bags of hats, scarves, and flowing vestments. Not costumes, but vintage and retro clothes that resonate with our clown. Normally I’m drawn to the fairy goddess flowy stuff in bright colors.
But that wasn’t what my clown was drawn to. She selected a pair of baggy plaid pants in muted greens and browns, a burnt orange vest, a brown cap, and a green tie. Add the red nose, and you get the picture. We had to know who our clowns were to know what they wanted to wear.
The final stage of clown creation was our naming ritual. One by one we stood in front of our fellow clowns listening to suggestions thrown out in a brainstorm. When the right name is called, the clown recognizes it as his or her true name. We get to reject all the others until that happens.
It took a while for me. Someone wanted Cuddles. My ears picked up. Close. Very close. Duddles, someone called but. Duddles! Yes, that’s it. Perfect, perhaps because it is only one letter away from Cuddles, in such a so close and yet so far kind of way. The sad clown who so needs a hug.
Fast forward a bit now that we're one month into lockdown.
Duddles has gone missing I wrote in another post because the last two classes did not get to happen. My friends did not get to meet her and see Duddles perform her bits with her clown buddies. And trust me, having found our clown personas, the bits we’d been working on really popped. We were psyched and eager to share.
But it was not to be. So there we were, unable to complete the process. Unable to showcase our discoveries--which is such an apt word for the process. Nothing like a journey cut short to amplify the disappointment of a melancholy clown.
But the story is not over. I’m claiming a victory here. Having discovered Duddles and getting to play for her was a perfect creative outlet for my melancholy. Not only that, it’s standing me in good stead dealing with the grief and loss during these viral times.
I draw on Duddles as an inner strength and reserve I didn't know I had. I put her outfit on and get to be her whenever I feel the need to release pent-up pain in a playful way. Here in my bedroom, all alone yes, but I’m transformed. Suddenly my melancholy is put to a higher purpose. Not just healing. Artful healing.
Like how Chaplain had us laughing at the direst of conditions. And other greats before and since. Yes, I'm just a student. Yes, Duddles is a work in progress. But look at the big footprints we get to follow in, even in our regular-sized shoes.
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Marilyn Flower writes humor to laugh the changes she wants to see and make. She’s the author of Creative Blogging: Ninja Writers Guide to Character Development and Bucket Listers, Get Your Brave On. Clowning and improvisation strengthen her resolve during these crazy times. Stay in touch!
Marilyn, what a joy to read. I once played a clown - no experience - for my nephew's party. I slipped into the clownsuit and wig. Not wanting the children to recognise me, I never spoke. Rather I used one of those plastic whirring whistles. It was fun, but a lot of work for the hour I performed not knowing anything. My son would not come near me because I was a stranger.
Lovely images that match the melancholic’s mood. Arrested clown development. Just wait for Duddles to be introduced to her maker’s friends!!