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The Return of Duddles the Clown
Full of melancholy, malarky, and mischief
Duddles is only my most recent clown persona. Arising from my melancholy like Eve from Adam’s rib, she’s closer to my heart than said proverbial rib. In many ways, she is my heart.
Stagebridge, a performing arts school for adults 50 plus, catapulted me into clowning. Beginning with that Renaissance form, Comedia Del Arte, I embraced my inner Zanni, which led to a bumbler named Gertrude.
They set the stage for a foray intoSomatic Clownwork and my alter-ego,Duddles. Her development was cut short by a virus named Corona, sending all us clowns home to shelter in place, two weeks shy of our Showcase performance.
Clowning from the inside out is no joke, It’s a way, one of many perhaps, to turn ourselves inside out, reveal the deep plumbed treasure, clothe it in colors, and give it voice.
Witnessing this work fills a room with exhaled awe. We watch the newborn forms, like fawns, take to their spindly legs, testing, playing, circling, gaining strength and confidence from the light beaming from our big doe eyes.
When the forest playground is safe, Duddles and her friends meet each other, pair up, engage with their little corner of the world, making discoveries — a doorknob, a dark spot on the wall, or an umbrella, to bring back and show their admiring friends.
The conversation intensifies, wordless, rich, layered with subtext, as we two go from exploring the umbrella and all it can do — never once raising it overhead — to fighting, to chasing, to exhaustion and reconciliation in a few short beats.
Without losing her embodiment of melancholy, Duddles handles the umbrella with ponderous slowness until her partner, Francesca, wrenches it out of her hands.
We know these clowns.
We see them every day. But now, we feel their hearts with every explorative gesture of a world made brand new by their innocence. For Duddles and her friends, everything is discovered for the first time. Duddles and her friends dwell and hide out in the safe circus of the right now moment. Only there is it possible to see the world afresh and anew with our sixty or seventy-year-old eyes.
The Tao of the Clown, the Way of the Fool, the Sacred Ground of Comedia — become newfound spiritual practices that anchor us in this crazy time. It really isn’t about being funny, it’s about knowing less really is more. The fewer distractions, the fewer flashing lights and shiny objects, the deeper we can go into each moment and discover it’s meaning.
These lessons and messages wait for me to slow down long enough to hear them whisper my name and reveal their heart:
You have everything you need right now. You lack for nothing.
Look at your room, your kitchen, your home with fresh eyes. Linger long enough to let the possibilities reveal themselves to you.
Just like Cruciferous Crunch plus eggs plus cheese plus rosemary and garlic reveal the possibility of an omelet, let simple objects couple in new combinations, creating a new game.
So, for example…
Perhaps my Shakespeare doll, who normally sits high on a shelf overlooking my computer has something to say to Kermit the frog, right here on my desk. Together at last, might they write a song or sonnet about the joys of being green? Hey nonny, hey nonny, hey nonny ho!
Marilyn might never happen upon that thrilling combination, even though both of them are equidistant from her left and right eyes. But Duddles does. She sees into and through, and delights in combining at random. That’s her secret.
Marilyn would create the category and then look for props to fill it. Duddles grabs what delights, bypassing left-brain logic, and then sees what can happen when delight number one meets delight number two. And maybe it isn’t something that ends up on paper. Fancy that.
Duddles does not have the press of productivity that Marilyn has. This is her magic. And paradoxically, reveals, not so much more nuggets to share, but fresher ways to share. New things to sing about.
Kermit’s Sonnet — Ode to a Green Frog. The muppet mystery, Bill’s Quill. We wax eloquent and envious of Shakespeare’s prolific mind. After all, when he was on quarantine in London during the plague, he wrote King Lear. Not some diatribe about day 527, King fucking Lear.
But Kermit’s quick to point out, ole Bill couldn’ta written nothin’ without his trusty quill, and the goo gobs of ink or a reasonable facsimile to get all five acts down in folio format.
The king, his three daughters, the trusty fool, and even the Earl of Gloucester owe their many storied existences to the shaft of a pheasant feather, cut to a point, and bottle after copious bottle of whatever liquid passed for ink in them thar days. Thank you, Kermit, for delighting in the obvious, and sharing.
So maybe this is a new partnership. Duddles teaching me to see the world fresh and new through her eyes. For my part, I can do any needed research, take notes, and count out beats. Iambic pentameter’s getting easier these days thanks to Shakespeare on my left.
But I’m not up for a five-act tragedy. Have you caught any news lately? Life is tragic enough. That’s where Duddles brings Kermit into the mix. It’s playtime, they announce. Get up off your chair and dance with us. Oh, okay, if you insist. We do, we do. How about you?