I’m returning to blogging, as a way of bypassing the academic model, which has frankly become a bit of a dead end lately, with its jealously guarded sites of knowledge exchange - accredited modules, peer-reviewed journals, niche conferences - becoming ever more ponderous and exclusive. That doesn't mean I'll be stopping teaching at universities, speaking at academic conferences, or publishing books, but am looking forward to a more open-ended medium through which I can communicate.
The return to blogging also marks perhaps the end of a very productive few years of engagement with Facebook, through the group Clown Theory which I created a few years ago. I was curious then to know others’ opinions on matters I was grappling with. It’s gone relatively quiet recently, mainly I think because we’ve ended up having the same conversations and debates several times over. Also, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It can be daunting entering an online discussion sometimes, where even clowns can come across as bossy, dismissive or knowalls. The blog might be my way to fill the gap, then.
It might prove useful for mulling over things which will later find their way into books. It will also allow me to bring to light more immediately some of the fascinating insights which occur weekly in my work. These insights can crop up in a clown class, in a rehearsal or in a performance or while reading about or watching other clowns. I have always felt that theory, thinking, teaching, learning, performing and spectating are one single activity. I hope, then, to bring the thinking out into the open for those who haven’t been in those classes or rehearsals. Perhaps that will help some people decide to go deeper into clowning and do some, or more, training, or even just watch a show. That would be good.
It’s been a few years since I regularly wrote short or medium length pieces about clowning. I began ClownBlog to test out some ideas when I started my job as a research fellow at CSSD in 2007, investigating clown and actor training. Much of those blog posts later fed into my first book, Clown Readings, and influenced the second one too, Clown Training. I then got caught up in writing my PhD thesis, and a third book, The Clowning Workbook, currently under way.
Although I have always continued to generate my own teaching and performance work, during that time I became accustomed to the academic model of writing/practice. That is to say, academic employees in the performing arts are expected these days to produce research outputs in order to justify their posts. This is because of the vast amount of money that universities receive for research, the amount of which is determined by how far up the league table (REF), they get, every seven years. To gain their position they must show research outputs. Since the early 2000s, in the performing arts we have realised that we hold knowledge, in the practices we engage in. So that research doesn’t have to be in a library or written. Knowledge can be gained and transmitted through the practice of performance. A simple and early example often given was the knowledge I have from having learned to ride a bicycle. This is embodied knowledge. The research of such knowledge has come to be known as Practice-as-Research (PaR). Quite a simple idea, really.
Many drama schools, incorporating themselves into universities and thus enabling grants to be given to students, thus found themselves obliged to produce research. But instead of drawing on the knowledge and practices of those who taught and practiced acting, directing, writing and stagecraft, the trend has been to import researchers from fields which, from a conservatoire point of view, are marginal. Today, you are more likely to get work in PaR if your practice is in intermedial studies, or if you have no practice at all, and highly unlikely if you research in practices of acting, circus or, in my case, clowning.
The publishing of performing arts research has also followed the traditional route and has, if anything, narrowed down. To keep your job, you must publish. That means that publishing in itself has no value, monetarily. Journal articles make money for the publisher but never for the author. Access is expensive for researchers and only really feasible via university libraries which can pay the exorbitant fees. That leaves those without access to university libraries out in the cold. Likewise, even if you have single-authored a book, the royalties are so minimal as to be meaningless. And often the price tag on an academic book is way out of reach of individuals. Once again, it’s the libraries who can afford it.
So, instead of chasing a non-existent academic post by conforming to the academic publishing mode, i.e. not being paid, I’ve decided to put my writing energies back into a more immediate public sphere, the blog.
Without wanting to be a hostage to fortune, the areas I’m hoping to write about look like they’ll fall into the following categories:
With that in mind, I'll be tagging posts accordingly.
Some subjects ‘m keen to tackle are:
New research on the history of women clowns
The grotesque vs. inner clown debate
The drift towards irony and stand-up
The state of clown-tagged performances today