Thursday 7 December 2023

How to survive as a clown

 How to survive as a clown. This is what I've been doing all my adult life and I'm still doing it.


I have spent my whole adult life (40+ years) exploring what clowning is, how it works, how to do it, how to learn it, what it means and what it is for. 

I started performing by accident, and felt it had to be my vocation, without knowing why. 

Then I started studying it, in order to understand how and the why what I was doing was clowning. 

I started teaching it when I was a student, in order to try and work out how to do it better. 

I started researching its history, in order to understand why many of the things I had been told about clowning were wrong, and didn’t work. 

Today, I am still dedicated to exploring this paradoxical and ubiquitous artform which is so often denigrated as low yet so often has pretensions to wisdom. As one of my students recently suggested, clowns are anthropologists, we study humans.


My projects include:

-          Collaborate practical research with other clown performers and teachers worldwide

-          Large-scale performances aimed at the widest range of audiences

-          Solo clown acts

-          Directing, mentoring and tutoring clown artists

-          Teaching worldwide, in universities, drama schools, and all kinds of communities

-          Writing books about clowns and clowning, their history and variety across cultures


As I grew up and continue to live in a society and culture where everything is monetised, all this exploratory behaviour has come at a cost. 

Sometimes I get paid to do it (teaching, mostly, and sometimes performing). Sometimes I don’t (research, most writing, some performing). On rare occasions, I’ve been paid to think about clowns and clowning (a three-year research fellowship at Central School of Speech and Drama). 

At other times, the research happens under cover of teaching, which for me is always exploratory and asking the question ‘how do we do this thing called clowning?’ and never ‘ok, this is how you do it’. Many times, the cover is blown and the institution prefers to employ someone who will do the latter. But sometimes, I get lucky. 

There have been times when money is tight, but then there is always the street. And again the same question: ‘how to do this thing called clowning … in the street?’ 

Sometimes, people and places are so kind as to offer their resources at little cost. The first instinct when someone gives you something cheap is to offer them more in return. And then the collaborations and the explorations blossom even more. But sometimes, people think that artists are a good source of hire income, whilst simultaneously expecting them to offer their experience cheaply, in the name of accessibility.   

Maybe we can’t instantly transform our monetised societies into kinder places where everyone can get on with doing what they are good at in peace and with the security of having their basic needs met. Maybe we can’t suddenly make clowning sacred instead of precarious. But we can keep looking for better ways.