Before going to Vienna, I had been reflecting on the amazing Martial Art quality of clowning; that we have to be at once still and ready for action at every moment. We have to be ready to improvise, to create, to respond and also still enough to notice everything and connect with our audience in a meaningful way.
Writing this, it seems obvious that this sometimes (lots of times) feels hard. This is a lifetime of learning. This is the work of Zen Mastery. This is the kind of thing that you go into the mountains on your own to learn and come back 25 years later with a beard and infinite wisdom.
What is wonderful is when someone goes and does that for you, distills all their learning into a workshop, and has the generosity of spirit to share it.
Moshe Cohen has 'pursued excellence in the elusive art form called Clown' for the past 35 years, 'seeking to bring more lightness and laughter into the world through his actions'. In a short 3 hour session in Vienna, he shared excerpts from his workshop 'Lightfullness' with us.
He opened by sharing Richard Pochinko's idea of 'The Magic Cirlce':
'The Native peoples say there is a circle around you and a circle around me. Magic happens when our circles meet. So if you are the audience and I am the clown on stage we are never alone because we are both participating in this moment of magic - if we both get there (Wellsman 1987).
'The conversation between audience and performer happens where these two circles overlap and the first thing that must happen for the conversation to commence is that performer must see the audience. Actually see them. See who they are, what they are, their truth, and be affected by that......sometimes people talk about clown reflecting humanity, but for me the idea of a reflection is tricky because reflection bounces off. Clown is not about something bouncing off. It is about connection. It's about recognition. It's about something being shared.' (Clown Through Mask: The Pioneering Work of Richard Pochinko as Practised by Sue Morrison, 2013)
This idea is central to me as a clown and was a revelation when Angela de Castro shared it in her workshop 'How to be a Funny' all those years ago. It has always struck me that it is one thing to experience this magic circle in a workshop or theatre setting. In a black box, with lighting, with an audience sitting down with expectations of being entertained - but what about in hospital? What about when you see 30 children in one day who are distracted & vulnerable, one after the other, and you've been doing this for 10 years...Do we really experience the magic circle in each of these interactions? And isn't this the place when it is most necessary? And if we don't experience it, are we really clowning?
And if the answer to that is No, then how do we get there?
Moshe's workshop went on to give us some clues. It included 'Butoh walks' amongst other things - all to bring awareness and lightness to our sense of being and experiencing. Practical exercises to train the muscle of awareness and lightness, to slow us down and introduce a light, still place where we can really connect. He described level 0 as our internal light and 4 as our biggest expression possible. When we are at level 2, we can see and experience our periphery, notice our feelings and connect with the audience. At 3 we are already reacting/responding. We have to be so aware of not jumping to 3 because we think we know what someone wants - of going into autopilot and missing the connection with our audience and all that juicy stuff comes with that.
As always at the centre of this is practice.
Since I have started to practice more regularly, I can feel slow progress. Slow growth. Perhaps no-one else would notice it, it is so slight and internal. But I feel certain that continuing along this Zenish road will bring me closer to more consistently connecting with rather than performing at. Oh I hope so, anyway!