In August 2014, the 'How to teach clowning' workshop took place in Newcastle. Organised by partner Circus Central, and led by expert teacher, performer and clown, Joe May, the workshop was attended by 12 participants from Belgium, Hungary and the UK. The following is the experience of Tracy Greener from Newcastle:
I was delighted to receive a place on the teaching clown workshop at Circus Central in Newcastle. Although I didn’t have strong connections with circus at this time, I had been desperately trying to access affordable clown training in other areas of the country as I really wanted to learn more and wanted to be able to share what I had learnt with my local community. I feel that clowning offers the opportunity for creative exploration, laughter and community cohesion. The chance to attend this workshop for free was such a gift.
The workshop was an interesting mix of practical learning of clown skills in the morning and then sharing them with young people in the afternoon. Although I had done some clowning before, it was limited and I found some of the physical theatre aspects challenging for me, particularly ‘slapstick’. I realised that my physical skills were so undeveloped compared to the acrobats and circus people I was sharing the space with. But Joe May really helped us create a supportive atmosphere that with his guidance of doing 3 praises and 1 thing to improve when giving feedback for performances. I felt that there wasn’t any competition or expectation among the group and my mistakes were reason to laugh. These experiences were so useful for understanding how to build confidence of others learners and how to help them to feel safe taking risks and making mistakes. As the week went on my confidence grew and I was able to give things a go in front of an audience and the most important thing was to have fun. I think that the young people experienced this too.
As well as learning actual clown skills on the workshop, we were taught how to create lesson plans with clear goals and objectives and how we could break this down to make sure that the exercises we were doing met the overall objectives of a session. This was a useful framework to have. Although it is always nice to have the confidence to go with the flow in sessions if need be, I found having a clear plan with timings, an opportunity to introduce a lot of focused skills to fast learners and a way to move the skills of the group forward. This is a skill that I can revisit and use in a variety of settings for all sorts of group creative and personal development workshops.
Each afternoon we would work with the young people at the circus and share clown skills with them. I loved this aspect so much. I used to do arts with young people but hadn’t done so for few years due to funding cuts so I was really delighted being around them. I found them to be so inspiring, creative and daring. Each day it was wonderful to see how different individuals’ confidence grew, to witness some of the truly awesome pieces that they created in a short time and how they developed these pieces. It was interesting to note how the trust and communication between the adults and the young people developed as the week went on as well, how we all grew in confidence in working, playing and laughing together.
I also really treasured the opportunity to work with the other workshop participants from across Europe. I haven’t been out of the UK for 10 years due to my financial situation, so it was absolutely wonderful to have such a range of people attending, to be able to talk to these people about their lives as performers, their ways of working and to be inspired by them. I made some great friends during the course and remain in contact with them. I will remember fondly the many ‘crying with laughter’ moments we shared.
Since the workshop I am still keen to develop the skills that I have learnt. I have been talking to Circus Central about helping to continue to teach clown to the young people there. I probably need to keep developing my own skills too, but I also know from doing this training that the most important is just holding a space for discovery. Young people are able to discover so much from using both the guidance and the wide range of skills they already have too. I have also been thinking about how I can integrate teaching aspects of clown in the ‘wellbeing workshops for women’ that I currently do. There is something very important about connectivity to others and personal wellbeing in clown that I would like to develop further. I really hope to have the space to develop this in the New Year.
Overall I found this workshop an absolutely amazing opportunity for personal development that can spiral outwards making an impact on the wider community. I really value that and am very grateful for the chance to attend this.
With Love, Tracy Greener
Robyn is a Bristol-based director, teacher and performer. With over 20 years experience she is a passionate practitioner of clowning, physical theatre, circus and street arts. She has a MA in Circus Directing, a Diploma of Physical Theatre Practice and trained with a long line of inspiring teachers including Holly Stoppit, Peta Lily, Giovanni Fusetti, Jon Davison, Zuma Puma and Deanna Fleysha.
Robyn has collaborated with companies including Let’s Circus, The Sexual Health Circus and Whispering Wood Folk and performed with acclaimed physical theatre companies including, Derevo, Akhe, Oceanallover, and Gappad as well as her own award-winning company, Fun in the Oven Theatre.
During the pandemic in 2020, Robyn set up The Online Clown Academy with Holly Stoppit and developed a series of Zoom Clown Courses. Robyn’s research, started during her Masters, has been exploring the meeting point of clowning and activism, online, in the real world and with international collaborators. With this drive to explore political edges of her work she has also dived back into the world of the Bouffon; training with Jaime Mears, Bim Mason, Nathaniel Justiniano, Eric Davis, Tim Licata, Al Seed and the grand master Bouffon-himself; Philippe Gaulier. She has also set up the Laboratory of the Un-beautiful; a collaboration with Deborah Antoinette Bard, exploring the bouffon & grotesque with womxn theatre makers.