"Calling all clowns, rebels and activists and everything in between! It’s time to dust off the cobwebs, unfurl and emerge from a long hibernation!"
This was the callout for The Rebel Clown Project; my five day residency with Bristol Rebel Clowns around town. Supported by a Launchpad Residency with Invisible Circus I invited local clowns to join me and dive back into the world the Activist Clown with training, conversations, experiments and play.
There were two sessions a day with space for 10 in each session, in line with Covid restrictions. Over five days and ten session, 18 clowns joined the residency. We worked with the concerns and skills in the room. In the socially-distanced training space we explored and trained performance skills in clowning, street theatre, bouffon and ensemble. Hilary Ramsden, co-founder of The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army joined us for some sessions as well sharing her training techniques of the original Rebel Clown.
My intention had been to build on conversations and training from The Activist Clown Toolkit – the workshop series exploring tools and techniques to build power and efficacy of clown based activism in the fight for equity, social and climate justice. I also wanted to explore various themes including and not limited to women in public space, decolonisation, historic perspectives of clowning and protest.
As it happened the residency took place against a backdrop of massive protests in Bristol. Thousands of voices and bodies united in the city against a draconian policing bill. This was met with police brutality and subsequent riots. In the street the issues mingled including; a resurgence in the call for safe spaces for women following the murder of Sarah Everard at the hands of a cop; alongside stories of 95% of women experiencing sexual harassment; vehement opposition to the new policing bill that would affect the right to protest, bring in trespass laws that will criminalise travellers and affect our human rights. Participants of the residency would arrive having just experienced the police violence in response to peaceful protest, so before we began the issues were palpable in the space.
In The Activist Clown Toolkit I wanted to tell a story through the programming of my four guests.
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.