by Hilary Ramsden
Day 1 of the Clown Congress focussed on Clowns: Power, Protest and Authority. Dr. Bim Mason, (former Artistic Director of Circomedia, researcher, mask-maker and street theatre practitioner) presented perspectives on a brief history of the clown as provocateur in the forms of jester, fool and trickster, and followed this with references to contemporary provocateurs such as Leo Bassi, Sacha Baron Cohen, Banksy & Pussy Riot. He then continued with a presentation of his own most current work, Big Heads, and spoke informatively and in depth about response from and impact on audiences of this particular performance work. Maggie Irving (clown, researcher and educator) followed Bim with a lecture-demonstration of Feminist incursions into Clown practices drawing on her own work and experiences as a female clown. Dr. Hilary Ramsden then completed the more formal presentation part of the day with a talk on the radical phenomenon that was CIRCA (Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army) from its inception to its demise!
After the morning break Hilary facilitated a 90-minute workshop that drew on the 2-day Basic Rebel Clown Training that CIRCA used to offer on its UK tour to different cities before arriving at the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles. The focus of the workshop was to explore some of the games and exercises we’d worked with at that time and to see how it felt 20 years on – what still worked (of course, some of the exercises are regularly used by many kinds of facilitators, not just clowns, rebel clowns or activists and not only performers), why and why not.
Bim facilitated an after-lunch workshop ‘Contemporary Ideas & Actions’: Big Head Mask Workshop where Bim outlined his approach to creating mask actions for the G7, COP26 and other events. Congress participants were invited to put on the Big Heads, and to explore the possibilities for embodying power and trying out iconic gestures and attitudes that might accompany these masks of a number of UK politicians. As an audience we looked at and discussed their impact in terms of power relationships and audience response.
The last session of the day was framed with a number of questions (listed below) that were intended to invite participants to create some practical work around the themes of the day.
Practical session: What kinds of actions might we work on? What new ways can clowns invent for usurping authority? Drawing on ideas from the previous sessions we formed small groups around a variety of topics to discuss and create some ideas for future actions. We then gathered for a show and tell after 40 minutes….which in fact was more of a tell rather than show.
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.