On the third day our focus expanded beyond systemic influences to incorporate the whole planet. And from here we came back into ourselves. Prior to the day I had been thinking about how disconnected and disassociated we can feel to the climate crisis so perhaps we need to first locate the climate crisis within ourselves.
I introduced the day and began the first session exploring a workshop I had been developing bringing together clowning with one of my movement practices, Butoh. Butoh is a protest dance form that developed in Japan after the 2nd World War, as the country faced a cultural identity and emotional crises that left a paralysing scar on the national consciousness. Dance artists reacted to the horrors that had been witnessed by portraying them through the body with grotesque and playful results. I had been playing with Butoh as a way for us to connect to the complex feelings I had been feeling in relation to the Climate Crisis. The process was to create choreographic scores using evocative images of climate collapse or capitalism for instance. Once those were set we performed them as clowns. During the process we started to research further by adding a nose, adding music, playing the nose and/or connecting with audience. The varied results raised a lot of reflection and critique. As an audience, do the images connect more or less with each element? Are we seeming to mock these serious issues? Does adding the clown bring lightness where we don’t want it or feel we deserve it?
The second workshop was a collaboration between Saskia Kraftowitz and Pan. The session was prefaced with an introduction to grief work from Pan and a discussion about the importance of these processes in relation to moving beyond climate anxiety and into action. The session continued with a writing exercise to explore our areas of numbness, anger, rage, despair. Then Saskia led their ‘Giggling with Grief’ workshop, drawing on grief tending, voice and clowning practices and the idea that the expression of laughter and crying are closely connected. We were invited to choose a mascot from an enormous pile of soft toys Saskia had brought, and invited us to take our new friend outdoors, into nature to explore and share our grief. The process ended by sharing our experiences with a partner and creating a shrine out of our friends and clown noses, leaving our grief with them.
After lunch an open space session asked how we might practically use clowning to address the climate crisis. We split into a five practical exploratory sessions; ‘Laughing with nature’, ‘Guilt: the Musical’, playing with extreme emotions, switching emotions and the space in between; the power of expressing no emotion and how it creates abstract meaning – drawing on the experiences of the Red Brigade; and a clown theatre piece very simply and playfully exploring inequality of resources.
The day ended with a session from Franki talking about changing our stories. To explore the narratives we tell ourselves. We chose a story from our past, a trauma the had had a lasting effect on us. We then danced with our stories from different points of view; as the victim (a tragedy), as the hero, ironically and finally (although time ran out and we didn’t quite get there) comedically, when we realise all our stories are universal.
The day helped settle my thinking into ways and territories that clown and clowning can work in in these times of climate crisis:
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.