The Clown Congress was a collaboration between three clowns, teachers, activists and academics; Robyn Hambrook, Jon Davison and Hilary Ramsden. We had connected on Zoom during the Pandemic as we explored new ways of working and performing with clown that took us beyond studio and street-based methods and processes. Simultaneously we wanted to discover and create new forms and processes that address political, societal and environmental issues. Following a research residency in Athens in February we want to extend our questions, experiments and discussions to the wider clown community.
We wanted to collectively ask what does it mean to be a clown in this current era? In times of crisis and change, the old models of our artforms may need re-imagining to suit the times we are in. And as we face shifting and transitioning political power systems, climate breakdown and urgent issues of social injustice we are gathering to ask what is the future of clowning in these turbulent times?
Offered a residency and deciding to make the Congress 4 days long; Hilary, Jon and I decided to curate a day each to explore broad themes that in some way followed our own interests.
As an activist, her time at Greenham Common and experiences as the co-founder of CIRCA, it was obvious that Hilary’s focus should be on Clowns relationship to Power, Protest and Authority.
With 40 years experience teaching, and currently questioning colonial and potentially racist pedagogical practices, Jon Davison’s day focussed on Decolonisation and Anti-Rascism.
The third day’s theme was Climate and Planet. Addressing the elephant in the room of our present and real climate crisis, I have been asking questions about what the role of clowning is in these anxiety inducing times.
Our final day asked ‘What Next?’ and left the day to be curated by the participants; to give space to respond and research questions and ideas that bubbled up during the previous three days.
We were joined by Franki Anderson; who facilitated daily sessions that allowed participants to self-reflect and bring their attention back to themselves after touching on the huge global issues we were exploring. Franki was also in a support role, to feel the room, to ground us and support difficult processing through her therapeutic movement practices.
We were based at the Arts Mansion, set in the stunning Ashton Court Estate thanks to a residency offered by Artspace Lifespace. It was the venue of The Trickster Lab I held there in September 2021. The incredible venue offered a large wooden panelled Music Room, two smaller carpeted lounges, a bar area for catering expansive manicured grounds. Our beautiful setting however, was also a reminder of the deep inequality in Britain and of a dark history tied up in private land ownership, wealth and slavery. If were going to talk about decolonisation of our our artform we have to acknowledge this suffering and exploitation in the places we stand.
The Congress kicked off with a one-day clown workshop on Sunday and then four days of the Congress from Monday to Thursday. Over the 4 days 50 people joined us from across the UK. We also had visitors from Europe including France, Belgium and Portugal. You can read more about each day here:
Day 0: Clown Diving in Nature
Day 1: Power, Authority & Protest
Day 2: Anti-Racism & Decolonisation
Day 3: Climate & Planet
Day 4: What Next?
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, Bim Mason, Jon Davison, Zuma Puma, Lucy Hopkins and John Wright.
Over the past five years she has been exploring the meeting point of clowning and a deep desire to address the injustices in the world. This specialism has developed through her Masters Research ‘Small Circus Acts of Resistance’, on the streets and in protests with the Bristol Rebel Clowns and in research residencies with The Trickster Laboratory.
Robyn’s Activist Clown research has led to collaborations with Jay Jordan (Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, France), Clown Me In (Beirut), LM Bogad (US), Hilary Ramsden (Greece) and international Tricksters; ‘The Yes Men’ (US).
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.
Keen to explore the intersection of clowning and politics, Robyn is driven to create collaborative, research spaces, testing and pushing the limits of the artform to create new knowledge and methodologies for her industry and strengthen partnerships for future work. Some of her most recent collaborations and teaching projects have included the Nomadic Rebel Clown Academy (5-day Activist Clown Training), The Laboratory of the Un-beautiful (Feminist Grotesque Bouffon Training for Womxn Theatre Makers) and the Clown Congress (annual gathering of clowns, activists & academics collectively exploring what it means to be a clown in this current era)