What is clown?

In 2010 I studied clowning under the direction of Ronlin Foreman at Dell'arte International School of Physical Theatre (http://www.dellarte.com).  Before this, I had a couple weeks of instruction in clown as part of my BFA training at the University of North Dakota.  Since then, I've been in communities of clown, read a number of teacher's books on clown, and performed on streets and on stages.  My knowledge of the art form is based as much on experience as intellectual ideas.  As I work to bring new theatrical experiences to Grand Forks, North Dakota I encounter many questions about what clown is, why clown, and have I seen the movie "It"?

  1.  What is clown?  Clown is a mask.  To put on the mask of a clown is to become our most vulnerable self.  On the first day of clown, Ronlin Foreman described clown as, "Jumping into the abyss, and when you hit the ground, you bounce."  There is a resiliency to a clown.  Clowns keep going despite their challenges.  I cannot describe clown as well as describe the process of becoming clown.  My training for clown involved a constant barrage of failure.  We were given one prompt:  Be funny.  And we seldom were.  The failure to be funny became more and more intense.  The attempt to be funny became more difficult.  Eventually, my experience became one of futileness.  One where I could no longer TRY to be funny.  I simply was or was not.  When the training was over, my relationship to "funny" was forever changed.  I believe over five weeks, I had cultivated the heart of a clown, which is to exist, and remain vulnerable in a world which will try to rip the clown apart.  By doing so, I found that it was easier to be funnier.  I just had to allow "me" out to play.  I had to follow the impulse which interested me.  I delighted in failure, and in doing so, people responded with laughter.  Clown is this pursuit.  The clown takes a journey, in front of an audience and in communion, and continues despite failure.  In moving forward through his or her struggles, a chance exists to laugh at the folly of the clown.
  2. Why Clown?  So what it is about this art form that might serve the Grand Forks community?  The clown is not bound to the rules and physics of our every day life.  The performance is only limited to the imagination of the actor.  Clowns can bring laughter and tears.  They remind us of our struggles and successes through a more poetic reality.  Some of the best clown shows I have witnessed caused me to become inspired to live a full life, to embrace my faults, and to connect to other people.  All these qualities create an experience which I believe this town is ready for.
  3. Have you seen the movie "It"?  Clowns are scary.  I have received this type of comment or question often.   People have experiences with horror characters who masquerade as clowns.  This bears repeating:  These characters are NOT clowns.  Granted, in history, there has been some trickster clowns.  But demon clowns are not a thing, unless they make you laugh (which they probably didn't).  If this is stopping you from catching a clown show, I hope you reconsider.  If horror movies stopped us from enjoying life, we wouldn't sleep because of Nightmare on Elm Street, we would hate hockey because of Friday the 13th, or hate children because of Children of the Corn.  So just give a show a chance.  You might be surprised when you find yourself laughing.

grand forks box of clowns