Clown: traditional techniques and structures

Tonight’s clowning session had more of a focus on the specifics of traditional clowning in terms of structures and techniques – essentially, what’s in the traditional clown toolkit.

We started off with an exercise establishing status – casting ourselves either as high-status (like the traditional ‘whiteface’ authority figure clown, who is allowed to take up space, make eye contact, boss others around) low-status (like the auguste/red-nose clown who is clumsy, stupid, bossed around by others) or somewhere in between. We then applied this to the Penny Routine:

Clown 1 places a penny on the floor, coerces Clown 2 to bend down and pick it up then administers a kick up the backside when they do. C1 then convinces C2 to play the same trick on C3 – only this time, C3 somehow convinces C2 once again to bend down and pick up the penny themselves, resulting in another kick up the backside for C2.

We then watched a short clip of two Ringling Bros. circus clowns, noting the following techniques used in their routine and with these in mind, worked on our own three-person versions of a similar scenario.

  • Circus music with ‘the rhythm of a happy heartbeat’ that inspires audience to clap along
  • Fixed points – looking at the audience, away, or at each other – sharply and clearly
  • Sharing their reactions and responses – shock, displeasure, bafflement, delight – with the audience
  • Escalation of events
  • Rule of three: same thing happens twice, establishing a rhythm that is then broken with a ‘surprise’ when the third occurrence is different
  • Slapstick violence
  • Rhythm
  • The ‘problem to solve’ and the endless quest for solutions – in this case, ‘tidying up the corpse’

Having practised a few more gestures – the stumble, double-take, and ‘look – look closer – look closer still’ – we closed with some solo work, remembering the importance of simple rules such as making eye contact with the audience and breathing out to dissipate tension.


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