Clowning: The Art of Failing Beautifully

Clowning: The Art of Failing Beautifully

I’ve been going to La Luna nel Pozzo, Robert McNeer’s and Pia Wachter’s theatre school in Puglia, for well over a decade to put on a red nose and get my regular fix of clowning. This year Hedda and I joined a bunch of Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Argentinian, Italian, Catalan and Spanish clowns, for a week of games, dancing, and wild improvisation.

I don’t mean circus clowning with slapstick, pratfalls and spraying the audience with water. Rather, we work in the tradition of the ‘fool’ who responds to the unfolding world with delight, curiosity and an open heart. Everything that happens on stage is improvised in the moment: no script, no plan and no pre-conceived idea other than to be fully present.

The fool is wise, not clever. You can’t think your way through a scene. You have to be in it, to look, listen and feel what is going on around you on-stage and off. You wait for something to happen and (this is one of clowning’s great paradoxical joys) provided you don’t try to force it, something always happens.

Situations and images arise naturally through simplicity, repetition, amplification, rhythm, accident and random variation. When clowns share what they have noticed and what they feel about it with the audience, it often brings laughter and sometimes tears. By following their own unique hearts and imaginations, they speak to the human condition.

This type of clowning calls for us to let down our defences and allow our vulnerabilities to be witnessed, so it requires both honesty and courage. But it also offers a profound level of acceptance and affirmation. As a form, it is inherently inclusive and generous, welcoming all our frailties and fallibilities.

Of course, our self-doubt and fear keep getting in the way. But we have to learn to forgive ourselves for being human and carry on. I keep going back to La Luna because there I am reminded that life – just like clowning – is the art of failing beautifully.

ladder to the moon

The sieve becomes a spaceship,
the mop-head is a bandage,
a ladder leads to the moon.

Something happens.
The image appears.
We can all see it.

Me. Me. Me. Me too.
The game begins.
What joy!

Geoff Mead
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