When I was 7 years old, playing a bit role in our school production of “The Golden Goose,” I faced my first stage disaster: the Extra-Large box of “Milk Duds” candy that I had stuffed into my tunic fell onto the stage, in full sight, as I was speaking my first line. I was crushed, realizing that my life was a total failure, as I watched my father literally weep in the fourth row.
Only afterwards, when he explained that he had been weeping with laughter, and thanked me for the most fun he had ever had at a school recital, did I understand what clowning is.
Clowning is not about doing funny things, and it is certainly not about being good. It is about just being yourself, fully, in full sight. It is about hoping things won’t go too badly, and not hiding it when they do.
Thirty years later I met Vivian Gladwell, who taught me the art of clowning. There was a lot to learn, especially for an actor used to covering his onstage mistakes, but I soon realized that I had absorbed the fundamental lesson at age 7: you don’t have to hide your discomfort when the world doesn’t cooperate with your plans— the audience will understand, and accept you, warts and all.
I think this lesson is what makes clowning so fundamental to being human: as clowns, we can allow ourselves a child-like trust that all will be well, even if we can’t imagine how. If I look at the state of the world today, I think this trust is vital for our health as human beings.
For 20 years now, together with many collaborators, I’ve had the privilege to lead clown workshops here at La Luna nel Pozzo, where the social life of 15 people from many cultures and different walks of life, the onstage clown-work, the dance and play and fun, are all supported and enhanced by an idyllic natural surrounding.
For the last 10 years, Pia and I have explored the synergy between our theatrical work with the differently-abled and our clown activities [read “Tony and Bob do Vienna”], and whenever possible, we like to include one of our differently-abled clowns in the workshops, which enriches the experience enormously.
In my first show, back in 1964, I made my father weep with laughter. It was a gift of innocence: at 7 I had no idea what I was doing.
But that was a long time ago. Now Pia and I run La Luna nel Pozzo, which of course means “the Moon in the Well.” And the tears of laughter, good, deep, healthy laughter, are the well where our moon is so beautifully reflected.