The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Freeing Your Inner Clown

by Tricia Dower

“I’m sure you can just watch,” Colin says as we head off to an event called “Liberating the Marvelous.” I’m interested in the part that features poetry and music but it’s supposed to open with a Clowning Workshop. That worries me.

“Workshop usually means participation,” I say.

I don’t have to go. Colin is okay going alone, but it’s a chance for me to see the Camas Collective Bookstore he treks off to every Tuesday evening for the Anarchist Reading Circle. And hosting the evening will be performance poet Paula Belina whose work I admire.

Ten people show up. When Paula starts tossing potential costume items at us from a used clothing bin, I know I will not get away with just watching. Colin adorns his head with a veil of bright yellow net and I stretch a pink bra over my t-shirt. Paula says clowning is not about hiding behind a painted face; it’s about unmasking the real person inside. Our first exercise will be to communicate how we’re feeling in words and actions. Oh, oh, I think. Encounter group. I say I’m feeling stoo-pid and everyone laughs. Look, Ma, I’m a clown.

Next we’re to find a private place in the bookstore so we can get in touch with our bodies and our voices. No interaction with others for five minutes. We should move any way we want and practice laughing. I stand in front of a shelf with my arms folded across my chest, reading book titles. Paula writhes on the floor, her maniacal laughter filling the room. She obviously didn’t grow up being admonished not to make a spectacle of herself. It occurs to me I don’t make a sound even when I’m all alone in the house: no humming, no muttering, certainly not maniacal laughter. It occurs to me I’m the strange one.

We go through two rounds of saying our first names in a way that expresses how we perceive ourselves. We laugh a lot, and I remember everyone’s name by the end. We silently pass props (a tin box, a glove), miming mini-scenes. We pair off and make faces at each other. We play follow the leader where the one who's "It" makes noises we have to repeat and, later, motions we have to imitate. Except for Colin and me, the others are in their twenties, maybe early thirties. When we begin hopping like frogs, I say, “I’m too old for this!”

We end the workshop with a Public Stunt. Coats on, we shuffle outside, form small groups, and occupy the four corners of an intersection. When the light is red, we stand motionless. When it turns green, we leap and skip and run across the street, whooping and high-fiving the others we meet mid-way. We do this until it gets boring. A man crossing towards us during one green light never looks up from his cell phone. Back in the bookstore, Paula says the stunt was to show how you don’t have to break the law to put on a public display of joy. We end the workshop by making eye contact — every person with every other.

More people come later for the poetry and to hear two guitarists and singers from Vancouver called The Holdouts. A performer named Pest, wearing a wild black outfit with a death mask, walks on stilts among us. Paula leads us through a few surreal games. I feel at home with this crowd, even though only my ears are pierced and my hair is a conventional colour. It’s good to spend a Saturday evening with creative, young anarchists.

“You like me sometimes,” Colin says. “I get you out there.”

I do. He does, and it’s fun.

Photo: Workshop leader Paula Belina, centre, wearing assorted items from the used bin as we get ready to commit a public display of joy. I’m the red coated one to the right. Colin took a bunch more shots but the batteries failed. This was the only one that made it.


Blogger Anne C. said...

So clowning continues. It was big thing here in my early 20s. That and fire-eating. I'll see if I can find a picture of my own. Not that I ever had as much as energy, even then, as Colin does now!

Thu Jan 31, 07:09:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger jsnider said...

After I had my son I found my inner clown again. And I do make noise around the house when I'm alone and even when there are lots of people around.

I talk to my cats, myself, the computer, blog writers, e-mail writers, my work and I break out in song for no apparent reason quite often.

I recently noticed my son does this too and has his own running commentary no matter where he is.

And jumping around the intersection sounds like pure freedom to me.

Thu Jan 31, 08:39:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Fire-eating! Do you have a picture of yourself doing that, Anne? I'd love to see it.

You've made me think back to when my kids were little, jsnider. I clowned around with them, for sure. I felt freer with them than with "grown-ups."

Thu Jan 31, 12:19:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Oh, What Fun! Good for you for going along with it despite the abject terror!

I'm going to steal some of those ideas for my group therapy course.

Thanks for sharing your nerve wracking experience. And your joy, too!

Thu Jan 31, 01:13:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Anne C. said...

No, I would never eat fire. But there was a time in my life when that felt like a problem!

Thu Jan 31, 01:23:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Steal away, Andrew!

What a great observation, Anne: "there was a time in my life when that felt like a problem." The pressure to be 'with it,' and open to every experience.

Thu Jan 31, 03:03:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Chumplet said...

Thank goodness hiding behind a painted face doesn't necessarily make you a clown. It's the face paint that scares most people.

When we were in our twenties, we clowned around in public in the streets of Toronto. I would have loved to break into a choreographed dance on Bay Street, but hesitated. My sister didn't.

I also mutter to myself, at home and at work. I'm the only one who listens.

Thu Jan 31, 04:42:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I would have hesitated, too, Chumplet. Ah, the fun I've missed.

Thu Jan 31, 05:09:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger t said...

Anarchist clowns? I do find clowns among the creepiest things, mimes too. But there is obviously something to be said for letting oneself go. Sounds like it was great for you and Colin!

Thu Jan 31, 06:50:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, t. I find clown makeup creepy and mimes kind of boring.

Fri Feb 01, 04:55:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous Ruth Taylor said...

I live across the street from a clown. He leaves his house and goes to work in full garb. It makes my day.

It would probably be more fun to live across the street from Tricia and Colin, though.

Fri Feb 01, 11:10:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Now, that's an interesting neighbour, Ruth, much more colourful than we would be, I'm sure, but thanks for the nice words.

Fri Feb 01, 07:39:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you forgotten Love Bug the Clown? Clowning runs in our family, Sis. I think you may be coming over to the theatrical side of the family. But I am in your corner entirely. It has taken me years to embrace the "childish" things Glenn and I do in our story hours. I enjoyed this post as always.

Sat Feb 02, 07:01:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Lili! No, I haven't forgotten Love Bug. During the workshop I mentioned I have a cousin who's a clown. Her talents haven't rubbed off on me, though. And, you're much more playful than I.

Sat Feb 02, 08:34:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

I need to have more fun. Thanks, Tricia.

Tue Feb 05, 12:47:00 pm GMT-5  

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