Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Large Range of Clown Anecdotes

Over the past few days I have posted five of the 50 anecdotal sections from Angels can Fly here on this blog. Over the past six months I have invited clowns from all walks of life to submit anecdotes for the book, and I have received a wide range of submissions. Please enjoy this selection, I hope they wet your appetite for more when the book is published in May.

Remember you can get a free ebook copy of Angels can Fly simply by putting you email address in the box on this page. And find information on training in clown on the Playspace page, and information on my other books on the home page of this site at

Kirk Marsh - Realization of my Clowning

So I get a job at a Las Vegas casino as a juggler/stiltwalker to do a pre-show for a floor show. At this point I could juggle, but couldn't do anything fancy while down the strip the best juggler in the world is performing. For the first month of my contract I got no response at all. Nothing. A slight applause now and then, but nothing more.

Then I was lucky enough to start working with Jason McPherson, a truly inspirational man. He took one look at me and said, "Well, you are a clown, right?" "Well, yes..." "Then why aren't you clowning?"

The next set I went out and started clowning with my juggling and it was one of the best times of my life. I went on to perform another 200 shows at that casino and enjoyed most every set as I grew and grew more and more into my clowning. It was a life changing event to have someone encourage me to clown.

Jason McPherson also me this wonderful quote one time when I was saying I was afraid of how much it hurt to try something new onstage. He said, "Kirk, I bet the first plane the Wright Brothers made hurt too, but they made another one and kept on trying." Best wishes to all of you with your clowning. Kirk Marsh

Kirk Marsh CV

Kirk Marsh has been described as Stan Laurel, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Dick Van Dyke rolled into one. Infuse that with vaudeville's rich traditions of magic, juggling, eccentric dance and audience participation and you have a one-man comedy variety show that will leave you in stitches. Part klutz, part consummate entertainer, Kirk's acts have delighted and amazed audiences around the world, from Las Vegas casinos to some of the world's largest cruise ships.

Specializing in parody, Kirk's magic act and interpretive dance parodies were said to 'steal the critic sessions' at Motionfest 2004. His performances generally portray a man at odds with his props and life in general. Kirk has trained at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Clown College and Motionfest as well as spending some time working out with the NY Goofs. His work has taken him across the United States and on several journeys overseas.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Johnny Melvile - Basque Clown Anecdote

It was October 1982. I was pursuing my solo career all over Europe but also working together on a project for theatre with a Swedish company JORD CIRCUS. The show was inspired by the book 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez .

Our idea was to rehearse on the road at various festivals where we could play our own shows but still meet to develop the ideas for the new show which was to be premiered at the World Festival of Theatre in Nancy 1983. The group and I met in San Sebastian in the Basque country.

Spain had transformed from a Fascist dictatorship to party-land after the death of Franco in 1975. The situation in the Basque country however was still critical with separatists and government-forces committing acts of violence against each other in the name of freedom.

But as always in places of political tension there were the enlightened who tried what they could to bring love, light and laughter to the people. One day after being warned by the local separatist movement not to play since we would interfere with an 'important' demonstration against the policies of Madrid, we were told that we would be allowed to play at a festival in Fuentarabia, a small but beautiful village near San Sebastian.

The group Jord Circus was to play its street show - a poetic and stunning piece inspired by Living Theatre and Eugenio Barba, and afterwards further down the street it was to be my turn with my show, which I suppose was inspired more by Max Wall and Graucho Marx. As they performed up the street I waited round my 'pitch' in costume to welcome the crowd which would soon descend from the Jord Circus show, the last one before the 'comida'.

I hate being in costume and be 'off-duty' so to speak….and as there were some pensioners and kids hanging round who were not attracted to the other show, I played and impro-ed my way round the area. It served me well also as a warm-up for the slightly more formal performance to come. I was making them smile, then giggle, then laugh, as gradually they relaxed with this weird looking foreigner.

I realized then as I still believe now that the Spanish village audience is perhaps the best to play to. My impro was showing no limits and I played with some withered flowers which I found on the street; and then proceeding to mime a flower seller.

It was at this point I noticed the Jord Circus show had just finished and also that Juan, the brilliant Spanish actor from the group - in his powerfully dominant character: the BEAST was thundering toward me limping high in the air on his one stilt - there was something in his approach that made me think I had not zipped my fly.….yes he was charging directly at me.

Strange - an actor shunning the acclaim of his audience? As he got nearer I began to react as my clown would, but the look on his face told me something was desperately wrong. I let him approach and still 'clowning' watched the reactions to my audience which had grown considerably since the flower seller impro had begun.

His eyes were wide and I detected a surge of fear in me which I couldn't quite reason with. I faced my audience so he could reach my ear. "Johnny!" he hissed - " zose flowers hiz ha homage to two young people shot last week by ze policia…." My clown character disintegrated inside me but the shell didn't crack… heart raced as I carried the flowers back to the wall where I found them, clowned my stupidity with innocence and shrugged forgiveness with Chaplinesque coyness.

I played my show that day unsure what revenge the hard liners might take on me either during the act or later. The show was fantastic but I had a lump in my throat as I packed up. We made our way to the taverna. 'Those flowers-against-the-wall' was the topic of the conversation for the whole comida. I couldn't eat, especially as the jokes about it started to become a bit too personal.

Suddenly the doors swung open ushering the village elders and the organizers of the festival. Like a posse they surrounded the table. I found myself sliding downwards until they laughed and commiserated with me, even thanked me for my innocence as the clown foreigner who didn't know……….. I had apparently shown the village and its inhabitants how to see something with different eyes.

Due to my innocence even such a symbol of sacredness far too touchy and sensitive to mess with could be transformed and used to show people there is another way apart from revenge and hate. To this day I still play and entertain the people of the Basques but play with flowers from the stalls not the streets……

Johnny Melvile CV

Since 1973 JM has entertained audiences in over 30 countries: for (amongst others) her Royal Highness the Queen of Denmark, for her Royal Highness Princess Margriet of Holland, Olympic athletes, Russian spies, German riot-police, African bushmen, American soldiers, Mexican Indians, Paris debutantes, surgeons, film-stars, politicians, rock festival crowds, peace-activists, prisoners, pensioners and kids.

He has directed special theatre projects with groups both professional and amateur, appeared in TV programs across the globe, including the UK and Europe ,Japan and the States, and starred in various international feature films and won the BEST ACTOR award at Brooklyn Film Festival in 2001 for the Danish film NO MANS LAND.

He is now making his own films, having completed the short BACKTRACKER, and the 1 hour feature IT'S A WOMANS WORLD. In 2006 he will be shooting a road movie starring together with his son CYRON.

"Melville’s forte lies in his ability to communicate with his audiences. With his skills in mime and mimicry, satire and social comment, his natural bias to comedy, his quick-fire improvisation and his grasp of languages, he is the complete international performer"

Johnny Melville workshops are an experience, fun, rewarding and designed to unleash the energy potential of every student. Taking in various disciplines, Johnny improvises and guides his alumni with spontaneous, direct and committed involvement.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Amelia in Bliss - Clown School in Ibiza

The first time I heard about a clown school in Ibiza, Spain, was as I walked down a darkened wet street in Hobart, Tasmania.

At the time the idea of clown school on a Balearic Island seemed foreign and I put it to the back of my mind. The idea never sat still, and one year later was bought to life as I stepped off a plane and onto the island of Ibiza. As I walked along the tarmac I realised I had no idea of what was to come from my decision to complete the three month Summer academy at Bont’s International Clown School.

Summer Academy consisted of 19 students, from nine countries, and 11 occupations, the love for clown bringing us together to meet, create and share on this Mediterranean Island. I approached the first days with an excited energy, dreaming and wondering what journeys this group of individuals would be making in the classroom at Es Cubelles. A tiny village, overlooking the ocean and Formenterra.

The classroom provided an experimental playground that allowed us to explore ourselves, each other and the clown. I have always found the journey of clown to be a unique experience, and being surrounded by a class full time for three months made this particular journey extra special.

Tears, Laughter, Anger, Frustration, Love, Grief, Stupidity, Affection, Irritation, Sadness. Through improvisations and devised pieces, emotions were launched into the classroom, with hope. Hope of having meaning, hope of touching and most importantly the hope of receiving laughter.

At times the sweet sound of laughter filled my ears and swelled my heart, but other times 19 indifferent faces would be staring straight at me, as I prepared for Eric de Bont’s voice to announce ‘Okay, comments please’.

Suddenly I found myself in a school where I was commended for being stupid and an idiot. I was constantly listening to instructions of ‘think less, just do’, ‘it’s too clever’, ‘find more failures’ and ‘You need failures’.

The journey between Es Cubelles and my house was 12 kilometres of hilly pine tree forests, spring flowers and Ibizan women in traditional black, grazing goats by the road. The backdrop the ocean. Hitchhiking was the most common form of clown student transportation, and was made easier by wearing our noses on our thumbs. Identifying us as Bont students, the locals weremore that happy to help out a clown.

Living in the fantastic ‘Casa de Campo’, with 11 of the students intensified my life of clown exploration. Clowns cleaning, eating, devising, shopping, discovering, showering, sleeping, training, arguing and socailising together. Living is such close proximity with each other and without any history except Ibiza, allowed the sole focus of the group to be clown. Not only were we a school group, but a social and support group.

We watched sunsets together, explored beaches together and had parties together. We listened and talked with one another about our fears, insecurities and ideas about the clown. Receiving and giving advice, clarity and inspiration every day. It was impossible to have a conversation and clown not enter it within 10 minutes.

The final week in Ibiza bought a sudden shift in the energy of the group, as the lifestyle that we had been living drew towards its end. A lifestyle very different from one we had ever known and far away from one we could ever hope to encounter in the future. We had been in Bliss.

Amelia Cadwallader

Amelia has worked and trained with various companies in three countries including Is theatre ltd., Te Pooka, Circus Arts and independently as a deviser, performer and costume designer/maker. Her exploration in the world of clown begun in 2000 after a one day workshop, and since has introduced her to countless people and places, including Eric de Bont, whom she studied under for 3 months in 2004. Amelia is currently working on her new show, to be presented in Australia, Spain and Mexico during 2005.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

David MacMurray Smith - Basic Training for My Clown

I grew up in a small town in New England. As a boy, and up until graduation from High School, I spent a major amount of my time working on my best friend’s family dairy farm. At that time I had no plans to become a performer at all, let alone a Clown. I was going to be a doctor. I was sure of it and that was the image that I held of myself. Most of my perspective on the world and of myself were framed by that image. In the meantime I was, by circumstance, in the company of what I now consider to be some extraordinary individuals. The boys of Fieldstone Farm. My best friend and his two older brothers.

Whether we were young boys or not, we were expected to manage a full-grown man’s workload on the farm. I learned how to work hard while there. And, in the company of the boys of Fieldstone Farm, I also learned how to play hard. These boys were very intelligent people and it was because of that, I think, that they were constantly inventing games to play while we were working to keep themselves stimulated intellectually. The main premise of most of these games revolved around self images and the behaviors that went with them.

We would create characters and perform them for each other to make comment on ourselves, our situation, on other people we knew, and of the world around us. We were constantly in observation of human behavior and the way that behavior related to the images that people held of themselves. No one was exempt from being "played" with. No subject was taboo. We were equal opportunity employers for any and all things human and for any way we may wish to comment on them.

There were some very strange "characters" who came to work as farm hands over the years who inadvertently became case studies for our self entertaining games. We would name the behaviors and perform them in extreme dimensions. Many of them were named in a sarcastic way like, Mr. Friendly, for someone who is not, or after aspects of behavior we wanted to comment on like, Lover boy or Mr. Macho. And many were named after the people who inspired them. So, behaviors could be described as, doing a "Geoffrey" or doing a "Paul".

An interesting thing about this "entertainment" was that it was actually much more than that. It was an amazing form of education as well. We were educating ourselves to be students of human behavior and we were also educating ourselves in a quality of honesty that required us to discern the difference between performing an image of ourselves or simply being our "real" self. I am using the term "real" to mean an edition of our self that is open, inclusive, and honest.

We were merciless with each other if we saw that any of us were getting caught up in a self image and being dishonest about who we really were. We were certainly allowed to play images of ourselves and had great fun doing it, but the game was not to confuse our "real" selves for the image of our self we were playing. The people we viewed as the most sad cases were the people who were playing a perfect image of themselves and did not realize they were doing so. Both those who were trapped in an illusion of inflated self significance and those trapped in an illusion of self insignificance.

These were genuinely tragic cases reminiscent of Shakespeare’s KING LEAR who had given his kingdom and kingship away and still thought himself to be king and to be treated such. He was tortured by the conflict he found himself in. He could not see the reality of his situation for the illusionary image he still held of himself as being king and deserving of the love and respect of his daughters and the service of his subjects. I now consider this time on the farm to be my primary introduction to what I now think is an important aspect of the Clown Mind.

That aspect being the ability of the Clown to take delight in playing with the dynamics of the psychological argument between the image we hold of ourselves and the present, "real", self in the moment. I like to call this Clown Consciousness. Perhaps this basic argument remains the same in both tragedy and comedy. The main difference being whether the protagonist realizes their situation or does not and presents it accordingly.

I think that the skilled Clown can walk the tightrope between Image and Reality with impunity. They consciously play with the confusion between the two for the value to be gained by becoming aware of the trap that our own images of ourselves can become if we mistake them for our "real" self. They are willing to be brutally honest with themselves and to disillusion themselves with the understanding that, by doing so, they will be able to present more responsible illusions. They then can pretend with the purpose of being a responsible and entertaining guide through the maze of image management concerns we may fall victim to.

In doing so I think they present an opportunity to perceive a more enriching reality through their playful provocation towards an increased honesty within ourselves and among one another. That said, my education on the farm compels me to remember that all I have just described is an image. An image of how a Clown Mind seems to work. I do find it fun to play with.

David MacMurray Smith - Philosophical Statement

Over the years that I have worked and taught in various mediums of the performing arts, I have been amazed at the challenges we face in communicating with each other as human beings. My curiosity has led me to explore the phenomenon from different perspectives which have included the physiology of behavior, the psychology of communication, the linguistics of structure, and various theories about the nature of memory and perception.

My impetus for this investigation is rooted in my sense that there is great need today for more personal and interpersonal transmythic avenues for present event perception and communication among ourselves. This basically means that I perceive the need for increased ways for people to more directly experience themselves and each other across boundaries of age, race, sex, and culture etc. I view each individual's interpretation of an experience as the creation of a small myth of the event, a way that we describe an event to ourselves. We each create our own interpretation of what we experience by associating what we are presently experiencing with what we already hold in our memory.

I consider this process of associative interpretation as a form of self narrative and a foundation of myth making. The sharing of myths among ourselves is a primary way that we attempt to communicate and relate our experiences among one another. Although it is a marvelous process, it is also inaccurate by nature because it will always be a subjective interpretation. It also has an inherent danger because the subjective interpretation is full of assumptions.

Our memory of an event is only a vicarious representation of the event itself. A distant relative that becomes more distant as time goes by. The more distant it becomes the more full assumptions it may be. This process is unavoidable, yet our awareness of its inherent shortcoming's might allow us to be more watchful for our assumptions and more consciously present to receive new, and perhaps more accurate information.

I believe that we have come to a time in human development where we have more awareness and knowledge than ever before in history. And yet our abilities to converse among ourselves within that awareness and knowledge is hamstringed by the lack of appreciation we have of the myth making process we use to discuss our experience of life together. I am of the opinion that our neurological structure is wired to create myths. So, it is natural that the myth making process expands from there to the trans personal, cultural, and inter-cultural dimensions.

It is especially in these extended dimensions that we begin to mistake that this process of myth making we use to discuss our experience of life together is actually the life experience itself. In this way we confuse the description of an event for the event itself. This lack of discernment is a very natural outcome of the phenomenon of how our systems of memory appear to work. Is also very dangerous for we can then easily fall victim to allowing our assumptions of what we see and experience, or what we want to see and experience, blind us from receiving new information from our present perception and inhibit our ability to see new opportunities and avoid old pitfalls.

For effective and progressive communication to take place in the fast-paced cross-cultural dynamics that exist in our society today, there is need for the emotional and psychological mobility to converse across the apparent boundaries of personal and group identity concerns and the willingness to adjust to new perceptual frameworks at a quicker and quicker pace. My interest lies firmly in developing an awareness about the challenges that are presented by the very skill we have as human beings to communicate symbolically with one another and to develop our ability to do so with increased clarity. This is a challenging process that demands discernment, diligence, patience, and determination.

As we lean our way into the 21st century I think is essential that we increase our ability to directly experience one other by lifting the veils of assumption and seeing beyond the myths we have created of ourselves. By doing so we may begin to expand the number of perspectives and possibilities for increased human understanding and communication, and also open the door for new hypotheses toward solutions regarding the challenging circumstances we face today concerning our continuation as a species on this planet.

David MacMurray Smith - CV

Over the last 30 years of his professional career David has worked professionally in the areas of Theater, Ballet, Opera, Mime, and Clown, as a Creator, a Performer, a Director, a Choreographer, and an Educator. He is a Movement Specialist, Body worker, Creative and Performance Consultant, and an Experienced Counselor who has taught at several universities, was Head Instructor at the Vancouver Playhouse Theater School, and for eight years was the Movement Director for the Music Theater and Opera Programs at the Banff Center for the Arts, and has also been a guest resource artist at The People's Light & Theatre Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania since 1987.

David is now an independent educator who founded Fantastic Space Enterprises studio, in 1995 where the focus of the work is on self liberation and self realization through creative expression. His special-interest is in how memory moves and patterns itself in our bodies and in how this affects our perceptions, behavior, and communication. As a movement specialist David has drawn on his broad range of experience and sources to develop his own body centered, humanist approach to personal and professional development. His expertise lies in his ability to facilitate learning environments that promote principle centered self-education and provide strong foundations for continued personal and professional growth.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Hilary Chaplain Clown Anecdote

I was teaching a course in clowning in New York open to amateurs and professionals with any amount of experience. I had a wonderfully varied array of students - from party clowns to serious theatre professionals.

Out of 10 students, 5 were women over 60, 4 of whom had come to clowning later in life as something fun to do do. I was rather anxious when they walked in recognizing them all from a Clown Alley in New Jersey where I had given a talk.

I knew these women had never been in a class anything like what I planned to teach and was afraid that they would be resistant to just being themselves, no make-up, no floppy shoes, no wigs to hide behind.

I was so wonderfully surprised to learn that they had chosen to come to my class precisely because they knew they would be getting something very different from what they had experienced before at the Clown Camps they had attended.

They were so open to me, a woman a little more than half their age, asking them to bare themselves before the group, to me playing the authority figure with them, to me asking them to just be themselves as honestly as they could and to shed their clown tricks.

I did a very simple exercise one day that was an incredible break through for one of these women. I had each person enter the room, see the audience, take a breath, and present themselves to us. Very simple, very difficult.

We're so used to trying to be a certain way and so uncomfortable just seeing and being seen for who we are. One of these women had an extraordinary experience with this exercise. She felt that for the first time in her life, show was JUST her.

Not a twin (she had a twin sister) not a wife, not a mother. It was a profound moment for her. The next class she told us that the feeling had carried over the week and that she had never felt so much like herself.


Hilary Chaplain’s award winning solo physical comedyshow A Life In Her Day, will be presented at Carcajada 2005 in Buenos Aires this April and has been performed at the Faust Festival in Hong Kong, The NY International Fringe Festival where it won a "Best of the Fest Solo Show Award", the LA Women’s Theatre Festival, the East Coast Funny Women's’ Festival, and the Prague and Melbourne Fringe Festivals.

As a solo performer she has also appeared at PSNBC in NYC, the FILO Festival in Londrina, Brazil, The Atlanta Fool’s Festival, The Funny Women Festival, Chicago, The Crazy Women Festival, St. Petersburg, Russia, Caroline’s Comedy Club, Surf Reality and more.

A founding member of the New York Goofs, Hilary has appeared with them in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Wolf Trap Family Farm. Patients at NYC hospitals know her as "Nurse Nice" of the renowned Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit®.

She was an original cast member in Bill Irwin's Largely/New York, and appeared on Broadway in the NYSF production of The Tempest, directed by George C. Wolfe. She played a featured role named Hilary in the film Forrest Gump.