Part 2:What clowning is
Our model of Vivian Gladwell’s directing in-the-moment
In Vivian’s words (with our emphasis and repeating metaphors highlighted
), clowning is:
pleasure [through] a joyful tension between fiction and reality — and
it should get mixed up. The heart
of clowning is [portraying the] in
and out of things at the same time, without negating the fiction we
know we are in.
It is easy to mistake the form [of clowning]
for what it’s about. Clowning relies on something happening but
[really its about the] relationship between clown and audience
people do on stage is not what it’s about. Jacques Lecoq in the ‘70s
put a nose on a student and said “Make us laugh”. It didn’t work. The
student looked dejected and people started laughing. That’s a clue to
what’s at the heart
of clowning. It’s how we feel about what’s
happening. The student was desperate, but kept trying. Only when he
showed despair did people laugh — when he became authentic and
[Clowning is] an opportunity for
— an opportunity to get to it. [Usually] we don’t
acknowledge how we feel because [we think] it negates what we are
trying to do, [or our] image of what should be. More interesting is to
show how desperate we are in being who we are.Our model of Vivian directing-in-the-moment
have divided our model of Vivian’s way of ‘directing/coaching a person
to learn to clown in real time’ into its external and internal aspects.
Interventions (almost always):
Are very short instructions or statements
Are simple and unambiguous
Are about behaviour
Are within the logic of the current or a previously enacted scene
Name what’s happening
Give the clown somewhere to go by making an “invitation” or “offer”
Reveal a bigger picture
Direct attention to the dramatic/problematic/comic
Amplify a small aspect of behaviour or the scene
Acknowledge the clown’s difficulty or struggle (but do not rescue)
Don’t interrupt the process
Never negate what’s happening
Examples of general interventions
Stay with it
Keep it going
Do more of that (or just “More”)
Make it bigger
Look at us/them (other clowns)
You’ve seen something
What is it?
What’s around you?
Examples related to a specific performance
[Clown looking out of window] What do you see out the window?
Describe what you’ve seen/what you’re doing.
Be what you see.
You look lost.
His world is getting smaller.
He’s sad. What does he want?
He can’t fit it into his pocket.
He can’t reach the light.
We want to see you; let us see your face.
That’s right, you can’t hold them all.
That’s right, it’s all yours.
It’s hanging down. [An unnoticed piece of string]
What’s under the cushion?
What are you going to do with the rest of the hats?
From observation and second position modelling we think:
Vivian’s ‘default’ attention is out on stage with a wide focus which zooms in on potential details.
his peripheral vision/ear/feeling he is monitoring the audience for
engagement, laughter, response and ‘transgressions’. [A ‘transgression’
is when the audience feels a certain kind of discomfort at, say, the
clown being unkind, or damaging living things or someone else’s
Often part of his body will mirror what the clown is doing (e.g. his hand mirroring a clown stroking a piece of cloth).
Ambiguity and multiple perspectives
reviewing our notes of Marian’s interview with Vivian we noticed an
interesting pattern in his language that we think says something about
his approach to getting people to learn to clown.
to maintain an awareness of simultaneous multiple interlocking
relationships and we think this is displayed through the ambiguity
around who’s perspective he is describing. For example, when he says
“At the beginning is a lot of anxiety and fear” is he referring to the
(trainee) clown, to himself or to the audience? And when he speaks
from first person “My invisible presence is my relationship to that
space and what people are experiencing,” is he in the role of
performer, audience or facilitator?
When he does specify who
his comments are about, he often moves freely between at least two
perspectives and roles. This ambiguity and the free-flowing changes in
perceiver, we believe, are part of what makes him such a great
facilitator. In fact, it is part of his attitude to life: “I’m
mistrustful of too much certitude.”
In our effort to honour his
ambiguity while creating some categories of experience that together
provide a model of Vivian’s facilitation, we sometimes quote the same
words as examples of different categories in the descriptions given
It is important to mention that our modelling (including
Marian’s questions) focussed on Vivian when he facilitates a trainee
clown while they are clowning
. There are many other aspects to what he
does — such as exercise design and delivery, facilitating
post-performance feedback sessions, etc. — that are not included in our
Below are Vivian’s own words categorised by the five relationships we think Vivian is simultaneously monitoring:
1. Clown with audience
2. Clown with self
3. Vivian with clown
4. Vivian with audience
5. Vivian with self
1. Clown with Audience
sensitivity to how people are in the relationship [to the audience]
guides what I say when people are on stage. Being present
other. I say “Look at us” when people come on stage. The process
happens in the flow between all of us. Looking to see the audience is a
What we most fear — that is what we want to see in
clowning. Our instincts make us go the other way [but the clown] lives
the images - the audience wants to see them! [For example] if [a
trainee clown] is being an egg, and they say “It’s getting hot in here”
they think “I don’t want to be boiled” and they move away. Of course an
egg doesn’t want to be boiled… but that is what we want to see. The
improv demands that the egg should be boiled. You don’t have to like
it. You can protest and scream but you cannot move away from the images
being offered. You have to live them. It’s a promise. There’s an
audience. What a joy to see an egg being boiled!
When [the audience] aren’t listening [and seeing] it will be a difficult improv.2. Clown with self
a clown] You don’t have to like it. You can protest and scream but you
cannot move away from the images being offered. You have to live them.
[A clown] acknowledges [a discomfort, difficulty or problem]
and plays with it, then it moves beyond. We need to be able to name
[i.e. portray] things before we come to terms with them.
[Clowning is] being in the presence
of something without judging it. It’s no good with ‘shoulds’.
[of the clown] is what clowning is about.
key experience in clowning is connecting to emptiness and failure — to
go to a place of emptiness with no aim and not rejecting anything.
clowning you should live with the consequences of everything said and
done. Live fully with consequences of your words and actions. [JL:
Is this a form of clowning Karma?]
If you don’t deal with [something] beforehand you have to deal with it on stage.
People [can] have a sense that they didn’t do anything but it worked. 3. Vivian with Clown
establish learning not by giving out facts to learn, but making a space
— with warmth
in a group. The process is carried with not just
structure, but warmth
. You learn more from trust that people have in
sharing difficulties so they become an open
reference. My role as
facilitator ties in with making sure the space is safe
is when someone is improvising on stage. My invisible presence
is my relationship to that space
and what people are experiencing.
Being in the presence
of something without judging it. It’s no good
The person comes in. It’s the first time we see
the person. There is magic with the nose. The first thing is looking
and establishing the limits. I sense [if] the person is carrying
[something] mysterious. I see their eyes. You know whether they have
an idea. I’m trying to hold
[them] — making sure it doesn’t go too
quickly. The first few minutes are [for] acknowledging and receiving.
My concern is it doesn’t happen too quickly [that they are] just
receiving the world. I get a sense of enjoyment and pleasure [that
they are] receiving the world.
I am watching people on stage
when they are present
to us and themselves. I will never tire of that
magical moment. When it is working it’s there. Then it’s about
, because people go too quickly out of that stage into doing. I
say “Stay there, just stay there and look at us.” A tension rises in
the room — the openness
in the world you are asking for is something
that catches your attention, that calls you. I am constantly looking
out for this in the improv. If they see the chair and look away, I
point out to them they have seen something. Everything calls out from
that. The next step, you can’t ignore it. The next step is the
chair. It isn’t planned, but you have to acknowledge the chair is
At first we try not to be too present
. I don’t feel
I am ever absent
. I’m holding the space
. ‘Caring doesn’t bring
anything new into life, but holds
what’s already present
.’ It ties in
. You’re there, looking, and looking is holding
. Holding is
of what clowning [and clown facilitation] is about.
I accompany someone through the process.
There are moments I don’t intervene at all — usually at the beginning. As it goes on [there is] more structure and interference.
is a wish to rescue
people. You watch them struggle
you know that the struggle
is what clowning is about. You have to
judge whether a level of discomfort is so overwhelming they can’t cope
with it. There can be a danger
how much people reveal
It’s tempting to rescue
. How long do you let it go on? If you rescue
them, then you are not allowing them to go to the space where nothing
happens. My intervention is not to rescue
. Usually we don’t rescue
unless there is physical danger.
I intervene to protect that
. I do that by making [the clown] aware of the discomfort they are
feeling. [If they can] acknowledge and play with it, then it moves
You don’t ask people how they feel on stage. [The audience should be able to] interpret it.
Your role is to keep the space safe
. It ties in with the warmth
. The space is safe
in many different ways [some of which are]:
Physical. Don’t hurt yourself or others, and don’t break anything.
that is looked after, making sure people are seen. I think the most
for people is not to be seen. If the space is safe
seen and people see each other. I know when people aren’t listening it
will be a difficult improv. I have warning lights and an alarm bell
if I don’t intervene then the improv will be painful
to watch and
for the [clown]. I’m equally responsible for both aspects.
people the sort of problems and traps they inadvertently get into and
out of. In life we might backtrack but in clowning you should live
with the consequences of everything said and done — live fully with
consequences of words and actions. That may require me reminding them
of what they have said and done. e.g. “Remember there are crocodiles in
the river”. It would be very boring if there were no crocodiles in the
river.4. Vivian with Audience
the beginning is a lot of anxiety and fear. My role is to be sure
everyone is ok. The audience is a sounding box and needs to be fully
. I make sure safety
happens by the audience respecting rules
and what’s going to happen. I look at the audience and sense [their
I’m talking about the relationship [of the audience
and clown] and making sure it’s not dysfunctional — that we are all
to the process. It’s a conviction I am totally convinced about.
I check in with the audience to see how they are responding. Are they gripped
aware of [the audience], even when I’m not looking at them. I carry
that sense, not consciously. I have a feeling and I know when it’s
wrong [for the audience]. Sometimes I don’t know what’s wrong 'til
later — sometimes weeks or months later. I work by carrying
that it has to be ok in the audience for it to be ok on stage. If
something is not going well in the audience it’s going to be difficult
I know [the audience] has to feel ok. I don’t know
[how I know but] I know when it’s not ok — [if] people are talking [or
there is an] unresolved matter in the air. I have an alarm bell
— if I
don’t intervene then the improv will be painful
to watch and painful
for the [clown]. I’m equally responsible for both aspects.
5. Vivian with self
. I feel it as a sense of excitement. I’m not
distracted by other thoughts in my head. A general sense of
well-being, being in the process, in a sense of expectation. I joke to
make things light. If you take this work too seriously it can destroy
I feel it [the excitement] is everywhere. The group. The person getting ready.
the whole process. When I feel someone’s not in it, when I
feel someone is withdrawing from the process, it’s quite painful
someone in the group doesn’t like me I’m completely thrown off course
and often I have to [resolve] it to be able to continue.
someone might not get over the process. I carry
outside of me. Not very far beyond the room, encompassing the group.
I am very sensitive to polarities [e.g. Clowning is:
- a bringing together and a distancing process
- in and out of things at the same time
- a joyful tension between fiction and reality.
about my body reveals
what I am feeling. I would be worried by a
facilitator who didn’t betray anything of what they were feeling while
the improv was going on.
Missed opportunities for transparency
, opportunities to get to it [are brought to the feedback session].General Beliefs
believe who we become is largely how we are seen, especially when we
start life. Eye contact is what makes that child. What is it when you
are not looking? One of the greatest tragedies (as a child) is when
you are not seen.
Just to be seen is a big, big thing. Just being seen is so, so important. Clowning reveals
am touched by how some people’s tragedy can be totally invisible to
you. There are questions I carry
about how sensitive are we to others.
you practice principles of allowing people to become themselves.
[That] makes people trust life - then they can open to other
If the purpose of life is about becoming fully ourselves — a lot [of time] is spent in the opposite direction.
I’m mistrustful of too much certitude.
a great believer in mistakes and how we welcome and acknowledge what
goes wrong. How I acknowledge joyfully how something can go safely
wrong. How people can misunderstand. I’m interested in how people can
misunderstand games. If you try and get things right, you’re stuck. I
love the creativity in getting things wrong.
It goes to the very
of how I fall in love. I believe in being very sensitive to who
is seeing — am I seen. There’s something around being seen with good
will - a warmth
It’s difficult for us to believe it’s
enough for us to just be here in this world. It’s other people who
have to tell you that.