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Part 2:
Our model of Vivian Gladwell’s directing in-the-moment

What clowning is

In Vivian’s words (with our emphasis and repeating metaphors highlighted), clowning is:

Inviting 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.  What 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 emotionally transparent.

[Clowning is] an opportunity for transparency — 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

We 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 encouraging
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

Yes, yes
Stay there
Stay with it
Keep it going
Do more of that (or just “More”)
Make it bigger
And again
Look at us/them (other clowns)
Tell us
Show us
Express it
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’re hot.
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]
It’s alive.
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.

In 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 property.]

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

While 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.

Vivian seems 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 below.

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 model.

Five Relationships

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

My sensitivity to how people are in the relationship [to the audience] guides what I say when people are on stage.  Being present to each 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 holding.

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

[As 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’.

The struggle [of the clown] is what clowning is about.

One key experience in clowning is connecting to emptiness and failure — to go to a place of emptiness with no aim and not rejecting anything.

In 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

I establish learning not by giving out facts to learn, but making a space safe — 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.

My presence 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 with ‘shoulds’.

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 holding, 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 present now.

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 with warmth. You’re there, looking, and looking is holding. Holding is the heart 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.

A great danger is a wish to rescue people.  You watch them struggle and 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 of themselves.  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 space. 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 beyond.

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.

When that is looked after, making sure people are seen.  I think the most painful for people is not to be seen.  If the space is safe people are 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 painful for the [clown].  I’m equally responsible for both aspects.

Reminding 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

At 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 present.  I make sure safety happens by the audience respecting rules and what’s going to happen.  I look at the audience and sense [their reactions].

I’m talking about the relationship [of the audience and clown] and making sure it’s not dysfunctional — that we are all present 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?

I’m 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 a sense 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 on stage.

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’m always present.  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 it.

I feel it [the excitement] is everywhere.  The group. The person getting ready. 

I’m holding the whole process.  When I feel someone’s not in it, when I feel someone is withdrawing from the process, it’s quite painful.

When 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.

I know someone might not get over the process.  I carry that.  [Where?] 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.

Everything 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

I 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 that.

I 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.

At heart you practice principles of allowing people to become themselves.  [That] makes people trust life - then they can open to other experiences.

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.

I’m 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 heart 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 around.

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. 

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