Clowning stands as an enduring art form, eliciting joy and laughter across generations. At the heart of the classic clown aesthetic lies the iconic red nose—an emblem of whimsy and merriment.
Utilising the red nose serves to accentuate your sense of bewilderment, directing focus towards your expressions and physicality. It's akin to having a conspicuous pimple on your nose, revealing facets of your character like a magnifying glass.
The nose signals a commanding presence in the room, demanding attention and drawing spectators closer to the performer. They act as a visual cue, signaling that something captivating is about to unfold.
For those embarking on their clowning journey, I've compiled a list of links where you can explore and purchase the ideal red nose. It's important to note that I am not affiliated with any of these companies:
RED NOSE FACTORY
This year, around this time commemorates a decade since I initially stepped onto the Lecoq floorboards. In the enchanting realm of theatre, where words meet movement, the Jacques Lecoq pedagogy has been my guiding star—a transformative journey that has unlocked the door to crafting poetic, moving theatre shows. Especially when it comes to approaching the smallest mask in the world; the red nose.
👣 The Power of the Body as a Storyteller: Lecoq’s teachings have gifted me a profound appreciation for the body’s eloquence. Every gesture, every step, every nuance becomes a note in a symphony of comedic storytelling.
🎭 Characters Beyond Words: With Lecoq, characters cease to be mere words on a page. They become living, breathing entities birthed from the depth of movement. Through masks, mime, and physical exploration, I’ve discovered the art of shaping and embodying characters in a way that transcends the boundaries of language.
🎶 The Dance of Emotion: Emotions are not just felt; they are danced. Lecoq’s pedagogy has shown me that emotions can be conveyed through the subtlest of movements—the quiver of a hand, the arch of a back, or the rhythm of a heartbeat.
🌌 Creating Worlds Without Limits: In the Lecoq universe, the stage knows no bounds. It’s a canvas where imagination runs wild, and the laws of physics are mere suggestions. Through physical improvisation, I’ve witnessed the birth of surreal landscapes, the magic of impossible encounters, and the beauty of limitless creativity.
💡 A Journey of Self-Discovery: Beyond the artistry, Lecoq’s pedagogy has been a journey of self-discovery. It’s an exploration of my own physicality as i get older, an excavation of hidden facets of myself, and a continual process of growth and revelation.
🌟 Crafting Poetic Moving Theatre: With every step, every mask donned, every character embodied and inspired, I’ve learned to craft theatre that is not just seen but felt. It’s theatre that lingers in the hearts of the audience, leaving them with a sense of wonder and a yearning for more.
In embracing the Lecoq pedagogy, I’ve found a path to create theatre that moves and is not bound by the limitations of words. It’s a journey that continues to inspire, challenge, and illuminate my artistic soul, and I’m endlessly grateful for the poetic world it has allowed me to weave on the stage.
Singing, with its power to convey emotions and touch the soul, is a journey through the realms of both fear and beauty. Each note, each lyric, is a step into the vulnerability of unveiling one's innermost self to the world. This daunting prospect, however, holds within it a transformative beauty—a beauty that emerges from embracing imperfections and connecting on a profound level with both oneself and the audience.
The Scary Journey: Every time the stage is taken, or the voice is shared, fear courses through the veins. It's the fear of judgment, the fear of not being good enough, and the fear of exposing the true self to the world. Singing, in essence, is an act of vulnerability, a courageous unveiling of the soul's melodies. The heart races, the palms sweat, and the mind questions whether it's worth stepping into this scary spotlight.
The Beauty Within Imperfections: Yet, within this fear lies a paradoxical beauty. It is in those vulnerable moments that the true magic of singing surfaces. The cracks, the flaws, the imperfections—these are not blemishes but rather the facets that make a performance truly remarkable. The raw and unfiltered emotions become the paint on the canvas, creating a masterpiece that resonates with authenticity.
Connecting Through Vulnerability: The imperfections in a performance become bridges that connect the singer with the audience. It's a shared experience where the audience sees not just a polished performer but a real, authentic individual. The vulnerability becomes the common ground, fostering a connection that transcends the boundaries of the stage. In those moments, the audience doesn't just hear the singer; they feel the singer.
Discovering the Authentic Self: Through the journey of vulnerability, an incredible transformation occurs. The singer discovers their most authentic self. It's a profound realisation that embracing imperfections and confronting fears lead to a deeper connection with oneself. In the rawness of vulnerability, a genuine and unfiltered version of the self emerges—a version that is not afraid to be seen, flaws and all.
A Personal Journey: In my own experience, I am recalling a recent moment during the creative development of my latest show when my colleague, in the spirit of a clown warm-up, asked me to sing. The nerves were palpable, and the fear of stepping into this unfamiliar territory was daunting. However, despite the trepidation, I chose to embrace the challenge. As I let the notes escape my lips, there was a shift—a transformation from fear to freedom.
The Feeling of Freedom: Stepping into the scary territory of singing as a clown warm-up felt incredibly freeing and amazing. It was a moment of liberation from self-imposed constraints and a celebration of the beauty that arises when vulnerability is embraced. The act of singing, even in a playful and unconventional context, became a testament to the power of stepping outside one's comfort zone.
Singing through vulnerability is a courageous act, a journey that encompasses both fear and beauty. It's a reminder that the most authentic and genuine moments in life often arise from embracing imperfections and confronting fears head-on. Through the cracks and flaws, the real magic of singing emerges—a magic that connects hearts, transcends boundaries, and leaves an indelible mark on both the singer and the audience. So, let the fear be the guide into the beauty of vulnerability, for in that space, true transformation, connection, and the feeling of freedom await. Yay!!
Did you know I was not born an actor or clown artist? Yep, I was your 9 to 5 gal, and then I quit.
Here are My 5 Whys:
1. Because as children, we were all experts at play and I LOVE TO PLAY. Becoming a clown is my way of reconnecting with that inner child who found wonder and delight in every moment. The truth is I wanted to have more fun and take life less seriously and to be free to be me! La vida es un Carnaval !
2, I left the corporate world as it felt like I was living in a never-ending episode of “The Office.” I craved something more meaningful, something where I could genuinely touch people’s lives with laughter. Office life for sometimes felt like a never-ending cycle of seriousness. I yearned to reintroduce the element of play into my daily existence, to rediscover the joy it brings.
3. When it’s tough out there in clowning world I often ask myself why choose this path ? Picture this: a room filled with kids’ laughter, parents forgetting their worries, and strangers becoming friends over a shared laugh. That’s the magic of clowning, and I wanted to be the magician. Clowning isn’t just about entertainment; it’s about reminding adults and children alike of the importance of play. Play fosters creativity, empathy, and connection – it’s a universal language that transcends boundaries.
4. I left my comfy salary because comfort zones are cozy but uninspiring. At the time it was time to trade my suit for a red nose and the monotony of office meetings for the unpredictability of clown shows. One of my highest values is adventure and life in the clown fast lane is one giant unpredictable joyride!
5. Life is too precious to waste on anything less than what sets your heart on fire. I want to be the reason someone smiles on a tough day, and I’m ready to give it my all. And play is a fundamental part of being human. It relieves stress, sparks innovation, and brings people closer together. By spreading laughter, I aim to highlight the significance of play in our lives.
I just want to keep on playing and making shows that inspire laughter and good times! Nothing wrong with that I say!
Guest host Maleeka Gazula spoke to Alicia about her experience going to the famous theatre-making school, creating The Clown Institute, and how clowning has brought the gifts of self-discovery, authenticity and joy to her life.
Visit here or listen on Spotify
Both the natural and creative worlds are at a tipping point – impacted by urban growth, climate crisis and now Covid. We face enormous challenges for our ecosystems to survive and thrive. The Inner West Council has funded 20 arts projects to explore these issues in creative spaces such as shipping containers and under bridges on the Greenway. Come along and see for yourself.
EDGE GREENWAY 2021
What’s the clown’s point of view of the natural and creative world in crisis? You’re invited to an intimate encounter with a bereft clown.
An 'Enclownter with joy' is an interactive 5-minute experience between you and a clown set on the Greenway. It is played out for spectators one at a time, from the moment the clown opens the velvet rope and invites you to sit next to her to a curtain call.
You play the role of ‘joy’ as you take part in a silent dialogue and observe the surrounding natural and urban landscape.
Dates + Times
Sat 24th April, Sun 25th April
Sat 1st May, Mon 3rd May, Thurs 6th May & Sun 9th May
Free. Just turn up, booking not necessary.
In between Blackmore Oval & Peace Park, Lilyfield.
Playing in Nature Workshop: When clowning and nature meet
Facilitated by Alicia Gonzalez.
‘Beauty arises in the stillness of your presence...Presence is needed to become aware of nature'.
-Eckhart Tolle / Power of Now
The essence of a clown is presence, imagination, and creativity. In this 3-hour outdoor workshop, you will learn clowning technique while being surrounded by the natural environment of the Greenway corridor.
The clown asks us to open our eyes and to observe the world as they live and love to imitate life, so you’ll observe and interact with the movements of nature and how they correspond to movements of the human condition and emotion and how this can serve as inspiration for comedy and
You will learn how to create the best conditions for play, to play deeply in your bodies. The workshop will include warm-ups and group games and will be led in a playful and light spirit, so you can expect some giggles along the way.
We’re not talking about the circus-variety clown. This work is closer to the style of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
Capacity: 20 people maximum. Open to all levels. Ages 12+.
Date + Times
Saturday 8th May
Meet at Peace Park, Lilyfield.
Free (bookings essential)
In a world where the performing arts have been uprooted from their traditional stages and shifted to online platforms, the 2020 Virtual Clown workshop emerged as a unique opportunity to explore the boundless potential of clowning in the virtual realm. This four-day online lab, made possible by the support of Create NSW, offered me a transformative experience, allowing me to authentically connect, laugh, and play with virtual audiences, while bridging the gaps created by isolation and separation.
As I reflect on my journey during and after the workshop, several insights come to mind:
Discovering the Space of Clown Online:
The workshop opened my eyes to the vast possibilities of the "space of clown" in the virtual realm. Together with fellow participants, we embarked on a journey of defining and experimenting with different spatial dynamics. It was as if the online space itself had a personality, a madness that beckoned us to play and explore. In this new environment, the virtual space became an active participant, breathing and moving alongside us, adding an extra layer of magic to our performances.
Playing with the Virtual Space:
During the workshop, we delved into the intricate relationship between the clown and the virtual space. We pushed the boundaries of our creativity, embracing the constraints and seizing the opportunities offered by the online environment. As we stretched our imaginations and bodies, we discovered dramatic and comic spatial possibilities that harmonized with the virtual realm. This playful exploration empowered us to create dynamic interactions and forge connections with our virtual audiences like never before.
Authentic Connection through Screens:
One of the workshop's highlights was the quest for authentic connection with our audiences through screens. We learned the art of staying present, actively listening, and responding to every subtle nuance that emerged from our clown's natural being. It was truly transformative to witness how, through our performances, we could touch the hearts of our virtual spectators. The workshop served as a powerful platform for us to transform personal narratives and tragedies into works of absurd poetic clown performances that were tailored specifically for the online medium. The connection we forged was nothing short of beautiful.
Determining the Spectator's Experience:
Throughout the workshop, we immersed ourselves in understanding the dynamic relationship between the clown and the online space and its impact on the spectator's experience. We explored ways to create a rhythmic consequence of strong images, engaging the audience's imagination on a profound level. The goal was to stimulate their senses rather than rely solely on reason. Through this exploration, I gained valuable insights into how to create meaningful connections and craft performances that truly resonated with virtual audiences.
The workshop was a testament to the transformative power of clowning as an art form, even in the face of adversity and physical limitations. As I continue to navigate the changing landscape of the performing arts, I hold onto the lessons learned and the joy, connection, and creativity that clowning brings. It is a beacon of hope, reminding us that no matter the circumstances, we can always find ways to laugh, connect, and create magic, even through screens.
Clowning is in the heart business, not only does it help heighten our immune system it can also make the heart stronger, plus the clown can touch our hearts too. A clown is to be your heart on stage, whether that be the stage of life or a theatre.
Sometimes we go through experiences that feel too large or significant for words to fully capture, and that is where art, our hearts, and clowning becomes useful; we go to humour, symbols, and imagery to tell our stories. Isn't that wonderful?
When I first set out to put together the Clown & Melodrama workshop back in late 2019, it was born out of curiosity and desire to express my despair and to find a playful way to transform that heartbreak into physical comedy. My questions were: what's the most fun way to create clown performances from these identifiable life moments and personal struggles, and secondly could these clown performances inspire laughter, hope, and healing in others?
In devising the workshop, I decided to review my time as a student at the Jacques Lecoq school, combining principles (or provocations) from subjects we learned like melodrama, tragic chorus, and clown. I wanted to understand how best to take an audience on a pathos-fuelled journey, via tears and laughter. I remembered the work we did in the first year exploring music and the counter mask where we moved the opposite way, or against the rhythm of a musical composition. As students writhing around to the music, we'd find an absurdity – a kind of sense in the nonsense.
So, I mused why not apply this similar counter mask idea to create a clown logic that reverses the audience's expectations and that could potentially tug at the heart too. I found that we can take a very serious subject like the separation of a couple and observe how the clown subverts this situation by playing against it, by using an opposite expected rhythm.
The improvisation plays out like this: The clown arrives home from a long day of work and hustling to find their spouse (played by an actor in realism) furiously packing and stuffing their personal belongings into a suitcase. The most obvious reaction is for the clown to play sadness or rage. This would be the boring choice and as the audience yes, we'd feel pity for the clown but would we be transformed, is this going to tickle our funny bone and make us love the clown? My guess is - not really.
But what if the clown were to walk in, pause and observe their spouse packing, suddenly change their rhythm by excitedly grabbing their dusty suitcase, snorkel gear, and beach towel under the notion that they were together going on a romantic getaway. To add insult to injury, we then hear a knock at the door and the clown's spouse greets a stranger with a passionate embrace and kiss. The clown, stunned and wide-eyed now chooses an unexpected rhythm hurriedly walks up to the stranger shakes their hand, and offers them a generous tip, mistakenly believing the new lover is the cab driver that will drive them to the airport.
It is 200% more fun and surprising for the clown, your scene partner, and the audience when we get to play against the obvious and alternate the expected rhythms. Here we can access vulnerable states, paradoxes, and reversal of order which benefits the clown enter into a playful tragic realm. It removes all sentimentality so it is the audience who does the work of feeling (the gooey heart stuff) and this can hopefully lead to transformation.
What is the transformation? In this scenario it is about us, the audience, connecting to the fool's misunderstanding. Around the world, we're all fractured and socially disconnected. In clowning and clown training we can engage laughter and play in direct action towards social justice, to alleviate pain and suffering, and to remind us of our humanity. The clown's role in theatre or social contexts has become clearer to me over time; they're the guiding light of hope. They're the eternal dreamer showing us the way that with every human disaster there's an opportunity to create a space for connection, to experience empathy.
The Clown and Melodrama workshop aims to access a playful dimension to our human tragedies. Day one of the workshop is focused on the journey of the emotions and opening the clown's heart first because before we can begin to perform 'heart surgery' on others to some degree we must be prepared to access our vulnerable states and stories first. Day two of the workshop is then dedicated to improvisation and games around how the clown can stay optimistic despite a terrible situation, as well as devising clown creations.
It's easy to be playful and laugh when we are feeling good, but it is when the world seems bleak that we need to laugh the most in our lives. Our laughter then echoes in the chambers of our hearts, filling the empty spaces with pure joy and fun.
"There are three masks: the one we think we are, the one we really are, and the one we have in common." — Jacques Lecoq
The pedagogy of Jacques Lecoq has been the most influential and inspiring source for my teaching practice. As actors and creators, our goal is to develop a language that can evoke emotions, provoke thoughts, and create performances that truly touch people. This language should be both articulate and poetic, enabling us to express concepts that are imaginatively extraordinary. Surprisingly, some of these concepts may not initially seem dramatic, theatrical, or hilarious because they are often present in our everyday lives, and we have grown accustomed to them.
For instance, the poetry lies in observing the people in a waiting room or the actions that make up our morning or nighttime rituals. It's about recognizing the ideas surrounding space, rhythm, and time. The core principle of Lecoq's pedagogy is to start by opening our eyes and truly observing. When Lecoq referred to the poetic, he meant those aspects of life that cannot be easily defined, that surpass words, and yet bring us together in a profound way.
Once upon a time, humanity lived in close connection with nature and its phenomena. Some of these phenomena were awe-inspiring and even terrifying, such as earthquakes, fires, and plagues. To cope with these intense fears, humanity turned to adoration and the sacred. They believed that everything on Earth possessed a soul, whether it be rocks, trees, or animals. There was a desire to physically represent and communicate with the divine and the incomprehensible. This need to make the invisible visible and share it with a community and an audience led to the embodiment of these representations using materials like clay, wood, and rock. Ultimately, they used their own bodies to bring forth the divine.
In this context, the Lecoq pedagogy takes us from observing the world to observing the impact we have on the world. This is where the clown enters the stage.
Clowns are like empty vessels waiting to be filled and seen. They absorb the world around them and, by embracing life, they become charged and overflowing. Clowns have a deep desire to imitate life, not in a mocking way, but with genuine curiosity and joy. For instance, they might observe a priest giving a sermon and think, "Oh! That looks like fun! I can do that too!"
Observation is fundamental in clowning. Just take a moment to watch some of Jacques Tati's films (which I eventually did after much persuasion from our teachers in Paris). They are incredibly funny and remarkably precise. Try it yourself—practice observing and finding amusement in the simplest and most ordinary things and people. What catches your curiosity? Study how a pigeon walks, and you'll be amazed at the discoveries.
But what does it truly mean to observe something? As performers and creators, it is liberating when we realize the power of observation as a tool. We unconsciously observe things all day, every day, but when we become conscious of our observations, we learn the value of letting go of preconceived judgments, personal stories, and attachments. We can then purely observe the physical poetry inherent in something.
My main question throughout this research is whether clowns can create a logical sequence by observing and imitating a phenomenon. Where might this playful approach take us? What stories, gestures, emotions, and relationships would emerge for an audience or within a duo or trio?
There are moments in life when words fall short, and we turn to symbols and imagery to convey our stories. We use gestures, sounds, or colors to create "le jeu"—play. During a clowning and body workshop I conducted last year, we explored this clownlogic, and a participant exemplified its essence beautifully. They were asked to observe something from the outside world and then convey their findings through improvisation. Initially, the student represented a caricature or a character with their own opinions. However, when I encouraged them to delve deeper and search for the truth, their physical portrayal evoked laughter from the other participants. They had observed a person driving a car and, in their truthful portrayal, we all recognized the universal moment of boredom and waiting that we experience ourselves. The shared laughter affirmed the power of authenticity in connecting with an audience.
Another participant observed a puddle on a rainy day. At first, they tried to convey the puddle's narrative with their own reflections layered into it. However, when they simply became the puddle and searched for its truthful essence, a poetic tragedy unfolded before our eyes. We all experienced a profound reaction to this glimpse of our own reflection. It was far more satisfying for the audience when the actor allowed room for us to breathe, dream, and imagine. Who would have thought a clown could be a puddle? It was both beautiful and tragic when someone stepped into it.
Furthermore, we explored finding the voice of the clown. One participant observed a pigeon and, in organizing their body accordingly, they discovered a truthful dynamic. As the organs shifted inside, their voice changed, and their gaze transformed. We witnessed a touch of madness, a "follie," that could potentially become the starting point for a clown persona.
Lastly, a student observed an umbrella. They focused on the specific qualities such as color and material, distinguishing between plastic and steel. They found the essence of the closed umbrella and then, with a pop, opened themselves up. In that precise moment, they uttered the phrase "that's a bit rough." It provoked laughter, showcasing the power of embodying the physicality first. When we work diligently with our bodies, the necessary text naturally emerges.
This exploration is about play and imagination, envisioning and embodying the circumstances in a universally poetic sense. It doesn't require delving into psychological headspaces or relying on emotional recall from past painful memories. It remains grounded in the truth—the dynamic quality of a phenomenon. Transposing or playing with the truth can be far more satisfying than relying on ideas, parody, or personal memories. This has been my experience, and it was evident in the reactions of the audience as well.
Regardless of where we find ourselves in the world, I hope that through this playful transposition of dynamics in the body, I can witness the emergence of clowns and unique poetic worlds filled with both hope and disaster.
Alicia Gonzalez is a clown and coach living the beautifool life.