Clowning Out Of Chaos Open Space Notes

May 26 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Ana, Suzy and Robyn creating the Clown Manifesto

On Sunday 23rd May 2021, I hosted an online Open Space as part as the Clowning Out Of Chaos Conference. Clowns from all around the world came to explore the conference theme of clowning with inner and outer chaos through discussion and play.

After an introduction to Open Space, I asked the participants to propose questions for exploration. Robyn used the questions to name breakout rooms and here's what we explored: 

  • Clowning your way through pain and heartbreak
  • Clowning and mental health. If the performer is depressed or stressed can they still do the work or is it better to take a break?
  • What is the Global Play Brigade? Activists and clowns plus more!
  • Is spreading love enough for an activist clown?
  • Can we use clown to help people with different beliefs hear each other better?
  • Clowning and compassion
  • Clowning when you can only sit and not stand!
  • Let's write the Clown World Domination Manifesto ONE WORD AT A TIME.
  • Clowning and ego

At the end of the event, I asked the participants to submit their notes. Five of them sent their impressions of the evening, here's a flavour of their experience at the Open Space.

1.) Ana Mizm sent handwritten notes - here's a tantalising excerpt.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Ana Mizm's notes "Beyond Words. Red nose is smallest mask in the world. Clowning's just a trick to bring love closer."

2.) Suzy Harvey: Let's write the Clown World Domination Manifesto ONE WORD AT A TIME + what happened behind the plant...

Our wonderful special guest laughter yoga facilitator, Suzy Harvey, led a one-word-at-a-time clown manifesto creation space (picture at the top of the blog) and here's the result:

It will have many and much joys and always be beautiful.
Nobody will squabble.
Everybody will sing on time and on point.
Ballet is essential. Tutus mandatory.
When you eat your mind, don’t forget to share.
The domination begins with trumpets, horses and glitter.
Drinking custard pants is optional.
Is Wednesday good for you? If not, suggest another dimension.
Climb every mountain to ensure all clowns can swing by on spirits.

Defend honour, truth and silliness, crumpets, trumpets and honour.
Exploit colourful sorrow. Design various translucent skirts.

In the end, everybody can hug.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Suzy's experience in the breakout room titled 'behind the plant'

3.) Dr. Kylie Murry's 'first foray into the community of clown'

'I learnt so much in the Open Space that it astonished me. Enjoyed an inspired conversation which made me realise how much clown spirit has been underpinning my life already, before I knew that's what it was. Also an important discussion about the place of disability in clowning: there's space for this to become more central in our perception of performing the clown, not just of possible audiences/recipients. I even met someone from the US with the same rare disease that I have (1 in 5,000 live births in the UK). How fabulous is that?! Not bad at all for my first foray into the community of clown. Thank you everyone.'

4.) Liz Strange dipped in and out of many discussions

Clown and depression

  • Important to have time to indulge and do nothing.
  • Worry "have I forgotten how to play?" (since covid)
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Clowning is a practical exercise in mindfulness that you can do everyday in life (not just in a job) to connect to sensations, recognise your ego etc.
  • Need for self-acceptance
  • Focus on own wellbeing.
  • Environment can impact on you (e.g. if working in a stressful environment it will effect you)
  • Every system needs a regenerative element - self care
  • Take the pressure off. Take the things that don't bring you joy off.
  • Working in a highly demanding performance job cannot be a constant. You need stretches of work and time between to fuel up.
  • What is it that originally drew me to clowning? What in it is joyful for me?

Global Clown Brigade

  • Radically inclusive platform for clowns to engage across the world.
  • Play can be disruptive.
  • Playing with protest - protest signs.
  • Playing across borders.

Is love enough?

  • Change happens through conflict.
  • I can be a warrior and not abandon love.
  • Clowning and activism needs to be both looking in and looking out. To work from compassion, love and open heartedness, not pent up anger.
  • Rebel Clown Army - use of confusion in protests.
  • Is it possible to clown with anger on the streets, while still keeping connection with clown?
  • Anger makes us do something which is good.
  • Exercise of thinking of something you are angry/sad about then come back into the room and describe a ridiculous thing you are angry/sad about. Express the anger over something ridiculous. 

Can clown help us understand people with different beliefs?

  • We are all vulnerable
  • How to play with stereotypes? Clown wants to try everything on.
  • Crone both high status and low status.
  • Do we know any disabled clowns?
  • The Original Spinners - company with learning disabilities in Bristol
  • Lenisa Brando - Brazilian clown

5.) Lexi Strauss asked the question: ‘Can clown be useful in helping people with different beliefs to hear each other better?’ 

Here's Lexi's report of that discussion:

The one white, male voice in the conversation was especially interesting. He explained how clown and meditation helped him to deal with the triggers that he began to identify within his own body, as a result of being objectified himself in the current complex political chaos.

Listening to himself then enabled him to listen to others. Because of this work, since Metoo he was able to identify behaviours in his youth that felt uncomfortable and he took responsibility for them. Equally triggered by a sense of objectification as a privileged white male since BLM he was able to make the choice to read white fragility to better understand his part in the situation. He could also then begin to relate these triggers to earlier experiences of being bullied/ objectified in his youth. He has found all this extremely helpful in his line duty work too. We discussed the appropriateness of appropriation during clown improvisation, and asked how this could work or not in activist contexts. Drag was mentioned in terms of levels of appropriation and Ru Paul’s controversial decision to not permit women on drag race- ‘since the irony is lost?’

The different types of clown were bought up in this context and the idea of ability to punch up or punch down through appropriation of status. Different freedoms are afforded to clowns, bouffon or fools. The bouffon is particularly good at punching up, while the fool can punch anywhere. 

One person identifying themselves as an activist crone with Aspergers, explained that all these boundaries re-appropriation meant nothing to her and the older she got, the more comfortable she felt in expressing her authenticity, also wishing this for everyone else, which is probably the natural stance of the clown or fool also.

Another person who identified as a fool and activist explained that many of the fools working in European courts were very likely to have had Aspergers. They were very interested in how the activist with Aspergers was unconcerned by appropriation boundaries, which seemed to make them very courageous activists, whilst they personally were anxiously musing over the most appropriate way to take fooling into the current political climate.

The fact that she also identified as a crone was also interesting in terms of how this position, which had both very high and very low status aspects in different societies/ contexts, might also have great value in both caring less about others concerns and having other people listen better. David Attenborough and the older activists in the front line at Extinction rebellion garnered huge publicity after all. Listening to the elderly seems to be innate to humanity in spite of the low status of many older people in our current society.

More about The Online Clown Academy

Find out what happened at The Clowning Out Of Chaos Clown Cabaret

Watch the video of The Clowning Out of Chaos Panel Discussion

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