My 2020 Projects
Dec 29 2020
Here's a look back on my 2020 projects, charting my journey through this most peculiar of years. This blog describes how my in-person clowning and fooling workshops and guest facilitation gradually morphed into online workshops, performances and creative consultancy. It's not particularly linear, but what is these days?
I also wrote a companion blog, exploring my self-care journey through 2020, as I couldn't have done all this without mega-self-care and a lot of support.
Holly Stoppit Workshops
My wonderful Radministrator and poet-in-residence Bee Golding and I started the year with a Holly Stoppit Workshops dreaming day, where we pondered how we might like the business to evolve - at no point did we consider taking it online! Trying to keep up with growing demand (thanks to my 2019 TEDx Talk), we had planned a pretty intense programme of weekend, week-long and weekly workshops for the first 8 months of the year.
We managed to run three Introduction to Clowning weekends (two in Bristol and one in Exeter), our first ever all-female 5-day Fools School, and 3/10 weekly Fools Play Sessions, before coronavirus cancelled our entire in-person workshop programme for the rest of the year.
February 5-day Fools School
During the all-female Fools School week in February half term (a month before lockdown #1) I distinctly remember thinking, “This is incredible work, I am so lucky that this is my job, it's a pity I'll never do it again.” Odd huh? The week was an astonishingly beautiful display of interconnection and mutual support, all craftily represented by the group-knitted fool sock modelled above. We discovered new unchartered depths, made possible by 10 women wholeheartedly jumping into the work together.
Fools Play Sessions
As lockdown descended, we were only 3 sessions into our new 10-week series of weekly Fools Play Sessions (a series of exploratory sessions offered in collaboration with members of Beyond The Ridiculous), so we decided to keep going online. To begin with, we made voice recordings of guided meditations and foolish explorations for people to try at home, including dancing, voice play, mindful walks and character creation exercises. Once we figured out how to use Zoom, we added a weekly group check-in, facilitated by Dominique and I. Eventually, as we grew techno-brave, we began exploring live creative play on Zoom.
Bee Golding wrote a poem about the Fools Play group experience which you can read and listen to here. It was such a privilege to provide that space at the very start of lockdown, as we each descended through our own levels of grief. Having a window into each other's worlds helped us stay connected and grounded in the knowledge that whatever we were going through, there were other people having many different experiences to us.
It was great to have a gang to discover the possibilities of online teaching with. I have never taught online before this year, so to be able to share this first exploration with members of Beyond The Ridiculous was amazing. We'll be building on our learning in 2021 in a new series of 6 Fools Play Online Sessions.
At the very beginning of lockdown, I went for a socially distanced walk with fellow Bristol-based clown teacher / activist, Robyn Hambrook. Both of us had a strong urge to offer something to help clowns in isolation and by the end of the walk, Clown Workouts were born. We set up a facebook group and began making short clown workshop videos which we shared daily, encouraging our growing throng of international clowns to participate and send photos or videos of their ridiculous escapades.
The Clown Workouts were a run-away success, our offers of movement, play, embodiment and release seemed to match up with what people needed. So we reached out to our clown teacher colleagues to make their own videos to help keep our community playing. Some of the teachers were braver than us and chose to do Facebook Lives instead. We watched in awe, noticing how engaged their audiences were, chatting away in the comments. It was clear that our clown community needed more connection than the video clown workouts could offer. So after 6 weeks, Clown Workouts moved into a new phase.
Facebook Lives and Zoom Clown Courses
We began doing weekly Facebook Live versions of the Clown Workouts and experimenting with clowning on Zoom with our first 4-week Zoom clown course. As we became more and more familiar with Zoom, Robyn and I worked out how best to support each other. We found out what exercises worked by trial and error and a whole lot of feedback from participants. Buoyed by the enthusiasm of our first batch of Zoom clowns, we created a level 2 course for them to progress onto, which ended in a performance for invited audience.
The Idiot Picnic
In Summer, when it was safe to play together outside in the real world, Clown Workouts held a socially distant picnic and games session in Bristol. It was lovely to be able to bring all the idiots together and great to work out all the safety measures we needed to put in place for in-person workshops. It felt safe enough to do a summery outdoor play session, but we had the sense that the British weather might have something to say about us wanting to do longer outdoor courses in Autumn and Winter...
Creative Consultancy / Guest facilitation
2020 was a big year for Creative Consultancy, I felt extremely honoured to be invited into so many creative processes as a guide, facilitator, therapist and playmate.
Real Life Consultancy (February and March 2020)
Back in the days before covid, I was thrilled hit the road with a suitcase full of red noses, on a mission to release more laughter around the UK:
Bladder and String, a lovely young company from Coventry, asked me to introduce them to devising through clowning, in preparation for their new show, 'EVERYTHING.'
A phD student from Exeter University commissioned me to introduce his clown research group to the fundaments of my style of clowning.
Cardiff-based inclusive theatre company, Hijinx invited me in to help them explore interactive clown performance as R&D for their new outdoor show, 'Grumpy Unicorns.'
Bristol NHS Children's Hospital asked me to devise a special training for junior paediatricians, exploring how to connect with their patients through play.
It felt great to be back on the road, offering different parts of my toolkit to four very different groups in four bespoke exploratory processes. Then covid struck and I moved all my consultancy online.
Individual Online Creative Consultancy (March-December 2020)
Over the last 9 months, I've worked with 20 different individual artists, facilitators, performers, therapists and researchers, one-to-one on Zoom. They are all at various stages of their careers, some are just starting out and others are looking to change direction. I held space for them to capture the learning from their previous projects and dream into their possible futures. Many of them have regular fortnightly or monthly sessions and some just came for a one-off. I love the intimacy of one-to-one work, it feels like a real treat to be able to give my undivided attention to one person. It's a massive privilege to be let into the inner workings of people's minds and to witness whats in people's hearts. I'll be opening my books again for one-to-one Creative Consultancy in February 2021.
Group Online Creative Consultancy / facilitation (May-December 2020)
- Creative Dreaming Days - I offered two group Creative Dreaming Days on Zoom for my previous students, offering them space and structure to reflect on their learning throughout lockdown and dream up possible pathways forwards, using a mixture of brainstorming, movement, guided visualisation and discussion.
- The Solo Show Group - I put together a group of four of the artists who had come for a one-to-one creative consultancy session. They are all different ages, living in different places, exploring different material and at different stages of their careers, but what they had in common was that they'd all been experiencing a massive prolific creative surge. I offered to train them in facilitation skills so that they could support each other to create their four solo shows. So far, I've led three day-long trainings for them – two on Zoom and one in an actual rehearsal space (back at the end of summer when that was an OK thing to do). They continue to meet and play regularly on Zoom and are planning to apply for Arts Council funding to make a group show. Watch this space...
- Likely Story Theatre Company - This lovely Cardiff-based anarchic family theatre company received Welsh Arts Council funding to work with me on Zoom over 5 fortnightly 3-hour sessions, to explore their identity as a company and take time to dream into their visions for the future. My flexible process responded to their changing needs, weaving it's way through structured discussion, exploratory artwork, embodied dance / movement, guided meditation, creative writing and project planning.
- The Creative Arts Therapy Studies foundation degree at City of Bristol College asked me to design a day for their students on Zoom, exploring my Clown-o-therapy approach. It was such a pleasure to splash around in the practice and theory with a group of deep divers.
- A team of NHS arts therapists and psychologists from Avon and Wiltshire asked me to provide a “Building Resilience Through Play” session on Zoom. It was a big treat to hold space for the space holders!
- The Institute of Play and Attachment asked me to create a module for their online course. I designed an exploratory video seminar called “Creating The Conditions for Flow,” followed up with prompts for reflective writing.
I love the challenge of creating bespoke containers for creative exploration and insight. Do let me know if there's something I can do for your group in 2021.
Real-life Creative Consultancy (December 2020)
In December, I had the pleasure of working with performer-musician-fool, Chez Dunford in actual real life! Throughout our two days of socially distant R&D, Chez explored the theme of grief through embodiment, music, voice play, character work, creative writing and deep inquiry. This is part of a process that will see Chez translating her live performance into the realm of audio. Watch this space... Big thanks to Wyldwood Arts for funding our time together.
Beyond The Ridiculous Live Online Shows
My company of fools, Beyond The Ridiculous were awarded some funding from The Wardrobe Theatre to explore the possibilities of fooling online. We met up on Zoom regularly to play together and figure out how our live and direct form of solo improvisation might translate to performing online. We did two shows for public audiences, Voices of Lockdown Live and Unleashed in June and The New “Normal” in October. I hosted both shows. For Voices of Lockdown, six fools played from their own homes, you can read about the process here and read Bee's poems about the players here. For The New “Normal,” three fools were in their own homes and three of us were in The Wardrobe Theatre with a small socially distanced audience and a film crew beaming us out to an online audience, you can read Bee's poem which she wrote at the event here and see more of Joe's photos here.
We learned so much about playing with cameras, lighting, subtlety, nuance, the value of having your own known cast of characters when it's just you and a camera and the joy of casting the unknown / unseen audience as various different characters to spark different levels of play. My particular focus was finding ways to interact with the online audience, via the Zoom chat box and polls, so that the audience could provide the stock for the foolish soup to follow. We're extremely grateful to The Wardrobe Theatre for supporting our investigations and to the audiences for jumping into a strange new world with us.
The Online Clown Academy
Clown Workouts took a break over the summer and came back bigger and better, with a series of Zoom drop-in sessions in September, under our brand new identity, The Online Clown Academy (read the whole story of our transformation here). We chose the name because we wanted to offer a sense of progression through our courses, which we rebranded to Zoom Clown 1 and Zoom Clown 2. We added a third course – can you guess what we called it? Yes, Zoom Clown 3! This course explored how to create clown skits out of personal and political material and ended in an online cabaret style show at our inaugural online conference called Clowns In Crisis.
The Clowns in Crisis conference captured the imagination of the press and catapulted us to stardom (you can see all our press coverage here). The conference was attended by more than 225 people all over the world. It was a huge learning curve for Robyn, Bee and I, but we rose to the challenge of putting on 5 online events over one weekend including a Clown Cabaret, a Panel Discussion and an Open Space discussion (you can see footage and read about these events by clicking on them).
Just before Christmas, we asked wonder-facilitator Amy Rose to provide a company development day for The Online Clown Academy. We spent the day reflecting on our triumphs, pondering on our company values and dreaming into future projects... watch this space...
Between May and December, we taught a total of 212 students on seven Zoom Clown 1 courses, two Zoom Clown 2 courses, one Zoom Clown 3 course and 4 drop-in Zoom Play sessions. It's phenomenal to be able to provide a play space where people from America, Canada, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England and all over Europe can all play together.
Zoom clowning is not the same as in-person clowning as you are separated by oceans and mountains and screens and cameras. But play, connection and laughter are possible. You could argue that people being in their homes and closer to their cameras than they would be to an audience brings a level of intimacy that might not be possible in a 4-week in-person course...
Our Online Clown Academy facebook group continues to grow, we now have over 2000 members worldwide! You can find our archive of 42 pre-recorded Clown Workouts in the photo albums section here and most of them on youtube here.
Podcasts, Interviews and Panel Discussions
I had a lot to say in 2020, good job there were a lot of people interested in listening!
Clown Power – At the start of lockdown I got involved with an online platform for international clown discussions called Clown Power Live. I was on the panel for the very first discussion about female clowns, then I got to interview my fooling teacher, Franki Anderson and lastly, I got to host a panel discussing Clowning and Mental Health.
In Conversation With Mery Miguez - The wonderful Argentinian Clown and therapist Mery Miguez interviewed me about my work for her monthly show. You can watch that here.
The Bristol-based Quarantini Podcast got in touch with me to chat about the place of play in the pandemic. You can hear that here.
BBC Radio Somerset and Bristol TV wanted to chat about the Clowns in Crisis Conference.
ITV's Good Morning asked me to run a one-to-one online clown workshop for their roving presenter (pictured above).
UWE students asked me to appear in a little documentary film about clowns and clowning (watch this space for that).
Finally, Suzy Bashford up in Scotland asked to interview me for her Christmas eve edition of the Big Juicy Creative Podcast. You can hear that here.
I wrote a series of blogs in lockdown, hoping to share some of my playful life-hacks with others, in a bid to bolster resilience and ease suffering:
In August I took myself off to Ilfracombe to spend a week with the book that I've been attempting to write for the last 6 years. You can read about my writing retreat here. Something certainly shifted and I was able to carry on writing every day for another 8 weeks in a pragmatic, non-dramatic way (this has never happened before in all the 6 years I've been writing!)
I just heard that I was successful for an Arts Council Developing Your Creative Practice Award, which will fund me to keep writing in 2021.
This year has been a tumultuous one for most of us. I'm super grateful for all the amazing collaborators who have turned up at the right time to help me up the enormous learning curve of online teaching, facilitation and performance. Special sparkly thanks to Bee Golding, Robyn Hambrook, the fools of Beyond the Ridiculous, Dave Spathaky of Clown Power, Franki Anderson and all the FOCI fools, my therapist, my clinical supervisor and my ever patient sounding-board, cheerleader and photographer boyfriend, Joe.
Thanks to all the participants who have bravely ventured into this new digital world with their curiosity wide open, you've inspired me to keep going at every twist and turn.
Mega thanks to the Arts Council Emergency fund, the UK government self-employment scheme, The Wardrobe Theatre for their seed funding and all the wonder-beings who donated via paypal to keep the show on the road!
I am so grateful for so much this year, I've written another blog about what supported me in 2020 to help me remember as I embark upon my next adventures, maybe it will help you too?