My Facilitation Story Part 2: Going Deeper

Aug 27 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Photo of Holly presenting a bunch of clowns at the end of the show they created through Holly Stoppit's Advanced Clown Course / by Paul Blakemore.

As part of designing my new creative facilitation training course, The Well-Held Space, I've been thinking about my own facilitation journey. I already posted Part One: The Early Years, which charts my journey from circus workshop leader to playworker to drama workshop leader to performer-facilitator. This blog picks up where the first one left off.

Throughout my mid-late 20's, as well as creating and performing interactive, devised comedy shows for streets, circuses, theatres, schools and festivals (“Holly Stoppit has the expressive eyes of Wallaces Gromit and the physicality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”- The Stage), I directed devised shows for lots of different companies. 

To give you an idea of the range of shows I worked on, here's an incomplete list: circus and dance street shows (The Hat Company, Paddy Waters and Co, Cinecab a go go and many more), interactive storytelling shows (Cirque Idyllic, Zucco & Co), clown shows made for refugee camps (Circus to Iraq, Circus to Palestine) and huge site-specific promenade anarchic circus-theatre spectaculars (The Invisible Circus' Carnyville).

By the time I got to my late 20's, I'd held space for so many different people to make their shows, I began to notice particular behavioural trends popping up in every rehearsal room. I became increasingly fascinated in the role of fear in the creative process and started to explore ways of supporting people to lean into their fear and find out what's on the other side. I enjoyed this work, but I wanted to be able to work safely at greater depth, so I began studying for an MA in Dramatherapy in 2010, when I was 30.

For the three years of my dramatherapy training, I began running evening clown courses for adults. After a few terms of offering challenging, rigorous theatre-clown training to the good people of Bristol, I realised (from seeing the majority of my students stuck to the walls with their own sweat and bewilderment) that most of these people were not coming to train to be clowns, they just wanted to play! So I refocused my evening course from serious clown training to joyful playtime, drawing on all the experience I had as a playworker and children's drama teacher. Grown ups of all ages, shapes and sizes, danced around in red noses, tutus and tiaras, for the pure fun of playing.

During these years, I tried to keep my clown work separate from my dramatherapy, but the two worlds kept merging. My clown would turn up in my clinical practice, proposing play and connection with children with emotional needs and behavioural disorders, elders with dementia, adults with learning difficulties, and adults with mental health issues. Meanwhile, my adult clown creche continued to thrive and participants were reporting huge shifts in their confidence, compassion, physical and mental wellbeing. 

Realising that the playful connection skills I'd spent years cultivating through my clown training and performance might be valuable in my practice as a dramatherapist, in my third year of training, I finally allowed my two worlds to collide. I decided to focus my dissertation research on the potential therapeutic benefits of clown skills training for adults with mental health issues. This led to the creation of “Clown-o-therapy;” a synthesis of clown skills training, dramatherapy, dance-movement, mindfulness and reflection, offering playful explorations of the Self and the Self in relation to others. 

I have been developing and integrating Clown-o-therapy into my workshops and facilitation ever since. Over the past 9 years, I've developed several weekend, week-long and weekly performance skills / self development workshops for adults including; Introduction To Clowning weekend, Deepening Clown, Comic Storytelling, Fooling, Fools Retreat, The Inner Critic Inquiry and The Mindful Play Inquiry as well as co-designing a plethora of online offers through The Online Clown Academy. It is a joy to hold these spaces and to be continuously surprised and touched by what people do in them!

In 2014, I was asked to run an intensive training in fooling (solo improvisation where the performer plays all the voices in their head) for a group of Bristol-based performance artists. This led to the formation of my theatre company, Beyond The Ridiculous. I've been offering company training and facilitation during live improvised shows at The Wardrobe Theatre ever since.

My hunger for depth has drawn me towards facilitating devised autobiographical comic theatre for companies and individuals, exploring themes such as metal health, depression, grief, feminism, eating disorders and orgasms. These artists include; Liz Clarke, Emily Souter Johnson, Helen Duff, Ed Rapley, Open Attic, Modest Geniuses and Chez Dunford. I love to travel alongside artists and support them to find theatrical form for their stories.

As an insatiable learner, I've been continuously seeking out further training in clowning, fooling, dance and meditation. I've found more stability and depth to my process through studying Nonviolent Communication (Seed of Peace), Circle of Trust (Penny Williamson), Leading From Your Creative Practice (Arts Connect), Compassionate Inquiry (Gabor Mate, self-paced learning), Action Learning (Arts and Health South West) and working regularly with a clinical supervisor.

Many companies, businesses, organisations and individuals have made use of my facilitation skills, you can see a list of previous clients here. I'm in my element when I'm facilitating, it's an honour to hold space for people to discover and reclaim their creativity and insight. I am inspired every time.

To find out about The Well-Held Space, my brand new online creative facilitation course, click here.

Application deadline: Monday 6th September

To read the first part of my facilitation story, click here.

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