When Holly met Andrew Cain

May 19 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly and Andy laughing

I met Andrew Cain from Play Connect for a chat on Zoom.

Andrew is a Brighton-based improvisation teacher and therapist who specialises in helping people into play and connection. He wanted to find out about what I do and how I do it. Here's the video:

We talked about the importance of vulnerability in clowning.

I talked about my own journey into vulnerability, from being a vulnerability avoider; hiding in plain sight, as a massive extravert, behind a wall of noise, to learning to soften and let the world in.

Andrew asked about the people who come to my clown courses, asking what they get from the classes. I explained that less than half of people who come to my courses are there for self development; they want to embrace disowned parts of their selves. The introverts come for the permission to embrace the awkward, weird, quirky bits that they've been told are not OK. The extraverts come to learn about their fear-based survival strategies and practice making other choices. I explained how everyone is celebrated in my training and this draws out their eccentricities. 

Andrew is interested in failure, he said people always say to him "you're brave for doing improv." He quoted my TED talk, when I said "The Clown thrives on the edge of the flop," and asked me to speak more about that.

I spoke about the importance of self-care and resilience training in my workshops, I put as much time into this as I do into performance training. So that when they are there clowning, on the edge of the flop, to really feel OK about failing, they have to really feel OK about being on the edge of failure. If there's part of them that's still holding on for dear life, the audience will feel it. So to support my participants, we practice letting go inside a safe space that is supported by confidentiality and boundaries. 

I offer a lot of opportunities for the participants to form connections with each other through play, so that when they flop, they are flopping with their friends who are also flopping. Through the experience of failing and not dying and being accepted by their peers, they get braver. Then they can start taking it out into the world and risk failure without it being the end of the world.

Andrew talked about the healing power of connection, and how failure can increase connection through revealing vulnerability. I spoke about a central aspect of my clown training as flipping our usual response to doing something "wrong" or "bad" from a shame response where you take your eyes down, your body shuts down and you become separate and disconnected; to the opposite of this; when the clown fucks up - they take it up and connect with the audience, offering their predicament with a tone of innocent bafflement. In that moment, the audience see themselves and the laughter comes from resonance. The audience say "Ha ha that's me! I know that! I've been there!"

Andrew talked about adult play as something that is seen as not important. I said it's my life's mission to give EVERYONE permission to play. I explained how I am flummoxed by the notion that play is supposed to end at the end of childhood. As adults we're not rewarded for our dreaming or our play or our wondering, we're rewarded for our successes, medals and accolades. Nobody gives you a pat on the back for feeding the ducks. We're conditioned by our society to achieve great things of note, but play is the thing that happens in between and is often the stuff that will get us to creating these remarkable things of note. If we can't give ourselves permission to play then life becomes very linear, very A to B, there's not much discovery or adventure in that.

I talked about the people who come to my workshops and begin by telling the group why they are not going be very good at playing - some say they are too old, others say they are not as bendy as they used to be, lots say they are too tired. It makes my heart so sad that adults have become attached to the idea that they can't play. My work is about helping people find play where they are, in whatever way they can; if your energy is low; find a small way to play, if your energy is bouncing off the walls then go for it, if you're really tired, play in your bed! It's about embracing where you're at and finding the play there, instead of waiting until you're in the perfect state, because that's no going to happen.

At the end of the interview, I chatted about The Online Clown Academy and our upcoming Clowning Out of Chaos Conference (21st-23rd May) and my upcoming 5-week Mindful Play Inquiry Online (Starting 3rd June).

Andy is a therapist/coach and a long-standing improviser. He doesn’t see the two as separate. His coaching and training work often integrates laughter.  And when he leads improv sessions, he's more interested in the wellbeing, connection and joy it brings than anyone being “good.” To find out more about Andy's work, check out his website.

Holly Stoppit menu