When Holly Met Deanna

Jul 15 2019

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Deanna Fleysher as Butt Kapinski / photographer Mihaela Bodlovic

The Introduction

It's a Monday morning in June, just before the rain set in. Two clown teachers are having two slow mornings after having taught two different clown workshops to two different groups of brave adventurers all weekend. They're both tired, but they've heard so much about each other, it's seems ridiculous not to meet up for brunch.

Deanna Fleysher, the remarkable and hilarious comedy artist, teacher, director, and audience inclusion devotee, has come all the way from America to Bristol UK to perform her film noir murder mystery show, Butt Kapinski and present her 'Naked Comedy' workshop. 

Clown and improvisation teacher, director, performance researcher and dramatherapist, Holly Stoppit, lives here in Bristol, where she's been cultivating a clown community for well over a decade.

Holly went to see Deanna's show a few nights ago and loved it for its risk, boldness and interaction. She realised why everyone kept saying; “You two should know each other.” And so, the stars have aligned for their first official meeting.

The Scene 

Cafe Grounded in St Georges, our tired clown teachers are sat by the window, munching brunch, surrounded by grown ups having intense chats and kids singing, shouting and smashing things.

The Context

Holly has already explained what these blogs are all about, after hitting 40 in January, Holly decided that enough is enough, with the loneliness and isolation part of teaching. It's time to reach out and make some connections. So she's been inviting fellow clown teachers to sit down with her and chat about teaching. She's been recording these chats and turning them into blogs called “When Holly met...” So far, she's dined with Jamie Wood and eaten with Igne Barkauskaite. Brunch with Deanna is the third blog in the series. 

The Interview

(The following words are pretty much verbatim, apart from a few tweaks to make it make sense. The interview has been chopped up and moved about a bit, and a lot of Holly's words have been removed as they appear elsewhere on this blog.)

Holly: How was your workshop this weekend?

Deanna: So nice, fucking beautiful. It was a beautiful group, super supportive of each other, really good skill and funny.

Holly: Have you got a standard format for that workshop, or do you respond to whoever's there and kind of bring out different exercises?

Deanna: I'd say the workshop is ever evolving... I think when I was first teaching it, I was so vague in my instructions, I'd be like “Just get up and jzzzuuuhhh, you know?” I've started to figure out how I can set up people for success. How can little exercises that I do, set people up for more success? And I introduce skills in a more isolated way, so that when the bigger assignments come– like when you have to get up on stage and do something – they've already had some practice, working individual muscles.

Holly: Yeah! Have you just done that through trial and error or did you have a guinea pig group at some point where you tried different things out?

Deanna: I guess it's always been trial and error. I've always been really interested in curriculum development, I've been a teacher for a long time before I was a clown teacher, so I was developing curriculum from when I was 22 or 23 years old.

Holly: A school teacher?

Deanna: Yeah, I taught high school English and Theatre, and I had to design pretty much all my curricula. So I learned a lot about how to lesson plan... I think I built up a lot of passion for what I want a classroom to be and how I want a lesson to feel and how things get integrated... I think my best clown training was being a high school English teacher.

Holly: Ha! Love that!

Deanna: If I can teach a bunch of adolescent boys to love my girly literature, you know what I mean, if I can get a bunch of 16 year old boys excited about Wuthering-fucking-heights then I can fucking do anything!

I think the incredible thing about teaching is there is so much to learn, always.

Holly: Yeah!

Deanna: And it is so hard, you know. I think the best teachers I know are always growing as teachers, it's inspirational. My first acting teacher was a clown, when I was 6 years old and he trained me for my first several years of my theatre training, so I was doing clown exercises before I knew what it was, but when I officially put on a clown nose as a grown up... I liked Giovanni Fosetti. I think he's the best. He comes from Lecoq and I feel like he was kind of a contemporary of Guallier... He's like super smart, super knowledgeable, a master teacher, but he's like really kind, really loving and really supportive. That's definitely my preference.

Holly: Nice combo!

Deanna: Yeah, you want someone who's going to tell the truth, but you don't want someone who's fucking brutal, you know? I didn't come from any particular training, I kind of developed my own way of doing things.

Holly: Yeah same.

Deanna: Yeah, it's kind of challenging sometimes, you know?

Holly: Yeah!

Deanna: People are like “where can I get more of this?” and you're like “I don't know” you know?

Holly: I'm writing a book.

Deanna: Me also – that's what my blog is about, collecting material to write a book.

Holly: It's that thing – people want to get their hands on it, but we can only do so much.

Deanna: Yeah!

Holly: I'm saturated with teaching, I can't do any more than I'm doing and stay healthy. So the book feels like the next thing, and maybe the TED talk, I've applied.

Deanna: I'm thinking of the same things, absolutely.

Holly: There has to be a way of bottling this stuff...

Deanna: I'm trying to figure out how to teach clown to business people. That's what I'm puzzling about, because I believe there's a tonne of transferrable skills.

I feel like when I teach clown workshops, I'm in a room with completely beautiful human beings who were beautiful before I came and will be beautiful long after I'm gone and it's like “What have I done?” you know? Maybe I've empowered them to keep being their beautiful selves, but like, have I really adjusted any frequencies in there? No.

Holly: You don't think?

Deanna: I mean a little, but they were magnificent when they walked in the door, they were already openhearted, generous, free to some extent, you know? It's not to say they don't need training too, I love this work, I will do this work until I'm dead, it's the best thing in the whole world, there's no better work, I think.... But I think it's like fine tuning as opposed to big shifts.

Holly: There's something for me about the community, though. Even in a weekend workshop, the community that gets created...

Deanna: Yeah, it's very powerful...

Holly: It's a recharging, isn't it? To be around other people who are in the same space and recharge and find your focus and off you go again.

Deanna: Totally

Holly: I think what we do is incredibly valid for that.

Deanna: It is, I'm not trying to diminish the work, I'm in the place right now of gearing myself up to do a harder thing, I think, which is to try and offer it in a place where it's not already, where people have no background knowledge of what it is or what it could be for them.

Holly: I'm interested to hear about that journey. Hey, are you doing the Edinburgh Fringe this summer?

Deanna: No, I'm starting a comedy school near me, there's a beautiful arts commune, 9 miles south of my town, it's 70 acres in the mountains and there's a private lake and there's a sprung floor dance studio.

Holly: Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Deanna: Yeah! I'm starting a school retreat.

Holly: Yeaaaahhhhhhh!!

Deanna: I'm really jazzed about it, that's my dream, is to have a training centre where people can come. That's the fucking dream.

Holly: That's the dream! And then you can just let people hang out in nature and relax and not have to go back to their stupid 'real' lives and be immersed.

Deanna: I'm doing two, 5-day sessions with two different groups and my thinking is – if it goes well, maybe next year, there will be the possibility of doing both...

Holly: I wish you luck with that and I look forwards to hearing about it.


Two clown teachers, from two different continents, with two different approaches. However, they connect deeply in their core beliefs and in their dreams.

For both Deanna and Holly, it seems that nurturing yet challenging holding is the key to incubating brave, bold performance and learning to embody vulnerability is an essential component for this. They both believe incremental risks support people to experience success and many little successes add up, helping people take bigger and bigger risks.

Both Holly and Deanna share the dream of the school retreat. To surround the learning with nature seems to be an instinct for many clown teachers. Clowning is a natural state and nature immersion helps participants drop deeper into their natural, animal, instinctive selves.

To read more about Deanna's practice and find out her performance and teaching dates, visit her website. To hear Deanna roar from her guts, visit her blog (it's brilliant).

To see what Holly's got on offer, have a look at her home page

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