At the beginning of May and straight after my physical endurance week in Spain, I returned to London and it was time to start my two-week Clowning Masterclass with the renowned physical theatre troupe Spymonkey. A physical and emotional roller-coaster journey to discover my “inner-clown”. Now, I know that sounds INCREDIBLY wanky, but don’t be alarmed my feet stayed on the ground and my head was no were near my bottom…apart from when I fell over.
As an actor in my 10th year of being in the business, I felt I needed to give myself a little shake up as my tools have gotten a little rusty of late. It’s so easy, as a performer, to get stuck into bad habits and I wanted to be challenged. And what better way but to bear yourself and become an idiot in a clown workshop.
Now I’m not talking about a red-nose and silly shoes. This clowning was more about tuning back into your gut instinct when on-stage, finding the complicity with your fellow performers and reading audience. No character, no lines just a costume of your choosing and your own idiot self. As an actor this was strangely terrifying because I usually spend so much of my time hiding behind a character or a voice.
A class of twenty, we were holed up in Highgate at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, a beautiful space in the eves of an old church and everyday we were guided masterfully by Spymonkey’s Aitor Basauri, on a diet of games, impro’ and general physical madness to tune into our clown and to help us find the complicity between each other and the audience whilst letting go of ‘trying to be funny’. A lot of this required us to FLOP in front of our peers. We constantly tried out ideas from costume to routines to see what worked and what didn’t. That was tough. As a performer you want to get the laughs, you want approval but this didn’t happen overnight, it was long process that tested a lot of us to the limit. I know I kept thinking, “Am I just shit?” as I constantly flopped in front of my fellow clowns. And to be honest, I was shit. But that’s what you do, you keep being shit until you are let go of your actory ‘look at me’ ego and find your glorious idiot self. Aitor put it succinctly:
“The performer who dares to stand before a crowd, unafraid to make mistakes and find pleasure in being wonderfully silly will reap fruitful rewards. In Spymonkey we strongly believe that it is in this moment that the seed for the best performances can begin.”
There were tears and tantrums but equally some of the most spontaneously hilarious moments I’ve ever had with a group of strangers. By the end of the two weeks I felt like I’d undergone some kind of a mental change as a performer. There was always a cautious side of me that wouldn’t dare so much on stage. But after this I felt unblocked, reinvigorated, inspired and lighter in myself…Now I know that sounds like an advert for colon cleansing, but that’s almost what it was! – a clown colonic for the jaded insides of my performer self. If you’re a comedian, actor or just someone who wants to dare to find the glorious moments of your own ridiculousness – then DO this workshop. It will make you a better (and maybe funnier) person all round.