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The Clowning Workbook

A practical textbook for teachers and learners of clowning, offering multiple ways to use clowning across general performer training: in voice, text, movement, and beyond. It draws on the author’s latest practical research and innovations in clown pedagogy.


This unique training book with linked video is part of Bloomsbury Methuen’s series of Theatre Arts Workbooks, and focuses in detail on the real classroom and rehearsal needs of training actors in their encounter with clowning. Drawing on the author’s extensive experience of teaching clowning within a number of conservatoire, academic institutions, and beyond, the material attends to the presentation and reception of clowning work by those whose primary concern is general actor training and its uses within such a context.


Clowning and actor training


Clowning has today found a regular place within the syllabuses of many drama departments and actor training courses across the UK and USA in particular. Indeed, ever since Jacques Lecoq introduced clowning into the programme of studies at his school in the early 1960s, clowning has been one of the most popular areas of study with students. With such a widespread and continuing interest in learning more about clowning in a practical way, the number of books available on the subject, although growing, is relatively small.


The Clowning Workbook is primarily aimed at students and teachers who are interested in the potential of clown training within the broader curriculum of actor training. The existing texts on clown training are generally aimed at those already wanting to specialize in the performance mode of clowning, or else present the subject within the confines of methods drawing on Lecoq’s approach. This new book intends to be, on the one hand, a resource tailored to the specific needs and requirements of actor training and, on the other hand, an approach not confined to a Lecoq-based method, thus opening up the potential for training in clowning to be applied across a wider range of actor training syllabuses than is often the case at present.



Places to buy the Clowning Workbook


Direct from the publisher (you can also read an extract here):


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Here is the first paragraph of the Clowning Workbook:


Here is a group of students. They are together to study theatre and performance in a big city university. They are diverse, not just in terms of social background, ethnicity, first language, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation, but also in their artistic priorities and interests. One wants to be a screen actor, one dreams of forming a devising company and writing and directing, one is passionate about plays dealing with serious issues, one wants to use drama to work with real-life trauma. Another has found an affinity and aptitude for physical, visual theatre, another for cabaret, others for drag, circus, street dance. What will be their experience of clowning? How will clowning intersect with and impact on their own concerns and practices?

The clowning workbook has emerged from my explorations in teaching clown since the publication of my last book, clown training in 2015.


Everyone who participated in regular classes at London Clown School, in workshops around the world has had an influence on the development of the exercises which took shape over that period up till lockdown moved all my teaching online for a couple of years. Many of those workshops were set up with the aim of documenting on video how it all works, and a large and important part of the book consists of moments transcribed from those classes, in the form of the dialogues, questions and feedback we shared. Additionally, there are video clips whose aim is to clarify what actually happens in these exercises (edited from the three-day workshop held at the National University of Arts in Iaşi, Romania).


Thanks to you all!


The following is an extract from the acknowledgements, listing some of the particular insights from those workshops


The BA European Theatre Arts students and graduates at Rose Bruford found out how clowns can intrude on dramatic spaces created by others - and not just in the traditional dramatic fictions we are accustomed to (think Shakespeare’s clowns), but also into ensemble visual performance of the most abstract nature.


The undergraduates of the BA Theatre and Performance Practices at London Metropolitan discovered new exercises exploring their own clown knowledge born of hugely varied experiences, a clowning defined both personally and by social conditions.


The teenagers of Ngizwe Youth Theatre in Soweto discovered that adding applause to laughter builds positive feelings about our own failures in front of our peers, and boosting their ability to make fools of themselves for fun.


The students on the MA Performance Practice as Research at RCSSD discovered how clowning is not only a performance practice in its own right, but can also be employed as a research methodology, ideal for questioning assumptions, suggesting surprising hypotheses and showing the way to glean new knowledge from failure.


Primary school teachers on Learning in Harmony Trust INSET day in Southend revealed surprising conclusions about who might be more or less predisposed to clowning, suggesting new ways to engage clowning students from backgrounds of privilege and non-privilege.


The MA Voice Studies students at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama discovered how clowning can cultivate a positive approach to the fear which inhibits free production of sound, beginning with laughter but ending with the whole voice.


BA Physical Theatre students at Stellenbosch University took possession of the knowledge that moving forwards puts you in constant danger of making mistakes, coining the new clown training technical term ‘backsy’.


Deaf and hearing performers, working together in the DH Ensemble and in workshops, discovered how clowning’s approach to staging inequality offers an exciting means of addressing diversity in celebratory ways.


Both students and staff at AFDA (Africa Film Drama Art) in Johannesburg, working together with mature professional performers, discovered that taking on board the dynamics of clowning means letting go of the rules and principles of other genres, from improv to musical comedy, leading to unheard of outcomes, and that clowning is its own genre.


Drop-in participants at the ongoing clowning workshop in the middle of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition spaces discovered how easy clowning is, that we already hold clown knowledge, and that clowns thrive in places of high culture.


Students on workshops in Gent and Brussels in Belgium (re)discovered their national and international differences through the magnifying and distorting prism of clowning, discovering new ways to find themselves ridiculous in the eyes of their neighbours.


The MA Shakespeare Studies students discovered how easy it is to appear ridiculous on the stage at the Globe, a space whose design eases the actor into dynamic interaction with the audience, and is a natural space for clowns.


The students at City Varsity in Cape Town discovered ways, as clowns, that we can stage real life events that most repel us, transforming the news stories we don’t want to read about into digestible yet potent form, enabling a conversation that is inclusive even on subjects that divide nations.


Workshop attendees at the Montreal Clown Festival not only discovered yet another distinct approach to clown teaching to add to their nation’s already thriving clown education, but also discovered the perfect Canadian clown exercise, combining diligence and humility.


New York Clown Theater Festival clown workshop participants discovered how to summarise the principles of clowning, rendering the artform swift and easy to grasp, producing complex performance ideas that grabbed even the festival’s clown experts.


BA and BTech circus students at Circomedia in Bristol discovered that clowning doesn’t mean ruining or underperforming the skill that you worked so hard to achieve, and that there are countless ways to frame your performance in order to appear ridiculous and virtuosic at the same time.


Students of puppetry in an open workshop discovered that there are many permutations of puppet, clown, performer and object, and that audience’s laughter can drive puppets just as it can humans, with the advantage (or disadvantage) that puppets won’t feel bad about their failure to be funny.


‘State of Play’ Clown Symposium participants at Edge Hill University discovered new exercises to be used in clown training, based on personal experiences of social marginalisation, suggesting that clowns can be defined as social figures rather than inhabiting inner selves.


BA students in workshops at Liverpool John Moore’s University discovered how clowning principles can be appropriated for their own artistic ends, individually and as companies, and that clowning includes a vast range of aesthetic styles.


Students from the Estonian Academy of Music and Theatre visiting Rose Bruford College, London, for a six-week Exploring Shakespeare intensive, explored innovatory practical means to stage clowning from early modern theatre.


Undergraduates, postgraduates and lecturers in performing arts and other arts fields at the George Enescu National University of Arts in Iași, Romania, found how they could incorporate focusing on their own subjective experiences as actors into a traditional conservatoire-style arts training.


And students on the regular weekly classes at London Clown School have been continuously discovering, testing and developing a whole range of new clown training exercises based on laughter response, simplifying the process of learning clown and contributing to the demystification of the artform.

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