Thursday, July 28, 2016


Orthodoxy happens in all fields. When new information or better approaches or broader perspectives appear in any field they are called heterodoxy (diverse ideas) and the orthodoxy in the field does everything to prevent new information from reaching the ears and minds of others. The article below documents exactly how this occurs when the researcher discovers something new, based on something old.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

CLOWN vs GOD ... notes on the history of "The Clown Movement"

This is an essay in final draft form. Some of it is theoretical about words and ideas. There is one section that has many names as sources for you to research on youtube and google. You are welcome to write to me directly and to view my website that links to my blog and ISAAC, and "Creative Mentorship". You are welcome to write generally, anytime.

This is a final draft.


My writing meanders like an actual conversation. I suddenly throw in an anecdote, personal or otherwise. I come back to themes previously mentioned. If you are interested to understand what really works to become a clown or to become a better clown - I provide dozens of hints. Even though it is a matter of "seek and ye shall find", in fact, I present open advice for artists at any stage.

Chaplin was the ultra and consummate professional and he said "You can never be professional enough". One of the most remarkable modern clowns is Steve Martin - he is on par with Robin Williams, Woody Allen, Jim Carey - none of whom are officially 'clowns' according to some clown teachers. Yet on almost all levels those four people are the greatest of modern clowns. Martin's deeply personal autobiography is one of the greatest disclosures about what it takes to be a clown and a great clown at that. The 2012 documentary on Woody Allen is another of the greatest sources about the inner/outer world of being a great clown (the complete DVD is 2 and a half hours).

So even for fully professional clowns - one can go further. This article is intended to openly and freely assist those out there who are what I call "Seekers" who are 'looking for something'. For many who think they've 'found it' - they still need to rethink and deprogram themselves and those whom they teach. I provide mentorship for artists at any stage of their career or vision. My work is to assist your process. "Creative Mentorship" is the formal process that I offer and there is basic information on my website about that.

SECTION 1 - General discussion about words, ideas, current discourses

"Clown of God" was how of Nijinsky the dancer viewed his life. I follow Nijinsky's inspiration to juxtapose those two words in the hope this article might give you food for thought to readdress the small word clown or the more challenging word god. Food for thought may be viewed also as fodder for complaint.
Shakespeare says via Hamlet "Nothing is either good or bad only thinking makes it so". With thinking in mind this article is an attempt to give us a chance to redefine those loaded words 'god' and 'clown'. Let's see what happens as a philosophical exercise when the juxtaposition of those two words is used for the purpose of enhancing our understanding and compassion.

Clown and god are simply words to express an idea or phenomenon  'God' by the way or to get it out of the way is simply a word for an inexplicable phenomenon. Some might call that inexplicable phenomenon "the big bang", or, "the universe", or "the Tao", or "The Rainbow Serpent". 'God' is a word. It is a powerful word since it can easily provoke anger and hate in some whereas for others it provokes love and empathy. 

For some people for whom clown is treated sacred the word god is considered vile like a four-letter curse word. For other people for whom god is sacred clown is considered vile.

Some contemporary clowns and clown teachers insist on clowns wearing red noses. Yet those same people abhor the classic clown who wears a red nose, plus makeup, and big shoes and garish costume. It's a bit of damned if you don't and damned if you do. Clowns and clown teachers can be as dogmatic as fundamentalist preachers.

Here is a quote from The Makers of Magic, a chapter in Ronald Harwood's book All The World's A Stage (1984). "The theatre is one of man's most ingenious compromises with himself. ... because the  theatre is something that people need." 

Here is the longer version of that quote:
"The theatre is one of man's most ingenious compromises with himself. In it he performs and entertains, shows off and amuses himself, and yet it is also one of his most powerful instruments for exploring and attempting to understand himself, the world he lives in, and his place in that world. The theatre can be controversial or reassuring, subversive or conservative, diverting or enlightening: if it chooses it can be all of these, and more. .... it is able to provoke deep, often subconscious emotions, and to embody those drives and forces in the human mind which set both individuals and society most at risk... because the theatre is something that people need." (Ronald Harwood, 1984)

Thoughts of words and logic.

I propose to use freeform logic to find fresh perspectives behind the words; clown, and, god.  In philosophy one learns that the word 'chair' is not the chair itself. A word represents something else. A word represents an object, a person, or an idea. Logic implies using words to develop ones clarity in thought processes to enhance discussion of any subject. Logic can occur from many angles.

A word is just a word, yet, in some circles the word 'clown' is loaded and sometimes provokes strong emotions. Those reactions may be positive, negative, or sometimes dogmatic. Within the clown profession such reactions may be valid or flippant. Opposing reactions seem to  be unreasonable, illogical and emotional reactions. They occur for some reason other than the simple meaning of a word. Ones definition of the word clown becomes virtually theological when forced to adhere to an ideological framework.

By juxtaposing two words or concepts we have the potential to rectify confusion and illusions imposed on each word. Clown, humour, and parody are common in most cultures. Reverence toward some form of ideal being is also common. Such idolising can be towards a  sports hero, national hero, great politician, artist, or nature itself. That instinct is to 'worship' something 'higher'. Such reverence is so common that it may be a logical norm of a healthy, instinctual, and psychological human need.

Stories and myths in literature.

In literature a warning about idolising any person is given in the story of The Emperor's New Clothes.  In that story we are advised against idolising even if it is someone we respect such as a king. Another warning via literature is about worship of any thing. That is found in the myth of The Worship of the Golden Calf. Humanity is warned even if the object of worship is our own collective creation. The story and the myth teach us to discern. That story and that myth teach us to use our critical faculties. They initiate a dialectic or discussion about reverence even if it is of our own design.

A child learns to discern between two animals by juxtaposition. A child sees two objects moving in the garden and asks "What are those"? The adult looks and sees two animals, a snake and a dog. Both animals are moving in unison. The adult says the one in front wriggling is a snake and the one walking behind is a dog. Then the child sees two other moving objects, one wriggling and one following, points at them and says "Snake and dog"! The adult sees where the child points and says "Those are a lizard and a cat". 

At the first level of learning the child may have assumed the lizard was a snake because it was wriggling in front and that the cat was a dog because it was following.  The mind always follows a form of logic, but, not always a linear logic. The human mind readily jumps to conclusions or confusions before it has clarity. Too much clarity such as in ones beliefs about science, god, or clown leads to misguided yet well intended worship of a deified definition of science, god, or clown. Formal and complete definitions can create an illusion as in the emperor's new clothes which were non-existent. Worship of something of ones own creation such as one's definitions, concepts or humour signals the message of the myth of the Golden Calf .

When discussing concepts such as clown or god often the first thing to leave the room is logic because sometimes there is no clear context of terms being discussed. Sometimes in a discussion the first thing to enter the room is emotion. Clown and god are words loaded with expectation, assumptions, illusions - no matter what side or angle of the discussion you are on. Consequently when one discusses those words there is a tendency for emotion to enter the room while logic leaves. In the science vs god debate some have suggested that science is the how and god is the why. Clown - is clown a person, an art, an artist, a performer, an entertainer, a business, a movement, a culture or even a cult?

Science vs God debate

I enjoy the science versus god debates, books, and discussions. Those discussions are fun, fiery, and often dysfunctional. Even debates around clown disclose a type of fire and brimstone orthodoxy or dare one say a fundamentalism bordering on religiosity. The paradox is that many participants in The Clown Movement, and theatre, and the arts have a formidable and obvious antagonism towards religion or those who believe in some form of 'God'. 

It seems that sometimes the words clown and god invoke debate. The people involved on most angles of the debates around those words appear to have vested interests in their own claims and we witness that they appear to say their way may be the only way, the only right way, or the only best way.

In the science versus god debate even those on the side of science fail to see the dogma in their camp as they revere Richard Dawkins and David Suzuki as if they were saints or godlike. In the discussions about clown there are arguments about whether the greatest clown was Chaplin or Keaton. Some will say they are not even clowns because their work was not live but in cinema. Then someone might say that Chaplin and Keaton were each live entertainers for 15 years or more (both were born into performing families) before they worked in cinema thus for some they were still clowns. Either camp might become righteous in their reverence for their preference of one clown over another (Chaplin vs Keaton devotees)  or one method or one school or one teacher over another. These things one can witness go beyond preference and go into dogmatic reverence which rather than opening the scope of the field close down the minds, creativity, imagination, potential and possibilities, debates and discussions within a field.

Dogma in acting, theatre, clown, performing arts

To counter dogma in; acting, theatre, clown, or performing arts, I evolved a method that can work with any other method or training. This method can enhance any other method for; acting, theatre, clown, or performing arts. It is not that this method is better or best but that it is different. The difference is the intention to close the gaps in other methods. I think all acting methods are good. It is just that most don't work for most actors. The only method that really works is when an actor/student is 100% engaged with their own unified sense of body, voice, creativity, performance no matter what the exercise or technique. In the end it is not that any method works rather it is the participant's commitment and discovery that works. Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, one of my teachers, said that his method "was the art of discovery".

Returning for a moment to the clown-god paradox, some people view those who believe in god with a capital 'G' as being clowns (fools, idiots, or worse terms). Some people active in The Clown Movement believe in the power of clowns to have a godlike power to change the world.  As if healing throughout the eons in infinite ways had never existed. This is part of a new 'religion' :) that I have named "Denialism". In Denialism a person will deny any obvious fact that doesn't support their own social group agenda.

To be sure, clown as a healing agent existed in many cultures and in some was synonymous with a shaman, healer, dancer, priest or priestess. Since the Western world has removed most of its cultural practices, those who 'believe in clown' appear to believe with a fervency of born-again religious zealots. When presented with other thoughts outside of their particular clown dogma, one can suddenly see flaring nostrils, venomous speech, glaring eyes, self-righteous indignation and all the signs of fanatic, fundamentalist religious zealotry.  

The instinct of worship

Freud's life research was an attempt to recognise that the invention of religion to worship or revere something larger than the mundane happens in all cultures and all strata of a society. His early book "Totem and Taboo" explained how for one group a particular object may be considered sacred or a totem, whereas for another group that same object is considered forbidden or a 'taboo'. He also explained that the 'totem' can become 'taboo' if certain elements are added or taken away.

As a liberal-minded artist I can be viewed as belonging to the group of Left-wing, Liberal-Minded, Union-supporters, of the Labor or Green parties, artists and intellectuals. It seems in this day and age most of my fellow mob of such folks are non-believers in any 'god', they may however believe in atheism, agnosticism, or their preferred spiritual guru, or their most respected politicians, or they may be followers in the beliefs of socialism or communism. From someone who does not believe in those social options as the ultimate wisdom one can see those who do believe in their guru or teacher or anti-religious philosophy do so ironically with a religious veracity with the same tendency as any religious fundamentalist. Sometimes they seem to merge into a group of believers in Denialsim. 

A summarised overview of the history of TCM - "The Clown Movement".

To further enhance the discussions within the fields of acting, theatre, circus, dance with reference to clown I have coined the term "The Clown Movement" or TCM.

TCM's history is complex and not linear. 

TCM has overlapping circles of influence.

TCM's influences are from general categories such as: nation, media, timeframes, and individuals within those categories

This essay is about 'clown', and some of the same ideas may apply to any of the performing arts and perhaps other fields in society. Clown is a metaphor for discussing intellectual discourse. At the same time there will be thoughts about clown as an art-form. A discourse ideally can include divergent opinions and experiences in a peaceful manner. 

Defining 'clown' can be as difficult as defining 'god'. Both words can be defined many different ways depending on ones own perspective or desires. What is interesting is that both words (clown, god) have people adhering to their proscribed beliefs about those words.

Here are a few brief ideas about what I mean by: "The Clown Movement". It is a rebirth of clown. In some circles that rebirth, The Clown Movement, is thought to have occurred only since the 1970s.  In part due to the 'cultural revolution' of the 1960s/70s. It was during those years when various clown groups started to appear with an agenda to provide an alternative to straight society and straight theatre. However, those groups were preceded by other factors which I will soon mention.

Clown can mean many things professionally speaking and can be interpreted infinite ways artistically. That it can be so varied professionally and artistically is the greatest aspect of clowning. 

For example, clown can imply a red nose and funny costumes, or, no false nose and no clothes. Clown can also be used to imply some altruistic things like the shaman/clown/healer found in some indigenous societies. It can mean the clown doctors or clowns without borders, or other forms of social activism clowning. Clown can mean the professional entertainers found in circus, theatre, festivals, parties. Clown can mean a person in your family who likes to joke, play, or kibbitz. Clown can mean anything. It has a notable history that is too complex to be linear. An interesting aspect is - the factors, elements, and people - rarely included in discussions about The Clown Movement and its history. I will bring in some of those obscure facts and you can see for yourself that "The Clown Movement" perhaps is perpetually only just getting started. 

Here are some angles on the history of clown. There are indigenous clown traditions in most cultures. Some cultures not considered officially 'indigenous' are indigenous in other ways. Some of those have clowns integrated into their social and cultural networks. Carnivale, Feast of Fools, Purim, Mardi Gras are some of the celebrations within religious cultures when people could do the opposite of the norm in social behavior. In the folk dances of many European cultures there were some clown and slapstick dances. In the Western world there are two cultures which perhaps have the richest variations in clowning. Those extend the definition of clown to its siblings of comedians and clown characters within the theatre. The two cultures English/British clown tradition inclusive of the Irish native humorists and storytellers, and, the Jewish culture within its 1000 year old European traditional humour.  A third culture extremely rich in clown is the USA which I will cover in a bit more detail.

Generally speaking those cultures; English, British, Irish, Jewish for example are not officially considered 'indigenous' with a capital 'I'. However, even until the 1950s England (like most European nations) had absolutely clear and distinct regional indigenous cultures that included complete dialects, songs, dances, foods and festivals that were part of the local folk culture. They may not have been Aboriginal peoples but the were indigenous. Into the 1960s the west coast of Ireland was still fluent in native language as were the northern Scots and the Welsh were speaking Welsh. In France and Italy also regional dialects were so different as to constitute different languages/cultures/people.

In the Jewish culture there was the wedding clown, called a 'badchen', who was expert in verbal wit combined with improvisation on sacred texts mixed with song, music, sometimes juggling,  acrobatics, dance; there were the Purim Schpielers; Klezmer bands which often hand 'tumlers' or comedians; some Hassidic rabbis had an associated fool or 'naar'; and there were various fools in their oral story telling traditions. Such fools were not the schpielers, naars, badchens, nor tumlers but were called schmendrake, schlemiel, kuni lemels. 

The 'tumlers' were the professional clowns who combined verbal and physical comedy.    The tumlers continued until the 1960s in the summer resorts of the Catskills mountains. Once air-conditioning got established the resorts entertainment including tumlers flourished in Florida and Las Vegas. Jerry Lewis's father was a tumler in the Catskills as was the father of the great musical star Joel Grey. Lewis and Grey cut their teeth in the Catskills in the 1940s and 50s. That tradition branched  away from the Caskills tumlers to people like Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield, Myron Cohen, Marty Allen, Steve Allen, Woody Allen, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Totie Fields, Jackie Mason, Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, as well as notable comedy writers Mel Brooks, Steve Allen, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, and many others. 

"The Clown Movement" - TCM

The recent history of Western and Westernised 'clown' that I call "The Clown Movement" is occasionally assumed to have its beginnings in the 1970s in Paris when in fact that is a minor part of "The Clown Movement". Paris was important decades earlier because of notable professionals working as actors and directors in the new mime/clown rebirth, primarily: Copeau, Decroux, Saint-Denis, Barrault, Marceau, Tati. However like artists in other fields such as music, dance, visual arts - these people were not the most influential. It is more that the artists were reflections of other more dynamic events in other fields such as science, technology, war, literature, scholarship, anthropology, physics. Genius my be the individuals emerge from a much greater movement of time, place, technology, conflicts of ideologies, and discourse of ideas. The book "Constellation of Genius 1922: Modernism Year One" was written by Kevin Jackson (2012 Hutchinson Press). The playwright and theatre practitioner Andrew Cowie gave that gem of a book.

Paris already was steeped in the artistic avant-garde where Cubism emerged by 1910. Where Gertrude Stein wrote many of her 80 experimental theatre pieces. The Paris avant-garde of art and writing was stimulated by Stein. From fervent conversations artists and writers alike were challenging themselves and others. Those included Picasso, Chagall, Calder, Giacometti, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and numerous others. 

Earlier the clowns Les Fratellini, were leading lights and inspirations to the world of art, literature, and theatre. Copeau hired Les Fratellini to help teach his theatre and mime students. Copeau's curriculum was broad and included philosophy, Noh Theatre, mask, and much more. His nephew Michel Saint-Denis then combined Copeau's work with Stanslavsky's and created the most successful training that is still the basis of most university programs for actor or theatre education in the Western countries including England, USA, Canada, Australia.

Paris was also the city that really launched revolutions caused directly by Russians in dance (Ballet Russe), music (Stravinsky), theatre (Stanislavsky). art (Chagall). Paris embraced the great clownesse Josephine Baker famous for her humour, pathos, as well as song and dance. She was also a respected intellectual, and activist in social causes.

An expansive view of what a clown can be

The 1960s had already seen an alternative clown in the USA called "Wavy Gravy" based in California and who appeared at rock concerts and protests and happenings of all sorts. He was a social activist who became a clown to develop his activism. There were other types of 'clowns' working as musical bands such as The Beatles, the Monkees (originally they the cast of a TV show who became a band)  Alice Cooper and the theatricality of rock and punk bands were types of musical theatre clowning. At the same time there were tremendously great variants of clowns such as the boxing, poet, activist clown Casius Clay who changed his name to Muhammad Ali; his one and only banter partner worthy of his dexterous mind was the commentator clown Howard Cosell; there was the nimble spiritual basketball clown Meadowlark Lemon, and the all singing, dancing, chameleon clown Michael Jackson who so greatly admired two of the few master clowns; Charlie Chaplin, and, Marcel Marceau.

Around the same time i.e. the late 1960s and early 1970s there were clown groups forming in numerous other countries such as England, Australia, Czech Republic, Russia, New Zealand etc. One of the earliest workshops in clowning in England was held at Oval House in London. But by this time such great clowns as Morecombe & Wise, The Two Ronnies, Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore, Monty Python were well and truly causing a clown revolution following on from The Goons. The Frost Report was how the two Ronnies (Corbett and Barker) began to work together with an unknown John Cleese. Some of their trio sketches are on youtube. Cleese along with Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman who became Monty Python began professionally as comedy writers on David Frosts satire and revue show on TV. 


San Francisco and California had been the counter-culture hotbed and this social activism crossed over with the new comedy, new clown, new vaudeville, new commedia. The action around Haight-Ashbury, U.C.Berkley, Esalen Institute and the cultural revolution of the hippies, the  60s effected even theatre and clown. The Living Theatre was based in NYC while the West Coast yielded Wavy Gravy as the Clown Prince of the cultural revolution. Wavy Gravy was brought to California by Lenny Bruce in 1962. Wavy Gravy formed a group of political activists named The Phurst Church of Phun (The First Church of Fun). He also founded  Camp Winnarainbow a circus camp for all ages and families that continues today. An odd anecdote is that it seems Wavy Gravy as a child used to go on walks with Albert Einstein. Those walks occurred over several months. 

In the late 1960s a new West Coast influence in commedia and clown was Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and his wife Jane Hill and eventually their Dell'arte school. Dell'arte School was initiated in San Francisco when Jane taught across the bay at U.C.Berkley and then finally established in the rural town of Blue Lake in northern California.

Two groups which are frequently left out of the discussion of "The Clown Movement" and which were established by the early 1970s, were: The Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe (  ; and, The Friends Roadshow ( Both were primarily American groups and were comprised of people who after university dropped out of the 'system' (capitalism) and were creating their own alternative ways of surviving in the given Western society. Those two troupes performed throughout the USA and Europe and offered workshops as they traveled. Jango Edwards is the one who emerged as the most dominant of those two sibling troupes but for sure they were collectives of extremely talented people who also were incredible adventurers.

As a fluke of life I saw both troupes one afternoon, first Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe and after a short change over came Friends Roadshow. This was a huge experimental theatre festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan in May 1975. I decided then and there to 'become a clown'. I also met the theatre's counter-culture legends: Julian Beck; and, Richard Schechner at this festival.

On the West and East coasts were also troupes who were more local or regional such as The San Francisco Mime Troupe (a political commedia/clown  group), and, The Pickle Family Circus (a social activist troupe) both based in San Francisco with tours on the West Coast and both troupes had an emphasis on clown. The Big Apple was more conservative, but, none the less it was an alternative circus and theatre company based in New York which developed its touring to be less local and more regional with occasional tours nationally.
In 1977 a small theatrical clown circus was begun: The Kit 'n Kaboodle American Theater Company. Founded in California by one of my Dell'arte classmates Gale McNeely along with other classmates Jim Stephenson, Hannah Lomden and Paul Klusterman  They were wonderful clowns and Gale excelled as "Captain Plunge". After they  was established touring California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho - I did two tours with them in 1979 as the clown "Vincenzo Furioso". 

Carlo our teacher named me "Vincenzo". Several years later an Italian man roared when I told him that "Vincenzo"" was my clown name. He had already been laughing that I was walking to a clown gig for which I was walking towards but had to ask him a stranger for directions. Then he asked if I knew what "Vincenzo' meant, and I didn't so he laughed with tears coming out of his eyes. Apparently, according to this Italian stranger, a 'Vincenzo' implies a fool. The English use the term "Wally" as a 'name' that implies a fool. In Yiddish such a name was Kuni Leml. Gale added the last name to Vincenzo - thus Vincenzo Furioso. 

Another small USA troupe focused on clown was - The Royal Lichtenstein 1/4 Ring Circus was established by the early 1970s toured then continuously for decades. Usually as a three-person circus performing on stages, halls and parks of 100s of university campuses throughout the whole of the USA. Uniquely The Royal Lichtenstein was started by Nick Weber who was a Jesuit Priest. So in a very practical and blatant way this was Nick's pulpit from which he created a unique combination of clown and God if you will. His autobiography was published recently and of late he has taken to working with elderly patients and uses Shakespeare with them.

Clowns scattered wide and far and varied

Canada had the TV show Kids in the Hall and England had The Young Ones and earlier  Australia had The Auntie Jack Show. All three were indeed forms of clown shows. More traditional clowns also existed in Australia including Zig & Zag, Daddy Longlegs, Theo Zaccini was in Ashton's Circus; Edgleys had begun to bring the Moscow Circus with  Yuri Nikulin as the star clown; at the same period the Australian Dougie Ashton was a clown in Ringling Circus. Gary Grant emerged as the long standing clown in Ashtons. I last saw him performing about 2013 when he was about 80 years old, he's a truly hilarious clown!!!! The Ashton family has 3 circuses and one of them married with the Rodrigus family of Brazil have a daughter who is a fabulous clown and juggler. Lennon family also have three touring circuses. One is Stardust with four fab clowns led by Matthew Ezekiel Smith, Lee, a roustabout who doubles by clowning in drag, and the M.C. who plays the role of Monsieur Loyal for the clown acts. They are fantastic fast and funny clowns. Lennons currently run The Great Moscow Circus with its three fantastic clowns - Matthew de Goldi  as "ZoBo the Clown", Rafael Nino,Jr, and Ashley Brophy. Nino the Clown is 6th generation circus, and Ashley is the son from the famous Brophy Boxing Tent touring show. Tim Caldwell was the long time clown in Circus Oz but in its original form it was like a clown troupe. Two of the outstanding clowns within Oz's later incarnation were Nicci Wilks, and, Flip Kammerer who had to be one of the greatest female slapstick clowns.

Queensland, Australia though has had some of the most outstanding clowns such as Amanda-Lyn Pearson and her partners as "The Crackup Sisters" shows touring thoughout the state; as well as Annie Lee and The Kransky Sisters; Mark Winmill and his colleagues Fez and brother Natano are also wonderful clowns; last but not least from Queensland are the most divine ratbag clowns in the world Wacko & Blotto. There is Jester the Clown entertaining and bring joy into homes and events, and, Jane Barber-Lacey who is a creative wizard clowning in age-care facillities. She is a Graduate of RADA, and former touring actress in the UK now longtime Queenslander and excelled as "Zophtie the Green Clown" in "Chaplin's Eye". Also in Australia another outstanding clown is Mr. Snotbottom who is surely one of the funniest. Clare Bartholomew and Daniel Tobias have worked together as a fab team. Maryke de Castillo of The Tutti Fruiti had for years one of the greatest street clown duet clown shows with their comedy 'water sking' act. Penny Lowther was her longtime partner in that act and both are excelling in solo clown work again. Flloyd Kennedy and her clown "Bessie" are emerging via the gentle show "Yes, Because" about the 7 or so stages of being a woman.  Gentle. or family,  or general public shows such as "Yes, Because", The Crackup Sisters, Mr Snotbottom, Jane Barber-Lacey, Jester the Clown, Slava, Clownen Manne,  or Sam Starr who specialises in birthday parties whould all be applauded for what they bring to the public.

Return to radical clown history :)

In the 1950s the Beat Poets who were a form of intellectual clowns began in Venice, California and later shifted to San Francisco. One of their headliners was Jack Kerouac who wrote "On The Road" which certainly spurred on the cultural revolution.  California was a place where 'things were happening' on so many social, cultural and creative levels including seeming opposites of the Esalen Institute and the New College of San Francisco with its mime course.

The San Francisco Mime Troupe was the primary alternative professional troupe out of which two members created Pickle Family CIrcus. Those two were Peggy Snyder and Larry Pisoni. Where the mime troupe focused on active politics and modern commedia the Pickles were more social activists and there was an emphasis on clown led by the incredibly skilled and artistic clown Lawrence 'Lorenzo Pickle' Pisoni who then teamed with Geoff Hoyle and Bill Irwin. Irwin's then wife or partner Kimi Okada was one of Pickle's and Bill's secret weapons. Kimi excelled in theatrical and comical choreography. From the influence of the Mime Troupe and Pickles another fine group formed Make-s-Circus.

Okada was an outstanding performer herself who had a profoundly mesmerising clown presence. Kimi and Bill met at Oberon College. Bill studied for several years with Herbert Blau and when Blau transferred from a university in California to Oberon, Bill stayed with this master theatre teacher and was part of Blau's troupe Kraken along with fellow student Julie Taymor. Blau is the person who brought plays such as Waiting For Godot to the USA. So somewhere in Blau's mind which was one of the most brilliant scholars in world theatre there was also room for clown albeit via absurdist writers. Blau's acting approach combined intellectual & physical training. On the physical end he preferred Tai Chi as one of keys to Kraken's experiments. 

In San Francisco there was also a wild troupe called The Angels of Light. I trained in acrobatics with them and was soon invited to join their troupe. I sat in on the first meeting discussing their new show and that discussion was wild. I said thanks but no thanks. Where as other groups in San Francisco were professional clown troupes The Angels of Light were like a living clown troupe 24/7. This is where the New Zealand eccentric theatre maker Warwick Broadhead learned his craft.

In New Zealand one of the first alternative clown-theatre groups was Red Mole. They preceded the other great Kiwi teams of The Topp Twins and Flight of the Concords. But even preceding Red Mole were two unique clowns, Fred Dagg (John Clarke), and, The Wizard of Christchurch. Billy T. James was like  Clarke, a comedian/clown. There were  non-theatre clowns such as circus clown Russel Middlebrook known by his two characters "Byko" and "Madame Fifi". Middlebrook was New Zealand's original highly skilled and contemporary clown from the 1940s until the early 1980s when I first saw him perform in Ridgeways Circus.

The mime/clown Michael "River" Lynch took his clown and comedy to every small town in New Zealand and taught workshops in mime, juggling, clown. He brought me to NZ in 1981 to take the clown training further. By this time The Topp Twins were starting to excel. In the early 1980s in New Zealand in Her Majesty's Theatre I was able to see the most exemplary clowns perform their own concert theatre solos; Spike Milligan, Rowan Atkinson, and Barrie Humphries. There were a small variety of clowns in New Zealand then including wonderful  two Englishmen ; Jonathon Acorn, and, Dave Sheridan. Female clowns besides The Topp Twins were;  Debbie Wallingford who partnered Acorn, and, Barbara Doherty who partnered me as "Heroes, Regulars, and Jerks". At this time the most skilled clown other than Middlebrook was "Crunchie the Clown" (Peter Newberry?). 

Coast to coast clowns

San Francisco's North Beach District had been the home of new comedy radically so from people such as Lenny Bruce, Phyllis Diller, Mort Saul - iconoclast poltically incorrect comedians reinventing comedy with direct attacks on the status quo of society as well as the status quo of comedy. Later more physical comedians such as Steve Martin and Robin Williams were able to pursue their creativity that changed clowning and comedy forever in a similar way as did Monty Python. Robert Shields, perhaps the greatest street mime ever was in San Francisco already, and, teaming with Yarnell to create their own TV show. Sam Shepherd was churning out plays creating a new theatre of dark clowns in the tradition of Beckett, Brecht, Valentin with characters who were underclass folks.This city's creative energy eventually commissioned Tony Kushner's first play "Angels in America" at the alternative Eureka Theater of San Francisco. That is where I was part of four clown theatre shows including my own "A Clown Show" solo and collective show "Zealous Zanies". The first show I was in there ("Parachute") was created by Frank Daily a profound true urban clown.

By this time the New Age Movement had taken root with San Francisco as its mecca. So there were all types of yoga, meditation, healing, health food, martial arts, and alternative living being developed that changed every major city's lifestyle in the Western World. So 'clown' was only a small but useful part of a changing society and San Francisco and California were central to those.

At the same time the theatre and acting teacher Jane Hill and her husband who was expert in commedia, mime, clown, Carlo Mazzone-Clementi relocated to the Bay Area. Jane taught at U.C. Berkley that happened also to be the main campus for counter-culture revolution. Soon Jane and Carlo sought a way of 'retreat to advance' as Carlo worded it and they headed for the hills of Humboldt County. There they co-founded the Dell'arte School and connected with the great Joan Schirle who was the key triumvirate  of Dell'arte.

On the other coast were the developments of The Big Apple Circus in NYC and Tony Montanaro's vision of clown, mime, commedia called Celebration Barn. The Bread and Puppet Theatre had its own take on 'clown' and physical theatre.

In Chicago one of the world's greatest teachers of improvisation and theatre Viola Spolin had developed work that could easily improve most clown 'trainings'. Out of her work a new clown/commedia/comedy energy gestated to form Second City!!!

In the north, in Canada there was an extraordinary clown duet called Simon & Schuster. They worked mainly on TV and I saw them numerous times on USA TV shows such as the Ed Sullivan show. Ed Sullivan also hosted Oleg Popov and the Moscow Circus annually, as well as Johny Puleo and His Harmoncats a musical slapstick ensemble that at times included one of the greatest of modern clowns - George Carl. The closest clowns to Simon & Schuster that the USA had were The Smother's Brothers who did play live but also had their own TV show. I'll come back to TV clowns of which the USA was host to the most abundant and varied.

The sources of "The Clown Movement

However, all of these clowns were all preceded by various professional clowns, what some people might say were 'real' clowns the circus clowns. Red Skelton and Joe E. Brown had been circus clowns. The Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus saw that its old clowns were dying or at least ageing and getting less active. There was an experiment to have a clown school run by RBBB in 1967 led by my original clown teacher Danny Chapman. But, according to the official story the RBBB Clown College started in 1968 which is when it was formally setup and well  organised by Bill Ballentine. By 1975 Clown College was taking in 50 students for its very intense 8-weeks round-the-clock immersion into clown and circus. About half of those people were then offered a 2-years contract as Apprentices touring in one of the huge RBBB circuses either the Red Unit or the Blue Unit as they were named. As a side note there was a significant event in the influences of "The Clown Movement" in 1966 the U.S. Postal Service launched a postage stamp of the great circus clown Lou Jacobs thus a clown became a national icon. What this indicates is that clowning was well and truly established and respected in the USA by 1966.

The renown Moscow Circus School started in 1927 as part of the Soviet propaganda machine which used the arts for its own purposes as did the CIA with its funding of American artists  after WWII. In the CCCP/USSR Karandesh was the most notable clown in that period and presumably the school also trained clowns shortly after opening. Certainly by the 1960s Moscow had a special program for clowns. Popov was one  graduate of the school who became a revered and extremely skilled circus clown. He would have graduated in the 1940s. In the 1960s Slava Polunin began to study mime where he met Nicolai and this led to them establishing a clown theatre troupe Licedi.

A few key and potent influences in The Clown Movement - IJA, Marcel Marceau, Les Enfants du Paradis, Jacques Tati

In 1947 a clown named Art Jennings helped form the influential IJA (International Jugglers Association). This was to function similar to the magician conventions in the USA for the purpose of trading professional information and to network professionally and socially. TV had not yet come in to fruition but the musical movies were flourishing and they included novelty acts within their stories. 

In 1947 several important factors in the development of clown occurred in Paris. Three premieres: Marcel Marceau's solo show; Jacques Tati's frist clown movie; the film about a sad clown  Les Enfants du Paradis were all released in 1947. Most significant was Marcel Marceau began to perform publicly as a mime and a clown with immediate success took him on a one-year performing tour in Italy. His stage assistant bringing the sign titles for each of Marceau's mime pieces. The assistant was Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and each sign title was accompanied by an instant encapsulation of Marceau's sketch to follow. In the 2nd half of the program Marceau performed as his clown character    "Bip". Generally speaking for the next nearly 60 years Marceau performed as "Bip" in the 2nd half. Marceau had an effect on the public's imagination like Cirque du Soleil had nearly 40 years later. The Paris rediscovery so to speak of clown, mime, commedia was in gear.

Film, vaudeville, Pantomime, Music Hall - sources of TCM

The film industry had a large body of circus films which of course also had clowns as part of the stories. To mention a few - The Greatest Show on Earth, Sawdust & Tinsel (Ingmar Bergman), films of Nils Poppe, and Fellini's I Clowns. Decades before however the Soviet directors such as Meyerhold, Vahktangov, Tairov had their theatres rebirthing mime, clown, and commedia in Moscow. 

Before that the English Music Hall, Pantomimes, and Variety were all flourishing with their own variants of mime, clown, commedia (pantomime as they called it). One of the central characters in Pantomime was named "Clown". The famous Pantomime Theatre in Copenhagen's Tivoli has been playing their form of mime. clown, commedia since the early 1800s. The main character of their Pantomime at The Tivoli is the clown "Perrot". Even that was pre-dated marginally by the deer park Baaken which also has a "Perrot" in the same guise and interpretation though he performs solo.

The USA of course had one of the richest traditions in its own way of combining mime-clown-commedia as established by the founder of the Keystone Kops - Mack Sennett who was a Quebecoise-Canadian. This was the birth of Hollywood's vast array of clowns including the most notable ones; Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle and the many women who clowned with them (Mabel Normand, Edna  Purviance, Georia Hale, Merna Kennedy, Virginia Cherrill,Paulette Goddard, Martha Raye, Claire Bloom, Dawn Addams ). Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, Charlie Chase, Laurel & Hardy, The Marx Brothers, W.C.Fields, Mae West, The Three Stooges were all derivatives of that same combination of mime-clown-commedia without any of the archaic restrictions they were the most contemporary clowns already in the 1920s and 1930s.

As part of the process to use the arts to revitalize the citizens in the USA during the Depression acrobatics and clowning was taught in an advanced, creative and technical way in the YMCA.  L.L. McClow created the elaborate curriculum and codified it in the book Tumbling Illustrated published in 1931. I got this book in 1976 and started to teach myself as many of the tricks and combinations as I could without killing myself in the process. In 1984 when I was performing a duet circus clown act I saw another team perform many of the advanced tricks from that book. We met and became friends. They were the original "Price & McCoy" - Terrence Price and Tim Freeman who had been trained by Cletus Ball. Clete  is the world master of Australian Knockabout which is Australia's own clown art form based on an arduous acrobatic and tumbling skill level.  Terry Price took me to meet his teacher Clete who began to train me in Knockabout. Clete is the person "who knows every trick in the book" i.e. in "Tumbling Illustrated" (1931).

The treasure chest of "The Clown Movement" - the influential TV clowns

Of these rich sources of clowning I will briefly list some of the clowns in the USA who had their own TV shows. My generation of clowns was profoundly inspired by those TV clowns. Some of my generation includes Bill Irwin, Jango Edwards, Avner Eisenberg, Barry Lubin, Larry Pisoni, Joan Mankin, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, David Shiner in the USA. I can not say that it is true for each of those, but, I can say for most of us we had 'the best clown school in the world' by watching the American TV clowns.

Not all of us watched these shows, Most of us did and regularly got to see on a weekly basis a selection of the following Master Clowns: Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Soupy Sales, Carol Burnett, Clarabell the Clown, Shari Lewis and "Lambchops", Paul Winchell and "Jerry Mahoney", "Kukla, Fran, and Ollie", Liberace,  Dick Van Dyke, Howdy Doody, Sid Caesar, Imogen Coca, Phil Silvers, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny with "Rochester", Martha Raye, and there were many more depending on ones age and if the family had or allowed such viewing. A few other clowns who earlier had their own TV shows include: Milton Berle, Ed Wynn, Buster Keaton, Red Buttons, Ernie Kovacs, Bob Hope, George Gobel, Morey Amsterdam, Jimmy Durante, Martin and Lewis (Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis had 6 seasons on TV), plus there was the Colgate Comedy Hour. 

Kids were not 'couch potatoes' in the 1950s and 60s. No computers, no mobile phones, TV for those allowed was limited to the evenings. Kids were rambunctious, respectful, risk takers and baby boomers. So the clowning one watched spurred some of us into action and antics. "Denis the Menace" may have been another influential show. There were also a variety of TV shows that were actually the showing of short films previously made including: Amos & Andy, Ma and Pa Kettle, The Dead End Kids, The Bowery Boys, The Little Rascals (directed by Hal Roach!!), The Three Stooges as well as the airing of most of the movies of Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy (directed by Hal Roach), The Keystone Kops (created by Mack Sennett), Mae West, W.C.Fields, and The Marx Brothers.

Before Kramer (Seinfeld), before Pee Wee Herman,  before Soupy Sales, there was Pinky Lee!!!! Pinky had been one of the greatest Burlesque clowns also known as comics. His TV series: The Pinky Lee Show, plus his duet show with a singer. In the 1960s and 1970s he returned to live performances.

Shari Lewis was another type of clown. She worked as puppeteer and ventriloquist mainly on TV for which she received 12 Emmy Awards and was the artist who replaced the long standing Captain Kangaroo Show with its resident clown Clarabell.

There were in the 1960s & 70s a variety of then new sitcoms which were basically episodic clown shows such as: F-Troop, MASH, Archie Bunker, The Beverly Hillbillies, Hogan's Heroes, Sergent  Bilko, I Dream of Jeanie, Bewitched, The Adams Family  and many more. These could be viewed as 'clown' or certainly clown based or physical comedy. There were other types of shows that were variety shows often hosted by singers such as Johnny Cash, Dinah Shore that frequently had comedians and variety artists as guests as well as doing sketch comedy with the host and great commedians i.e. clowning together.

There were clowns galore. Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russel, Moms Mabley, Amos & Andy, Ma and Pa Kettle. There were numerous birthday party clowns - professionals who focused on children and family entertainment. So it was no surprise that by 1966 Lou Jacobs was honored with a postage stamp. The Clown Movement was in recognised by then. Even Ronald McDonald had a real part to play in TCM! 

England of course was an incredible centre of clown equalled only by the USA. England had Max Wall, Norman Wisdom, Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Coco, The Crazy Gang, Monty Python, Peter Cook n Dudley Moore, Ken Dodd, and oodles more. Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Bob Hope were from England.

Clowns from different cultures

So The Clown Movement is to an extreme not from a school, nor a teacher, nor even a particular nation or culture. The Clown Movement I am referring to is generally within the Western nations. This is in part due only to the imperial force of the English speaking world dominated by the British Empire and American global influence. Notably though the USA is a melting pot and openly hired people from every culture. Lou Jacobs and Otto Greibling were both German artists before they emigrated to the USA. Coco the Clown who was like England's national clown was from Russia. 

I don't believe that there is any such thing as 'the greatest clown'. The closest would have to be Chaplin on so many levels. But there are many people who much prefer Buster Keaton. Then there are those who prefer Laurel & Hardy and others who prefer The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges or Monty Python. Or who prefer their local clown who performed in their own language such as Yuri Nikulin of Russia, Toto of Italy, Cantinflas of Mexico, Nils Poppe of Sweden, or the array of comedies in Bollywood for example.

In the early 1970s a great clown emerged in Sweden, Manne af Klintberg whose stage name is Clownen Manne. He had trained in Grotowski's acting method; teh mime method of Etienne Decroux taught by Ingemar Lindh; and signficantly in clown with members of the Italian clown family "i Colombiaoni" (there is a video clip of i Colombiaoni teaching slapstick around 1970 for Eugenio Barba's Odin Teater). The process Manne was involved with were three groups of acting students following three different paths in theatre. Their retreat hired a hall. Blacked out the windows and each group took an 8 hour section of the day and practiced on their own and explored their own creative impulses. Manne's studio time was with one other actor with similar interests. Each emerged with a solo show - Manne's a clown show. Part of Manne's personal and professional life included Sign Language for the Deaf which he uses in all of his shows including his former TV series'. 

Manne emerged as a clown. A great one who focused on children and family entertainment. In the early 1970s he began a series of his own TV shows. In 1975 he performed for the first time in the city parks of Stockholm. He has now performed in those parks for 40 years each summer and for at least a decade has performed with two of his children. Recently he was awarded lifetime support for his achievements in and via clowning. His famous solo show Min Bror, Min Bror was performed at least 10,000 times and throughout the whole of Sweden. I met him after Min Bror at the Comedie Teatern in Gronalund in 1979.

A year later in Gronalund I saw Charlie Rivels perform his solo stage show assisted by his son and daughter who were each about 60 years old. Charlie was 86. After watching his show four days in a row including the last day of his season I went backstage to meet him. We chatted briefly and he introduced me to his fiance. Across the road from Gronalund is the Swedish circus building that was turned into a TV studio. One of the last performances there was a clown festival which was filmed by the Bronnet circus family. That show included solos by Charlie Rivels, George Carl, Joe Jackson Jr, Fantini. At this time the two sons of Francoise Bronett had evolved to be two wonderful modern circus clowns.
In 1976 two clown books appeared Clowns by .. and Clowns by John Towsen, and The World of Clowns by George Bishop. Those books were preceded by two masterpieces: The Fool and His Sceptre: A study in clowns and jesters and their audience by William Willeford; and, The Fool and His Social and Literary History by Enid Welsford; both books were published in 1968.

Local clowns

Some people have a more favoured more local clown. Australia is where I call home though Pittsburgh is my birthplace which I also love. Pittsburgh's local clown was a policeman named Vince who was a traffic cop and who did mime, clown and dance while directing the downtown main traffic intersections. My Father took me to watch him direct traffic a few times. Vince also appeared a few times on TV shows like Candid Camera.

Australia has one of the greatest modern clowns Barrie Humphries and many in the profession say he is not a clown. Bert Lahr (the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz) had a son who is a noteworthy drama critic John Lahr. John Lahr who wrote a book about Barrie Humphries and considers Humphries as the greatest modern clown. I have seen Humphries numerous times live. Utterly incredible. I've seen him as Dame Edna, Sir Les, Lance Boil and Sandy Stone. A most astonishing rapport with an audience. His longtime Assistant/Manager/Director Ian Tasker was one of the four people who arranged for me to move to Australia. Only recently have two clowns appeared, via TV to top Humphries legacy. They are Chris Lilley, and, Pauly Fenech. Fenech has one of the only 'slapstick' film troupes since the Keystone Kops. A different genre of slapstick of course but an ensemble of broad comedians. 

In addition  to seeing Humphries live numerous times, I've seen several of the other greatest of Australian clowns in live performances such as: Reg Livermore, Mark Trevorrow (Bob Downe), Mary Coustas (Effie), Wogs Out of Work, Garry McDonald, Sue Ingleton, and Nancye Hayes .... all in live performances. One of the greatest clown teams though is the STC Wharf Revue team of Phil Scott, Jonathon Biggins, Drew Forsythe with their newer muse Mandy Bishop. There is a VERY wide array of other clowns of all types in Australia. Generally speaking only a very few of the 'better' clowns attended a 'clown' or 'physical theatre' school. Instead most of the best clowns either forged their own path via arduous self-discipline of practice and persistence, and, another common beginning for the clowns who excel was to train in a conservative 3 or 4 years acting or theatre program.

Many of the people in Australia who teach clowning have rarely if ever seen the greatest Australian clowns live such as  Barrie Humphries, Reg Livermore, Nancy Hayes, Mark Trevorow, STC Wharf Revue inclusive of Mandy Bishop, Matthew Ezekiel Smith, Gary Grant, Amanda-Lyn Pearson etc. There is a huge pool of 'clowns' in Australia within the touring large scale musicals. Many musicals from the USA and England are close to being clown shows albeit - all singing, all dancing, all acting. In 2014 I saw "Anything Goes" and it IS a clown show!!! 22 exceptionally funny characters played by the most talented and skilled  performers. There is an apathetic crossover of professionals not seeing others' work if it is not in their preferred genres. When I first saw Circus Oz which at that time (1980) in their first overseas contract, in Holland, they were like a wonderful clown troupe. Very physical, very skilled, very funny and eccentric and eclectic. By the time I met them in 1980 I was already contracted to perform a few months later in their hometown of Melbourne for the Moomba Festival. My solo theatre show "A Clown's House" had been playing in Scandinavia, Germany, USA.

The dichotomy of teaching clown and the business of clowning

As many great clowns have found, teaching clown possible. That means one can teach skills, gags, routines, makeup, history, but teaching someone to be a clown is almost impossible. The person has to 'discover' clowning themselves. Thus Carlo Mazzone-Clementi described his method as "The art of discovery". Most of the so-called clown and physical theatre courses make a lot of money theoretically 'teaching clown'. Really what they teach is how to do exercises and how to please the teacher. 

One can teach skills such as juggling, pratfalls, mime, slapstick, makeup, props making, business basics, simple magic or any other performance skill which a clown might call upon. One can teach the history of clown. One can show movies of the great clowns and films of clowns performing in live situations and one can discuss all of those. Unfortunately many clown or related physical theatre courses are forms of socialisation that seems to narrow the learners mine and in some cases even encourage cult-like behaviour 

Some of the more known teachers of clown were clowns  for about "half an hour" briefly sometimes 20 or 30 or 40 years ago in the 1970s, usually not with a wide variety of experience, and rarely since. Other clown teachers are top notch professionals but they will almost never give away any of their 'secrets'. Especially they will almost never tell how very hard they worked when they were very young. The social theorist Pierre Bourdieu explained how important ones early years in family, school, community deeply affect ones habitus or embodied attributes. One can use all of that personal fodder along with ones inclination to 'become a clown', and to train, practice, work hard and learn about the highs and lows of the business, art, and craft.

Why won't most of the actual professional clowns, who occasionally teach for extra income, tell how very hard they worked? Because their 'students' who are their paying customers will not continue to study (pay). There are a whole range of youngish professionals doing gig after gig but the majority succeeding are very simply skilled crafts people in very nice costumes. So they think they have learned to clown and love saying their teacher was "incredible" or a "master" when in fact it is rather obvious the student has let them self be conned by falling into awe. Many of these young, able, skilled 'clowns' lack a sense of humour. Even more important are they funny? Does a clown have to be funny? No, not unless you choose to be dogmatic and fundamentalist about your definition of clown. Certainly the greater clowns could create tremendous laughter, but, the greater ones could and did also make audiences cry - Chaplin, Keaton, Marceau, Toto, Slava, Theirree to name a few.

I have always respected the hidden clowns, the entertainers - the birthday party clowns. They go into several homes or private celebrations or events each and every weekend and make people happy. They do some skilled things, they do some silly things, they memorise many funny quips which they can quote endlessly, for me they are some of the most real and wonderful clowns. They had forever gone into hospitals to perform, usually around Christmas or Easter decades before the great Patch Adams began the phenomenon of "clown doctors".

So what has happened largely due to Patch Adams' creation of a fine altruistic, benevolent, money making and respectable job for clowns and due to Cirque du Soleil's extraordinary financial and popular global success is that many more performers saw that one could actually make a living by being a "clown doctor" or by being a clown-like performer in Cirque du Soleil. Thus the abundance of 'clown schools'. 

However, behind that form of avarice and capitalism disguised as altruistic empathy is what I call "Clown Culture". "Clown Culture" is the hidden dimension of TCM "The Clown Movement". I think, believe, or imagine or hope that people are drawn to participate and learn about clown because they generally either lack a formal culture or because they rejected their own culture as limited or inhibiting or conservative they lack culture and thus seek it.

Many of the best, talented, skilled, and funniest clowns are not 'officially' seen as clowns. This can include a fine range of comic actors such as Will Farrell, Jack Black, Adam Sandler, Peter Sellers, Dan Ackroyd, "Stuart" and his Mother from MAD TV (portrayed by Michael McDonald and Mo Collins, "Homey  D. Clown" (portrayed by Damon Wayans who co-created Living Color), Mike Myers (Austin Powers), and lest we forget two of the greatest "Little Britain" creators and stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams and their team of actors. Previous generations of clowns who were actors included Danny Kaye, Dick van Dyke, Norman Wisdom.

Most of the Pythons graduated either from Cambridge or Oxford in English, History, or Medicine. Cleese had been for a period a school teacher in Latin, History, English. One of the most violent ideas in clown teaching has created a myth that a clown should be stupid. Obviously this may be so for a clown character, but a clown i.e. the artist/person in the case of the greatest and funniest of clowns are the antithesis of 'stupid'. Cleese, Pythons, Corbett, Barker, and the creative writers and clowns such as; Norman Lear, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, Yuri Nikulin, Slava Polunin, James Thierree, Mary Coustas' are anything but 'stupid'. True their characters can be naive, dumb, innocent, foolish, idiots and even stupid. However, by saying a 'clown is stupid' or a 'clown is an idiot' has fooled many people into a shutdown of their intellects. Rather than studying clowns they simply perform theatre exercises and games. As Carlo Mazzone-Clementi warned "You can not be a fool to play a fool". The Pythons, Ronnies, Morecombe & Wise, Goons etc were highly intelligent people and people who engaged with social changes, and problems in society. As Corbett tells in the 'autobiography' of The Two Ronnies - on The Frost Report where the two Ronnies first worked with Cleese on weekly episodes "on a different subject - politics, authority, religion, class, the countryside, etc". 

One of the greatest theatre minds in the 20th century -- Bertolt Brecht apprenticed a clown for two years. That clown was Karl Valentin and his partner Liesl Karlstadt and they were anything but 'stupid'. Samuel Beckett in his black clown masterpiece Waiting For Godot has the character Pozzo yell at the ultra fool Lucky "Think!!". 

If you truly want to learn about clown and to develop your clown character and career as a clown .... think! In this case the gist of this article is simple - to remind us all to think again about what we think we know or believe about subjects as mundane as clown or as lofty as god or "On the Nature of the Universe" as the ancient writer/thinker Lucretius titled his book written around 55 B.C.

The best chance an actor has to start in the business of theatre is to attend a straight, conservatory for acting in which one is taught in the Cartesian framework divided classes of movement, voice, acting, rehearsal, and performance of plays. Usually these courses are 3 or 4 years with a complete full-time commitment. As mentioned earlier those programs have their root in the system devised by Copeau's nephew Michel Saint-Denis in the 1930s in France and England and established later in the USA, Canada, Australia. I think for most people who want to be a fully professional clown attending a full university program in acting, theatre, dance, or circus will give them some form of stabile foundation. 

On the other hand, I continue to offer non-degree courses and consciously, openly, mentor those interested in developing their career to develop a discipline not only of training physically but also of reading, study, and observation, and most importantly thinking in a fractal or a quantum way. Additionally I provide a unique and effective warmup process for daily training not only as a clown but as a performing artist and actor who wants to rekindle their career or to develop their own new material. That process is "The Four Articulations for Performing Arts" which I sometimes refer to as "Pushups for Clowns". 

3 or 4 years degree acting and theatre  programs not specific to clown provide exposure to some other aspects of performance such as voice, dramatic texts, character relationships, movement, choreography. Along the way or after they can seek technical books on clown and begin to practice on their own. For those who haven't attended a normal, straight, conservative actor training program which includes classes in the following: Movement, Voice, Acting methods: History of Theatre; Scene Study; Rehearsals and Performance of at least 3 plays per year of study - then you need to 'find a way' of filling in those voids in your general study of acting/performance. In the third paragraph below I offer 7 simple points to consider as a way to begin your own study of clowning.

In 2010 Bill Irwin and I had a chance to catch up on Broadway in NYC for an hour chat. We discussed the subject of teaching clown which he, like most professional clowns, found near impossible because most of the students did not have basics in classical acting. Not to mention a general lack of physical training. As he said to me near the end of our chat "You trained as an actor didn't you? I'm so glad I did." His acting and theatre teacher was Herbert Blau!

Even the so-called clown courses attached to circus schools really are only going to churn out skilled technical performers albeit ones who 'want to be a clown' but in reality are not clowns. Rather they are  skilled performers who choose to also learn something about clown, make a weird character, good costume, choreograph an act and sell it. Still are they really clowns or more likely people who want to be clowns? The original Moscow Circus School that ran until about 1990 in its original form had weekly lessons in classical acting and classical ballet. The circus students had to read 10 plays per week. TEN!! They had tickets continuously to see theatre of all types including plays, opera, puppetry, ballet. If they wanted to be a clown or circus artist they had to study classical acting.

What did  'real' clowns ACTUALLY do to learn their craft?

1st - In most cases - first and foremost - they trained physically in anything from dance, sport, gymnastics, or martial arts. Some were simply highly physical as youths and later studied dance, acrobatics, martial arts.
2nd - they watched many many many films of Chaplin, Keaton, Tati, Toto, Laurel & Hardy, and TV shows footage such as that of Lucille Ball, Vivienne Vance, Carol Burnett!!!!! They imitated some of those master clowns. They studied the films and tv shows of the great clowns.
3rd - They  watched as many live clown shows as they  could
4th - very often they were naturally very funny or weird or prone to playing 'tricks' on people or entertaining people for a laugh or attention during childhood
5th - they imitated people and the clowns they saw live, or on TV, or in cinema
6th - they stole any small gag, movement, or trick that they liked and repeated it and 'made it their own with a twist
7th - they constructed a short act of a few minutes and found some situation to perform it in. Then they created another short piece of a few minutes and began to perform it etc. For example one of Slava's earliest acts was 'simple' mime of a runner in a competition. It is on youtube. Short and sweet and beautifully done. It was a start.

Samples of outstanding contemporary clowns reinventing the genre

One of the most astounding clowns, besides Slava Polunin, is James Thierree. Now I have already heard clowns and clown teachers say that Slava is not really a clown even though he and his colleagues have created the most successful clown show since Marcel Marceau. Why do clowns and clown teachers choose to say one of the most successful clowns is not a clown? They sit on their so-called 'expertise' and their banal definitions while Slava and previously Marceau could not tour enough to fill  the public demand to see these great clown shows. Slava along with his wife, several directors, and a wonderful team of colleagues masterminded over time the phenomenon of Slava's Snow Show. Next to the decades of tours of Marcel Marceau, Slava's show is then the most successful clown show ever. Grock was at his time the most successful and his work overlapped with the arrival of Marceau. Slava was profoundly inspired and influenced by Marceau's show and its success to make people laugh and cry. Like the work of the ultra clown Charles Spencer Chaplin. Now the shows of James Theirree  are the top demand from his growing public. Other highly successful theatre clowns have been Avner Eisenberg, Bill Irwin, and Dimitri the Swiss clown. The Swiss group Mummenschanz was also a type of clown show and tremendously successful in continuous world tours.

It is via fluke, fate, DNA, hard work, authentic talent, and a family circus, in which James Thierree grew up that now we have 'the next greatest phenomenon' in The Clown Movement i.e. the next generation of Chaplins. The most prominent is James, but his parents still tour, one of his Aunts has long had her own theatre company that specialises in comic plays, and James' sister Aurelie who is equally talented. James and Aurelie's early self-devised shows were directed by their Mother, Victoria, who was also the head of design for their unique artistic creations.

A professional anecdote - "Chaplin's Eye"

Slava has already inspired a variety of theatre clowns such as KGB, Licedi, and even one of my own shows "Chaplin's Eye" since that was in part inspired by Slava's work. Of course I did my own thing, but the inspirational aspects were for me to return to my silent clown work and to make another of my shows which had 'spiritual' or altruistic themes. Additionally I was at the time in the middle of a six-year period of training and study of the Suzuki Actor Training Method. If SATM was yang, then my method was yin. Suzuki's method was strong yet included sensitivity whereas mine is sensitive but includes strong practice. In  "Chaplin's Eye", I experimented with combining my method with SATM and with sensibilities I identified with from Slav's show. It was to be an ensemble show. I was testing out the idea of forming a troupe with a show that could allow other actors, dancers, or clowns to take over any of the five roles including mine as "The Ghost of Chaplin".  

"Chaplin's Eye" was also to serve as a launch of my traveling school ISAAC. Additionally the idea was to bring Chaplin's name again to the forefront of discussion, education, training of clowns. I had explained to the actors that I was making the show for those reasons and with that intention and explained that if the show went on long enough then someone may want to take a break or may have other contracts. This is how Snow Show and Cirque du Soleil (CDS) operate.  

After a few months of intentional slow development of "Chaplin's Eye", suddenly just a few weeks before the premiere  .... one night around midnight I got a phone call from Yves Sherrif the Head of Clown Casting for CDS. Yves said that I had been chosen via a video of my general audition 3 years before. I was to be the Lead Character for the new show. It was to start with their normal one-week show development. That timing worked 'fine', but, with not much breathing space. I was to fly in a few days for a one week stay and then return home to Brisbane only a few days later to open "Chaplin's Eye". 

The timing worked out for that week in Montreal and to be home in time for a solid premiere of "Chaplin's Eye" in Brisbane. However, at CDS .... things always change until the show is finally set. The financial principle in CDS is that a show lasts ten years of constant touring to cover the huge expense of creation, touring, and to finally return a huge profit while paying about 140 people's salaries within each show. However, out of the 17 people brought to Montreal for that week of creation, only 1 person actually ended up being in that show called Kooza. 

Nearly 2 years later I was brought back to CDS to join the show named Corteo on a Replacement Contract with a pre-planned end after last performance of 2007. During that contract's rehearsal I became friends with the clown who had replaced Slava in Alegria. That was the phenomenal mime Yuri Medvedev! As the story goes, Slava was in NYC and took a taxi and the driver was fellow mime Yuri. In that ride Slava asked Yuri if he would like to replace him. Better than driving a taxi. Slava and family were with Alegria for its first 2 years. Yuri was in nearly 15 years along with another of the Russian mime/clown 'mafia' Nicolai who was one of the original Licedei clowns with Slava and Peter (?). Nicolai is a master of music as well as a qualified opera singer and it was he who suggested they make a clown number to Blue Canary around 1980 in St. Petersburg.

Another aspect of teaching clown

Professional clown teaching happens beyond hammering in skills, craft, know-how, 'improvisation' and 'play'; even though each of those topics are some of the elements of clown 'teaching', Certainly most, if not each and every highly successful clown focused on the skills, craft, and know-how above improvisation or play. Whereas most clown workshops and even longer trainings offer very little in the areas of skills, craft, know-how.

A hidden part of clown teaching occurs if the teacher was actually a highly experienced clown. The teacher who was an actual professional clown will often relate first hand anecdotal tales of training, touring, and performing. That is the oral tradition in clowning. 

Many clown 'teachers' generally have a limited breadth of actual professional performance experience. Paradoxically, being a fully experienced professional clown does not automatically make one a good teacher, nor a teacher for professionals. Even further we have seen for decades that well-established clown 'teachers' have manipulated the minds of their students to follow some form of clown dogma and fundamentalism usually focused on 'improvisation' or 'play' or 'games'. Another detrimental fallacy in the training of clowns is when the teacher pushes to give or name an actor's  'clown character' much too early. The actor is then stuck for years trying to fullfill an imposed 'character'. Carlo Mazzone-Clementi was honest and direct to us on the first day at his school which at that time offered sequentially 10-weeks courses. He said "You think this is a ten-week course. It is not!! It is a ten-year school." He then explained that most clowns of great significance took 10 to 15 years before the character that they became famous for emerged. 

SECTION 3 - god - :)

Clown yields to another discussion.

This article will now transition from that brief discussion of 'clown' and particular areas of concern within The Clown Movement, to a jump to, a briefer discussion of how the dogma of clown becomes like a cult, one of many in the modern society, replacing 'god' themes.

There are many clowns with 'a mission'. Nothing new under the sun. As Carlo Mazzone-Clementi said "Nothing is original. Do! Don't worry. Just do.". The 'missions' of clowns are diverse. I don't know Eloise Green personally in any depth, but her street act of a wedding is a spiritual expression - warm, meaningful, hilarious. I do know Amanda-Lyn Pearson and her mission for many years has to bring love and harmony to the hard working folks of outback and regional Australia - to farmers and those in the associated businesses and lifestyles via her Crackup Sisters. The Wau Wau Sisters are certainly two of the worlds greatest female clowns. They are wild and part of their mission is to counter restrictions on personal freedom seemingly and sometimes actually imposed by religious zealots. Finn Johannassen "Klovnurin Bubu" is a dedicated to his understanding and belief and brings a hilarious yet gentle clown to his people and those near and far from the Faroes Islands. He recently extended to film clown story telling of a few biblical tales - on location where events were said to have happened and in some places with archeological proof of such events in Israel. His dvds are only recently released. He has a huge following on youtube. He's a natural clown. Nils Poppe made a film regarding faith and God. As he explained to me, he had his acting teacher play God. The acting teacher was like a surrogate Father to Poppe. Poppe also played The Fool in one of Ingmar Bergman's masterpiece films and played a priest in another film. As Poppe explained to me - he was an Atheist. Sometimes the outward labels of Atheist, Agnostic, Religious are not at all far apart except with particular obvious outward differences. It appears to me that 'inside' all are zealots for their own fundamentalist beliefs.

We live in an exciting time when the Science vs God debate (sometimes referred to as Science vs Religion Debate)  is one of the healthiest discussions about 'WTF' or 'What's it all about"?. This depends on your perspective and as mentioned to me today by a young colleague educated in the History of Science - many of the current debates have their roots in a Victorian way of thinking. The Victorians asked questions pertinent to the Victorian era. This is the subject of the book "Victorian Anthropology" that explains our ways of thinking on many issues in society may be stuck in Victorian England. This can be seen to be so when analysing both Right and Left Wing politics today. It's as if we are in Dickensian times on both sides.

The Science vs God debate may also be harmoniously dealt with by a simple adage that Science is about the "How of existence" and the "God" is the "Why of existence". I enjoy the debate because it challenges both sides and you can see this by your own reaction right now while you read this. Your own drama is occurring inside your head which ever side of the debate you favour. 

In the past including the fervent Victorian era many or perhaps most of the scientists were also people of faith or religious people or people who were educated and faithful within a structured religion. Others of course rejected religion sometimes for personal, logical or private reasons. Some rejected the concept of God - at least rejected the idea that there is a single, particular all-knowing being who was capable of actually listening and responded to ones pleads, needs, or demands. Understandably.

Sir Isaac Newtown was a believer in faith.  As part of that he became fluent in Hebrew to understand what the books of the Torah actually said, and, further what they actually meant. He searched greater understanding about the world hidden in story telling. Indigenous people use stories to store their community's knowledge about herbs, plants, husbandry, seasons, elements which led to pure science that we know today.

Indigenous societies also have a very clear moral code. Incredibly this is openly discussed in the beginning chapters of the book "Totem and Taboo". Most ancient communities had already found harmony of the Science vs God debate albeit sometimes simultaneously with other unscientific beliefs.

Darwin, most of his associates, and competitors were people of faith, i.e. full believing religious practitioners. Ironically, yet not surprisingly, Richard Dawkins was raised and educated within a fully religious family and upbringing. So, paradoxically not only did he reject religion, God, faith etc but somehow it is likely that the mental and imaginative  training of bible and study of ethics may have influenced him to develop his scientific imagination. That is plausible. Even the creators of the comedy film "Life of Brian" were steeped in an intellectual training based upon Biblical discourse. There is a fantastic discussion on this subject with two of the Pythons and two pastors on youtube discussing "Life of Brian".

We in the modern Western nations believe we live in highly secular time. That is in denial and excluding the 2 billion Christians including Catholics, and excluding the 2 billion practicing Muslims, and 1 billion or so practicing Hindis, and the multi-million practicing Buddhists, and multi millions of Indigenous people who have their own religion. 

I propose that there is, metaphorically speaking, a secular religion albeit one that rejects God but has a) deified its own 'saints' such as: Darwin and Dawkins; Chomsky and Trotsky; Lenin and Lennon; Marx and Mao; Brand and Branson, Pilger and Pizza. If you get my drift? This secular religion has b) developed its own rites and rituals which includes highly capable, intelligent, savvy, astute and successful hipsters with their obligatory beards and/or tattoos and piercings. Other Secularists worship via their own politically correct,  secular religious fervour for partying or artistic expression. 

Why clown? Shakespeare used images of 'actors', players to represent humans and humanity. The clown is a more essentialized symbol of a human. In a sense Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Oedipus, Lady Di, can be seen as forms of 'clowns' i.e. humans (be they mythical or real) who symbolise humanity or Everyman as the Medieval playwrights devised it.

I am writing to offer or perhaps to request rethinking ones own beliefs about clown. To do that I have offered some of my own thoughts, experiences, understandings, beliefs, dreams, hopes, considerations about clown and what it is and what it can be.

Again lest we forget warning about adhering to ones own beliefs, about anything including clown, in a dogmatic and fundamentalist way, may as it does in some cases become a cult. Even clown cults have their own taboos and totems, and own myopic inability to see the whole 'truth' about The Clown Movement. Clown becomes your religion even though you may claim to be anti-religious. As mentioned at the beginning of this article there are two literary warnings from the story of The Emperor's New Clothes and the myth of The Worship of the Golden Calf.  

Part of my own interest in clown is that the phenomenon of The Clown Movement like; art, theatre, music, literature, scholarly research, is a psychological replacement for the absence of religion, ritual, rites and rites of passage. For some, clown is their religion and is dogmatic and fundamentalist in practice. So my specific interest in these areas I have termed "Clown Culture". This reflects my theory or idea that underneath The Clown Movement is the use of clown to fill in the gap left by a lack of meaningful ritual and rites in ones life. That may imply a void of religious practice as well, but not necessarily so.  There is also a community and social gap where previously cultural practices existed even in the Western nations which included folk or cultural dance and song and food and notable seasonal festivities. Those included all of the Indigenous practices of pre-religious cultures and included celebrations for the change in seasons, new and full moons, and the two seasonal solstices. 

The 'problem' - as I see it - that even a topic as secular and safe such as clown or the arts has beome as fundamentalist as the religions which so many of the secular, leftwing, liberal minded folks criticise. So in reality - the 'problem' is not religion but the human tendancy towards fundamentalism which seems to be a glitch in the humans psychology.

Freud loved  jokes, that was one of  many sides to his complex personality. His spiritual instincts led him to attempt to explain or understand why every culture has 'religious' impulses to create practices that include specifically totems and taboos (The Hidden Freud published in 2015).  In The Clown Movement 'totem and taboo' operates when one clown or one type of clown is revered and others are reviled. 

I propose we try to understand or even just think about the underlying human condition of a need to 'worship' either emperors with nothing on or to 'worship' something of our own design. This applies to any field of human activity including clown where there is an observable tendency to make a totem of some clown or way of clown or method of clown and the need to revile or make a taboo of some clown or way of clown or method of clown. Clowns en masse are no more harmonious than gatherings of scientists, scholars, or theologians. 

Perhaps by making our own thoughts transparent even to ourself ...  perhaps The Clown Movement participants can have a meaningful re-evolution within its 'community' (or communities). Jacques Copeau who was one of the people who initiated the original modern stream of The Clown Movement was already creating a complete education and curriculum that included subjects of health, movement, clown, mime, Noh Theatre.

My M.A. Thesis was examining the pure scientific nature of the body in performance in its most essential way of the body in space. Further I reduced that to its core of energy in the bio "The Body of the Actor in the Space of the Theatre"

There is no conclusion. There is only further discussion. Let the discourse begin.
Regards, Ira Seidenstein, PhD -
ISAAC - International School for Acting And Clown