Yesterday evening I went to clown class. It is part of an ongoing series of clowning workshops that have taken place with the theatre group, but the first one I could attend.
I have a confession to make – I find clowns slightly terrifying. This is irrespective of whether it is the kiddy-fiddling Ronald McDonald or the child-killing Pennywise or the clowns in the circus. It is like there is something vaguely grotesque about these creatures- their jollity and desperation and panic? They make me shiver slightly– with their ghoulish faces and ridiculous shoes, and glaring malevolence, lurking behind their comedy noses.
However it is nonetheless a strange and specific craft. That takes years to learn. Putting on a big red nose does not automatically grant you the ability to terrify both small children, and adults who should know better.
The difficulty in being a clown is not apparently a difficulty being funny. Anyone can be funny. It is more related to the character you are presenting. It is a performance for sure, but one that is totally open. Unlike being in an acting role, where you have to subdue whatever emotion you might personally be feeling, in order to give the performance required by the director and the script; being a clown requires a complete honesty. If you are feeling happy that is what you should display. If you are afraid this what you should portray. It requires a completely honest connection and communication with an audience. You are meant to really look at them, and display what you are feeling without a censor. Maybe this is why clowns are so unsettling to many people. Being confronted with naked emotion, without a filter can be uncomfortable.
It looks scary to perform as a clown.
Everybody engages in self-censorship to facilitate an easier passage through life. I wear a neutral, vaguely friendly, bland expression on my daily commute to the hell of the industrial wastelands of County Dublin. If I was express my actual emotions honestly, then I would horrify my co-passengers with my keening and weeping. In real life you can’t portray this level of vulnerability as people will either take advantage of you, or shun you.
To be a clown you need to expose your feelings with honesty – while wearing a comedy mask.
Apparently clowning takes years of practice to become convincing.
It was a fascinating class.
And quite unsettling. Of course.