That is the dictionary meaning of ‘clown’.
A ‘clowning workshop’ would therefore expect one to be a clown.
That is, an expectation to be physical (in the nature of doing somersaults and cartwheels), goof around and draw laughs. I was gearing up for a physically demanding but light hearted session, having to apply some make up on my face maybe, something I genuinely abhor. Of course, this imagery of a clown, came from past experiences of clowns in circuses and malls. The latter being mostly a hard-up individual engaged by a shop owner to attract children and doing his best at a paid job. (Could clowning be that easy-to-take-on?) I could also picture myself as Raju, Raj Kapoor’s character from the iconic Bollywood film ‘Mera naam joker’, someone smiling through their tears.
The very first image of the facilitator for the workshop, Andres, felt more like witnessing Christ than a clown. He sat in a slightly dark room with light coming from behind him giving an impression of a halo around his head. This was because he was conducting the session from faraway Dhankot, with electricity and internet issues. He wasn’t clowning around with his job at all!
The first day of the workshop left me questioning my notions of clowning. It drew no guffaws and parts of it felt rather dull and forced. There was one particular exercise which made me self-conscious and I chose to stop engaging abruptly. Andres had us interact with an object which we had used to make our lifeline. He instructed each of us individually and had us make ridiculous sounds, actions and expressions as part of the process. His instructions came across as being without any rhyme or reason. When it was my turn, I had to use the ‘whacky track’ that was my object, rub it against my teeth and make gnawing sounds repeatedly. I could do it for some time until self-consciousness struck and had me stop doing, what I thought was, making a fool of myself.
The Q&A section at the end was when I began to appreciate the thought behind the exercise. I gained some sense of the work behind that animated smile on a clown’s face. His resident space is a space of vulnerability. When he exposes his vulnerability to his audience, is when a relationship begins to develop between them. The exercise instructed by Andres was a step in that direction. We were being scaffolded into being vulnerable, into shelving our inhibitions for the time being, into quieting that voice within which was screaming at us to stop making a fool of ourselves. And to just, be in the present, go with the flow!
The second session of the workshop was clearly about looking at ourselves closely. A hand mirror became a tool for an intimate connection with the self. By staring into it, I not only found likeness with several of my cousins and aunts but also noticed ‘flaws’ and ‘good points’ of my countenance. While we looked at just our facial attributes, the practise of accepting both ‘flaws’ and ‘good points’ could be applied to other areas of our lives too. We practised feeling complete self-love, acknowledging and accepting our roundness. What does it feel like to hold oneself so lightly that the flaws can be accentuated and drawn attention towards! When I apply makeup and highlight my dark circles, I am not only laughing at myself but also inviting all to accept and laugh at their own. Andres called it ‘To be ridiculous’. I would call it ‘To be free’. Accepting my flaws liberates me from a self-critical eye. It also makes me less observant of other person’s flaws and opens the space in between us for universal love.
The second day was full of revelatory moments with the self. The exercise of widening the eyes and mouth and then expressing emotions like happiness, anger, love, was extremely powerful for me. For one I realised that we have so many facial muscles that can speak a language. It also opened me to the wholesome feeling of finding fulfilment through expression, through speaking up at all times. The limitations of the online space took away from experiencing the ‘character shedding’, or more like ‘character wiping’, to the fullest. One did gather though that it was about unmasking oneself, bit by bit, exposing oneself in full view, inside and outside.
The physical movements that we engaged in during the 2 days of the workshop were more with the aim of stretching our limits. To examine the shenanigans of the mind which is bent on limiting all that our physical self is capable of doing otherwise. This insight can surely impact as many areas of our lives as we would allow it to.
Before every presentation, the work that a clown does with his/her self requires unmasking, residing in the space of vulnerability, being ridiculous, being nowhere but in the present. Only then is he/she able to flow like the river. Tall order. Not easy to do at all!
Truly justifies the name of the workshop ‘I was once a river’.