Ph.D -Practice Based Research

After Collisions – Reflexions on Practice

This paper was presented at the CPR Intersection Conferences in 06/01/2014. It is the complementary writing of my PaR

First of all, I would like to say that Collisions has been a shifting point in the process of my research. It is the moment where the PaR researchers show the importance of the P (for practice) in their R (for research). In the first Collisions I took part in 2012, I presented a work demonstration, deconstructing a clown scene and analyzing the principles of practice for clowns and the relationship with the concept of misfitness. The video is available on the YouTube under the name Poetics of the Clown and more than 400 people had seen it. This year I presented Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist, a collaborative work with Prof. Paul Barker, Alban Coombs and Leo Sykes. The important thing about Collisions is not the presentation of the practice in itself but how you articulate and analyze the performance and the process in a fruitful and shareable way.

Before answering some fundamental questions, I feel the need to explain some of my inquiries and try to point out how practice informs my research. Practice informs my research in three methodological cuts. One is the observation and examination of other clowns practices – for that I use archive images, books, and attending clown performances and workshops. The second cut is the through the analysis of my own practice. The third one is the use of workshop that I hold in order to test the applicability of my findings.

The title of my thesis is Poetics of the Clown. Poetics here stands for practices or better, how practice helps to define what the meaning of being a clown is. I could have called it the secret language of the clown or clown’s identity but poetics is a transgressive idea because it implies the translation of something invisible or an attempt to codify tacit knowledge about the art of clowning. Poetics could be understood as an attempt to transform images into readable text. It is not my intention to define The poetics of all clowns but A poetics of the clown or in other words, a mode of interpretation of the practices that define basic characteristics of this form of art.

I don’t know if it is my personal problem but in my research process my main questions changed and were adapted to the new findings. In my attempt to define clown’s principles of practice, I’m suggesting the image of an umbrella that has principles underneath it. I am calling it the Misfit Relationship Umbrella. Other principles were identified through the analysis of other clowns performances and my own. I am suggesting taxonomy for the principles relating the practices of clowning with the concept of misfitness. For example, I am analyzing the clown’s body as the misfit body, the clown’s logic as the misfit logic, the image of the clown as a misfit image. The relationship clowns have with objects, other performers, audience and other clowns is what I am calling the misfit relationship.

The central research question of my Collisions piece last year was: how to test the validity and applicability of the Misfit Relationship as a clown’s principle of practice? As I am referring to practices of clowns, I found Collisions a perfect opportunity to show my doubts and the process of research. This paper is an attempt examine both the process and the outcomes of the research.

I am using myself as a case study to try to test these principles of practice and the analysis of the practice is taking me to unexpected paths in the field of clowning. In fact, articulating the role of practice within the greater scheme of my research is the main challenge at this point in my PaR. My question at this stage is: How can you test clown’s principles of practice if not through practice? Perhaps I could do it through the observation of other clown’s practice (which I did, to try to find out the list of principles) but I consider a privilege to be able to use my own body and my experience as a clown and transform rehearsal rooms and stages into laboratories for testing my hypothesis.

Case Study – Examining Practical Work

In the case of Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist the process for conceiving a piece that could be shown as research and at the same time be a performance was more complex than preparing the work demonstration presented in 2012. Here I had to adapt my inquiries to the inquiries of the other researchers as well as combining artistic expertise. As in science (and in real life) when a group decides to get involved in a research process, the ideal scenario is that each one brings their best ideas and elements in order to collaborate for the process and the result. I had to keep in mind my own key questions while sharing with the other participants their doubts and discoveries.

Working with a classic pianist that, at least in theory, is full of conventions and rules, seemed like a perfect opportunity to test the misfit relationship. Therefore, one of the initial propositions was that the pianist should keep his role (as one who follows convention) and the clown should play his role (as a rule breaker or one who transgress conventions) in order to highlight the misfit relationship concept I was working on. Throughout the process we found out that, in reality, to disclose the misfit aspect of the relationship there should be a collision of horizons, meaning that the world of the pianist should intertwine with the world of the clown.  Perhaps I should expand the idea and say that after the collision there was a fusion of horizons.

Building scores or the Intersection of Artistic Worlds

It was in the rehearsal room that the real intersection began to happened. Each member involved in this process came with their artistic luggage to the workroom willing to do something together. Something that it would be a pleasure to do and a pleasure to watch. The composition of this piece of work could be compared with the creation of a common score built upon a certain number of different scores. We had the musical score (written and rewritten by Barker), we had the conventional physical score (characteristic of a classical pianist concert) and the clown had to build his score based on improvisation during the rehearsal period. In order to build the clown score I took into consideration other principles of practice (misfit image, misfit logic, misfit timing, etc.) and also the fact that I failed to fit into the pianist score (physical and musical). In other words, failure was underlining the conception of the clown’s score. The common score was the one the performers could repeat and members of the audience could read in their own way. Nevertheless, the common score should reflect evidences of my research inquiries about the misfit relationship otherwise my point of research would be diluted among the other participant’s objectives. At this point we discovered that the common score should be built upon re-action and not just actions. For example: How the pianist reacted to the clown’s inability to play the role of a page turner was more important than the action of not turning the page at the right moment. The angst reflected in the pianist face and the bodily expression of “I don’t know what will happen next” was one way of disclosing the misfit relationship.

Playing the clown versus Being the clown

The opportunity of presenting this piece twice at Collisions allowed me to question the process and the findings in an unexpected way. On the 26th of September the common score was presented in a very precise way. Technically both performers were competent. Both played their scores according to what was decided in the working room by both directors and performers involved. But the result of this show was surprisingly disappointing. In terms of research, it did not fulfil my expectation as a researcher. Everything was too under control. There was no real failure. I was playing the clown but I was not Being a clown. After the show I felt like I was a performer playing the clown score. Despite the fact that the score, at the time of its conception, was built upon failure and misfitness, what was presented on the first day was a “failure under control” where there was no spontaneity or improvisation.

On the second day, on the 27th, we decide to change the whole beginning of the piece. Fifteen minutes before we opened the door I was playing with the piano music stand and, by mistake, I pulled it off the piano. It was a shock. It gave the directors a fright and Alban, the pianist looked astonished. We decide to incorporate the scene into the show.

Collisions Day 1 sequence 1

Collisions Day 2 – Sequence 1

This new element changed the whole dynamic of the performance. The actions and reactions were unpredictable. On top of this, maybe because of the excitement of the improvisation, I forgot part of my clown score. The result was a much more inspiring and ecxiting piece of work, both in terms of research and in terms of performance. The intersection with the audience was much more intense.

I realized that principles of practice for clowns can be a very useful tool – but they are not enough to turn a performer into a clown.  A performer might use one or all the principles of practice correctly but that does not necessarily mean that the clown will be there, present in the scene. In other words, there was an indication that it is not necessarily what the clown does while performing that makes him a clown. I found out that the clown must be there, provoking incongruous reactions in order for the Misfit Relationship to be established.  This might suggest that it is not enough for one to play the clown. One must be a clown.[1] It is however also not enough to just be, the clown must also do, therefore the principles have their use, but it is conditional upon the way they are used.

Practice is the source of my investigation. The interpretation of my hypothesis would be very different if my findings were based only in the observation of other clown’s work. My understanding of the suggested concepts is embodied, meaning that it is my body that simultaneously generates and experiences the knowledge. The hard task of translating it is the challenge ahead.

My research will continue focused in the testing of other principles of practice for clowns and their pedagogical application.

[1] In Heideggerean terms, the clown’ s state of being could be seen as an ontic state derived from a more primordial ontological state – what I term


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