Ph.D -Practice Based Research

Contextualizing my Clown – PaR Practice Journal

Gorgonio 2014

Contextualizing my Clown

Marcelo Beré


The practical research that I am currently engaged in as part of my PaR did not come out of the blue, nor will it cease at the date of submission.  Rather, it is my life’s vocation and is part of an on-going process that is currently in its 30th year of development.  As such, in order to contextualize practice in the body of my research, it is necessary to not only position myself in relation to other clown practitioners, but to also contextualize my current research within the historical context of my research as a whole.

The presence of the clown, the manifestation of the clown-self, the meaning of being a clown and the practices that are involved in being a clown are the main areas of inquiry that motivate my research. The challenge is also to discover how the practice can answer my theoretical questions and not just generate more clown material, though of course this can be a by-product.

Circo Teatro Udigrudi is one of the oldest ‘new circus’ companies in Brazil.  The company was founded in 1982 and I am one of its founding members.  In his book New Circus Reg Bolton (1987) analyses the phenomenon of the transformation of the traditional circus into a new style of circus. ‘New Circus tends to leave animals in peace and concentrates on the human endeavours of clowning and physical skills … New Circus tends to operate in a more human dimension’ (Bolton 1987:6) Circo Teatro Udi Grudi was part of a worldwide movement of the rebirth of the circus.

While in the traditional clown lineage ‘secrets’ were passed from father to son, in contemporary clowning one of the featured characteristics is ‘sharing clown secrets’.  The traditional clowning was based on a ‘clown formula’ where ‘what’ clown does defines the clown. The contemporary clown had to find out  ‘how’ to do clown. This suggests that the creativity of the contemporary clown resides as much in the ‘what’ as in the ‘how’.  Thus it is pertinent to ask if there was a new style of performing the clown or the “New Clown” that appeared together with the New Circus.   My involvement in the new circus clown movement is one of the things that led me to do a PhD on the contemporary clown.

The question I get asked most frequently, once people have stopped laughing, is: Why does a clown want to do a PhD? The answer is: Because the art of clowning is an almost unexplored field of research and very few clowns have written about the philosophy involved in the craft.  I came to England with a clear idea about what I was going to say and how. I thought my hypotheses about the essential clown and the tri-axiom I have developed as a metaphor for the clown: the child, the creator and the creature, were strong enough to ground my research. Then, I realised how little I knew about clown and clowning. I know about my own clown experience as a clown and all the anecdotes and tales related to it. However, a philosophical approach is much more than the descriptive narrative of a clown’s tale. Through the analysis of my clown trajectory I intend to make clear my position as a researcher in the clown’s field.  In this paper I will explore what does it mean to be a clown and what is involved in the formation of a character. In reality I have never thought much about what the meaning of being clown is. I was a clown.  I was never an actor, not even a bad actor. All my life as a performer was dedicated to the circus[1]. From ringmaster to trapeze artist my experience as a performer was always, in one way or another, directed towards the role of the clown. Even though I enjoyed playing the clown I always had a profound difficulty in accepting the fact that I was a clown. I didn’t think I was funny enough: I didn’t like the traditional clown that influenced me in the big top period: and coming from a conservative family, clowning for me would mean a rupture. Thus, from the beginning, clown for me was always related to transgression.

The initiation – from 1982 to 1986

It was almost by chance that I was introduced to the art of clowning. I was watching a clown show directed by Janne Marie[2] in one of the Concerto Cabeças[3] in Brasilia.  In the middle of the performance Janne came and painted my nose red. She said: “Let the clown spirit take charge! Why don’t you join the group?” The group was Circo Udigrudi[4], which in its first configuration and was just a bunch of teenagers having fun. In reality, the first show Burrocracio in 1982 was the trigger of what will be analysed as poetics of a group latter in this paper. The show criticised the policies the occupation of state theatres in a mocking way. The main character’s name is reference to the ‘dumb bureaucracy’, a mean character that tried to stop the show. With the help of the children (very intense audience participation), the Udigrudi clowns transform Mr. Bureaucratic into a clown. I didn’t take part in the first show but I was enchanted by the idea of being part of a company of clowns, even though I didn’t have a clue what it meant to actually be a clown. I joined the group and realised that they didn’t know what a clown was either. Some of the members had worked with Ary Pararrayos, leader of Esquadrão da Vida[5] a group of urban interventionists that used acrobatics, stilts, juggling and clowning.  In Udigrudi’s rehearsals we were trying to learn some tricks, including magic tricks, acrobatics and juggling. But none of us actually had any skills to teach the others. Every member was self-taught in circus skills and clowning.  On the weekends some members would perform at children’s parties.  The clowns were for hire. It was a job. Not a proper job but a hobby that was profitable. Every weekend there was children’s party or a gig in a shopping mall or a club.  In the beginning of my career clowning was just for fun. From 1982 (after leaving a dance group) to 1986 my clown was an idiot playing around like a child with other children. In 1983 we put together a play called Gambira Goiaba[6] to be shown to children at state schools during their holidays.


Emmus in Gambira Goiaba 1983 – Photo: Wilson de Moraes

Gambira Goiaba had elements that we, as a group, would use again and again throughout our career. The most important and recurrent of these elements were the music and poetry made by members of the company, the use of recycled materials to build sets and props, the use of puppets and magic tricks and most importantly the interaction with the audience. These theatrical elements used from the birth of the company helped to build the group’s identity. My identity as clown in this period could be compared to the stereotype of the traditional Auguste Clown.

The Auguste Clown has a long lineage in the history of clown.[7] Albert Fratellini, the youngest of the three Fratellini brothers, is a referential point in this history. Born in Moscow in 1886, Albert’s appearance revolutionized the auguste’s image suggesting an over-the-top reading of the auguste’s traditional look. Towsen (1976) description of Albert’s appearance, ‘which he himself described as being that of a hairy old ape’ (Towsen 1976: 237) gives us an idea of the changes that influenced many clowns in the twentieth and twentyfirst centuries. From Charlie Rivel, a great Spanish clown born in 1889, to the contemporary American Bozo Clown, Albert’s visual concept was the precursor-inspiring source. Most of the Brazilian clowns who are references for clown studies in Brazil adopted and adapted the young Fratellini’s look. Piolin, born in 1897 could be seen as the starting point for the Brazilian Albert’s auguste clown look.

By exaggerating certain characteristics often associated with the auguste, he projected a far greater monstrous image. If the auguste tended to be drunk, Albert would have a large red nose. And while most augustes used very little make up, Albert painted his lips black and the areas around his mouth and eyes white, with a blend of flesh and carmine tones giving colour to the rest of his face.  A red wig, big shoes, elaborate headgear yet very colourful costume completed the picture.  (Towsen 1976: 237-238)


BubbleGum – My clown in 1982 Photo: Beré’s private archive

This is the image of the clown for most Western cultures, maybe the whole contemporary digitalized world. My first clown’s identity was built upon this clown image. Colourful clothes, a rainbow wig and heavy make up was part of the outlook of one of my clowns, BubbleGum. There were no circus or clown schools at that time in Brasilia and the training of clowning happened in the streets, open markets and live concerts where my clown would interact with people and try out new tricks. To be a clown at that time was the same as having a ‘license to play’, meaning that when I had the clown outfit on, I could test the boundaries of human behaviour. Because of the close interaction with people, where eye contact is fundamental, my clown developed an extrovert personality. Always loud and indiscrete, he would sing songs accompanied by his cavaquinho[8], juggle with everyday objects and eventually take the bra off a woman in the audience as part of a magic trick. The development of my clown personality and identity was based on this tête-à-tête relationship.

Under the big Top – The White Clown experience (1986-89)


Circo Udigrudi Big Top – Ceilandia Norte – Fringes of Brasilia -DF -Brazil Photo: Beré

In 1986 we bought a big top and everything changed. We had our own venue and had to make it work. We had to decide the programme and plan the tours. It was not a hobby but a proper job. We had no idea what it meant to have a circus. To begin with we didn’t know what to do with it. We did try to make some kind of circus-theatre that was clown-based that worked quite well, mainly in the matinee sessions. Generally these afternoon shows were a kind of story telling, where all characters were clowns and a lot of improvisation would occur. We would use all and every skill we had at the time to make the show more exciting for the audience. Magic tricks, acrobatics, unicycle, stilts and juggling were some of the skills that were woven into the plot. The big top was pitched in the grounds of a charitable institution, a safe place for experiments. However, when we became a “real circus”, meaning that we decided to hit the road and tour around the Brazilian capital, we had to make some crucial artistic decisions. We were a bunch of middle class kids who needed to learn from the people who had grown up in circus.  Fernando Gama, a man with a gold tooth who had run away with a circus when he was a little boy, joined us.  He taught us all about pitching and running a big top and the business of circus.   As we didn’t have much experience in running a circus we decided to follow Gama’s suggestions about how our new business should work. His directions were based on the experience he had in big and small circuses around the country. His idea was that Circo Udigrudi could become a traditional circus and the format of the show and the scheme for the tour should follow a model that had worked for years in the small circus traditions in Brazil. In terms of clown numbers, we adopted the traditional clown style, where gags, reprises[9] and entrees would fill the intervals between the various circus numbers. In many traditional circuses the clown numbers are put before a number that requires a good deal of setting up (i.e. flying trapeze) so, while the clowns have the audience’s attention the technicians get the set ready. This kind of clown is an art in itself. Based on “magic words” or ready-made jokes, this sort of clown worked quite well in the context of the big top. Our circus was medium sized (800 seats). As we were working without any kind of sponsorship, we depended exclusively on the box office. The circus worked as an itinerant venue, filling the gap that a lack of cultural and artistic policies had left. We prioritised places that had no theatre or cultural spaces. Usually we would set up our tent on the fringes of Brasilia, in satellite towns, slums or little villages in the rural area around Brazil’s capital.  We would perform seven days a week with two performances on Saturdays and Sundays.

During this period we not only learnt about traditional clowning, but also learnt the terminology used to define many aspects of clowning.  These words are part of a Brazilian circus tradition and have been rarely documented.  As they define very clearly technical aspects of clowning I will be using them here in my text, with explanations.  They became the professional language we used in order to structure our clown numbers.  Many of these terms are related to the terms registered in Tristan Remy’s book (1997) Clowns Entrées.  At the time of learning them, however, the poor Brazilian circus we inhabited was a parallel universe, uninformed by theoreticians or historians from the other side of the Atlantic. Dominique Jando (2009) at the Baltimore Museum of Art circus conference defines a clown entrée:

Clown entrées are the common repertoire of European clowns, short sketches with a precise story and structure around which each clown can improvise according to his/her own personality, and within the context of the story line. Some of these entrées are centuries old, others are more recent (mid-20th century), or have been re-adapted to fit modern taste. (Jando 2009 in Davison 2013)

This European tradition was disseminated over all colonized countries including Brazil. Most of the clown numbers in traditional circus in Brazil are still based on entrées. My clown of this period was very wordy and very un-physical. I didn’t realise at the time but I was often playing the white clown. Udigrudi was joined by a very experienced clown forged in the traditional lineage of clowns for small circus companies in Brazil. His name was Sacarrolha and he had trained with Peteleco[10] an older clown who ran a circus with his family. As ringmaster I was playing the straight man or the white clown. I didn’t wear a clown costume or make up but always used a white linen suit, that became reddish with the passing of the time.[11] I had the chance to learn the words of almost all the gags Sacarrolha performed. I was the so-called escada[12], the stairs he would climb to make people laugh. I knew I was part of the act and more than that; the act depended on me to enable the clown to deliver his lines. If I was to deliver my lines the wrong way or at the wrong time it could ruin the number. The traditional circus people in Brazil believe that the clown is “the spirit’ of the circus. In reality it is the clown who guarantees the audience for a small circus – if the clown is not good the box office is empty. Therefore, it was important for the business to have a good clown to attract audiences to the circus – so I was totally committed to perform in the best way I could, not just for artistic development but also as one of the administrators of the circus. I learnt a lot from Sacarrolha during the two years we were partners. In terms of feeling the audience and how to read the responses of a not always ‘respectable’ public, Sacarrolha was a master. He was very good at answering hecklers and he was astute and sensitive in terms of choosing appropriate jokes for the evening shows.  If there were lots of children in the audience for example, he would choose some of the less lewd.

As mentioned before, these clown acts were based on words. The “magic words”[13], as we used to call them because of the effect they had on the audience. If the ringmaster prepared the ‘bed’[14] well, all the clown had to do was to lie down and enjoy it.  We learnt the magical words with a semi-literate clown who taught us in the tradition of the master/pupil relationship where most of the learning happened through repetition.

Thus my first experience as a clown was playing with children in playgrounds, shopping centres and at children’s party, a colourful and stereotyped Auguste. I had the chance of performing in streets and open spaces which offered a close interaction with the audience. The second experience as a clown was in the big top, as a white clown. In the first phase the interaction with children taught me a lot about vulnerability and children’s sensibilities. I experienced all kinds of reactions from them, from laughter to tears, sometimes both at the same time coming from the same child. In the second phase, I had the chance of learning the gags and the timing for the gags. The interaction with a bigger audience and the evening shows provided me with an ideal environment for changing my perception of clowning and the relationship with the audience.  The circus clown was a kind of stand-up comedian where the words were the main link with the audience. We used microphones and our repertoire of magical words would run out before the second week of the circus, meaning that we would have to repeat jokes once in a while. The most important aspect of both these experiences was that they gave me a notion of how to react and interact with audiences of many different kinds.

The Theatre Clown (1989-98)

The third main phase of the development of my clown was the theatre clown. After four years of running the big top, in 1989 the company was stressed and its members exhausted. We decided to “park” the circus and use it just for rehearsals, mainly trapeze training. One of the problems Udigrudi was facing at the time was the lack (or excess) of leadership. Too many chiefs for too few Indians as the Brazilian proverb goes.  The partners were friends but we could not decide who was going to direct the next show. Until now we had worked with a sort of collective direction and a chaotic way of conducting business – artistically and financially speaking. The company was about to break up. We then invited an external artistic director who could inspire and unite the group. Hugo Rodas[15] was the director collectively chosen.

The Uruguayan Rodas was already a famous director and choreographer but he did not have a clue what he was about to deal with. He had never directed clowns before. In our first meeting, after a chaotic beginning where everyone was trying to impose their ideas about the next show, he asked: “ What are your talents?” Every member of the company was supposed to talk about or show their talents. So they did: all at the same time – trapeze, juggling, magic tricks, fire eating, stilts, rope, acrobatics, unicycle… and clowning. It was clear that the clown should be one of the main characters as almost every one in the group had a clown character.  Rodas suggested a dramaturgical line, a dreamlike sequence that would have scenic sections based on circus numbers. He suggested that the main character should be a little girl and her role would be the thread for the whole show. Any similarity with Alice (in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) was not mere coincidence. A Menina dos Olhos (The Girl of the Eyes) could have been called “Revisiting Alice” or “Alice in the Circus World”. The clowns were just characters in the play. Rodas’ talent as a choreographer was put into practice for clowns. We had music composed for the show and every movement had to fit with the recorded music. The clowns started the play inside eggshells made of sponge (about 5 feet tall). They were born hatching from the eggshells. Giant baby bottles would descend from the lighting rig and feed the clowns.


Menina dos Olhos – Giant Baby Bubbles – Photo: Indio

The clowns would collect musical instruments inside the bottles and leave the stage as a musical parade. The other characters in the play were more surreal figures (from butterflies on the trapeze to skeletons on stilts juggling bones and eating fire). The clowns would come back for the final parade.


Menina dos Olhos – Clown Parade – Photo: Indio

The play was a huge success[16] and a shifting point in Udigrudi’s career. We left the big top behind[17] and carried the circus skills into the theatre. The use of the clown as an illustrative character in Menina dos Olhos is an example of clowns that do not necessarily interact with the audience. The fourth wall is back here like in a dance piece or traditional theatre. In fact, because of the use of UV light and other effects, there were some similarities with the Black Theatre of Prague[18].

During this period I was invited to translate and take part in many workshops held by members of British groups (e.g. RaRaZoo and Sue Broadway, David Glass and Peta Lily, Cheek by Jowl and Declan Donnellan, Stephen Mottran, etc.), In 1992 I was awarded a BC scholarship to do my MA at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. The title of my dissertation was: The Dramatic Situation of Drama in Education: Circus as a Good Virus. It was a comparative study between the British (represented by Dorothy Heathcoat) and Brazilian systems of teaching theatre. I used Paulo Freire and Augusto Boal’s concept of oppressed/oppressor and the example of Udigrudi’s approach to teach clowning and circus skills to suggest a different ways of teaching theatre. Once back in Brazil, I put theory into practice in state schools, adding to the curriculum of theatre some circus skills in a project called “Circus in the Classroom”. This project was awarded the Educational Merit Award in 1994. The time I spent in the UK and Europe changed my perspective on clown and clowning and opened up new horizons on my research.

The Turning Point- Developing a Poetics (1998 to today)


Luciano Porto & Marcelo Beré waiting for a gig slot in Brasilia 1993 – photo: Marcia Lusalva

The next and most decisive turning point in Udigrudi’s career and in my personal career as a clown happened in 1998 when we decided to make a show called O Cano.

Luciano Porto, my clown partner and friend, had the opportunity of studying in the UK at the same time I was doing my MA in 1992/93. He had the chance of working with RaRaZoo and Sue Broadway and studied mime with Desmond Jones and clown with Philippe Gaulier in London. We conceived a street show and busked our way across Europe.[19]


Luciano Porto & Marcelo Beré busking in Paris 1993 – photo: Yara Oliveira


When we returned to Brazil Porto had the idea of putting a musical clown show together where we started elaborate the project. This project was only realized in ’98, when Porto received a grant for making the performance. He invited Leo Sykes to direct it and Marcio Vieira to re-join the group. Marcio was part of the first band Udigrudi had in 1982 and specialized in constructing musical instruments out of recycled materials. He has a degree in Engineering and uses his knowledge to create unusual musical instruments.  He is Udi Grudi’s in-house “mad scientist”. He was very reluctant to become a clown or be on stage but every time he showed us his new inventions, we could see his potential as clown and encouraged him in this direction. Leo Sykes is a British director and my wife. She worked with Eugenio Barba as his assistant director for five years and wrote her PhD about Barba’s way of directing before moving to Brazil. Her presence in the group changed the whole dynamic of the company. Her way of directing and notion of dramaturgy were completely new for us. Her way of working and methods of rehearsal were a challenge for us chaotic clowns! Her conception of clown and clowning were also very different from what we were presenting as clown material. She did not like the wordy clown, the noisy clown, and the illustrative clown. Luciano and I were experienced in clowning and Marcio was more concentrated on the making and playing of instruments. But Leo wanted something different. This new direction demanded a lot more from us clowns who were addicted to working in their comfort zones. Leo came to suggest an artistic shift to our careers.

Leo works with the material we present to her. Material means actions, routines, a sequence of movements, a song, music, a musical instrument, a piece of set, a set design or any other element that could be used in the composition of the performance. When I was presenting my clown material to her, she came with a phrase that marked the new approach to clowning for me: “Do less!” Until one day I did nothing at all and she said: “That’s it.  Now just do a little less and you’ll be there.” My clown before that was always loud and extravagant perhaps because of my misunderstanding of the concept of amplifying/reducing. Looking back at my clown practice I can say now that I was trying too hard to be funny.

At this time in the process I had the chance of taking part of a clown workshop with Ricardo Pucetti and Carlos Simioni, both members of LUME theatre group, an important reference point for clown training in Brazil. The workshop was quite revealing in terms of finding my deep clown. I felt like I was killing one of my clowns at the end of every class. It was a process of hard work, both physically and emotionally. In one of my moments of break down/break through I thought about Eudoro de Souza’s[20] maxim that theatre is the art of lying and clowning is the creative child in a grown up creature. After this workshop my clown changed radically. Gorgonio was reborn with a much stronger personality. There was a definition of his image and a lapidation of the physicality that helped me defining the identity of my clown.   Gorgonio’s hair was now back-brushed into a ridiculous shock, his colourful clothes were gone as he became sartorially sophisticated, and although he identifies himself with Einstein, the audiences recognize him as the mad clown.

O Cano Classic

O Cano opened in December 1998. The performance received many local awards including best performance in Brasilia in ’99. In 2000 we took O Cano to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Jan Fairley, a reviewer from The Scotsman said: “Often there is a show on the Fringe that somehow or other restores one’s sense of wonder. For me, this year it is this magically inventive Brazilian circus involving three eccentric “naïve” clowns.”[21] The show got the Herald’s Golden Angel Award and many five and four-star reviews. This Angel Award was the key that opened the doors to another 15 countries. Leo Sykes has directed all the Udigrudi shows since 1998: Lixaranga, OvO, Industrial Devolution, Udigrudi in ConSerto and the short film A Casa do Mestre André for the Brazilian state television. Some of these shows are still running and new shows are continuing to be conceived as part of the repertoire.

Marcelo Beré, the researcher + Gorgonio, the clown =2 sides of the same coin

My clown, Gorgonio, was part of this whole process. In order to position myself as the main source of information for my research I have to take into consideration the experience I have as clown, not just in the period of my research but the experience as a whole. I am considering that the experience I had up to this moment with my group Udigrudi could be seen as the development of a group identity or what I am calling poetics. I am choosing the word poetics instead of language to define a style of performing and a clown dramaturgical line. It could be seen as the peculiar practice of a group. Udigrudi didn’t create a language but a style of performing clown that was linked (at least during the last 16 years) with the dramaturgical line suggested by Leo Sykes. Morgana Martins (2011)[22] wrote in her post graduation thesis about Udigrudi: ‘If Udigrudi was just a group who made musical performances with invented instruments, or a theatrical group who just used the technique of clowning, it would obviously not have this particular character, it’s own identity.’ (Martins 2011:143)

The group’s identity, which according to Martins is characterized by a “sonorous dramaturgy” and the role of the clown as a musical agent of the plot, is part of the poetics developed by the group I am part of. The clown to be analysed in the course of my PhD is the clown I have been developing and revealing during more than 30 years of practice.

To establish a clear understanding of how to contextualize my own clown practice in the contemporary clowns’ world is part of the challenge of this research. Circo Teatro Udigrudi could be seen as a laboratory where I am part of an experiment. In one way or another, I helped to create and develop Udigrudi’s history and practices. My approach takes into consideration the practices that were developed in the company’s trajectory. Those practices could be seen as the creation of a poetics, in the sense that not just the style of performing the clown but the dramaturgy and the identity of the company could be distinguished from other models of ‘new circus’. This thesis is not about the Poetics of Udigrudi – but it is written from an Udigrudi clown’s point of view.

Thus this research into clown practices will be seen through the lens of a practitioner.   In order to use my own clown as the main source of my research in a way that could be useful to others I will attempt to elucidate my questions, my methodology and my discoveries through practice at the same time as attempting to objectify and technically analyze this tacit, perhaps even instinctual and habitual practice, into some form of new theory about clowning.

Other practices and practitioners will be looked at in order to compare, inform and support some of my hypothesis. Far from putting me on the same level as some of my examples, the use of classical clownery and its icons (Chaplin, Keaton, Grock, Hardy and Laurel amongst others), as well as contemporary clowns (Dr Brown, Leo Bassi, Angela de Castro, David Larible), will be used as a frame that will help to contextualize my position in the field of research.

My intention here is not to attempt to define The Poetics of Clowns but A poetics of the clown.

Practice informing research and research informing practices


Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist – Alban Coombs & Gorgonio (Marcelo Beré) Photo: Clair Shovelton

When I use Gorgonio to test a principle of practice, for example testing the misfit relationship with the pianist[23] I am taking more than one risk. I am incurring the risk of getting too involved in the performance side of the presentation and forgetting the research. Or vice versa, I could be so focused on the research question that the authenticity of the clown disappears. This can take me to another risk: of becoming a boring clown, or indeed, ceasing to be a clown altogether. Therefore, the exercise of separating the performer from the researcher is a herculean task in itself. Nevertheless, having each role clear, my intention is that clown and researcher can dialogue in the same language and that the latter can help the former to transform tacit knowledge into a communicable language.

Practice informs my research in three ways.  1) My own practice. 2) Workshops 3) Practices of other clowns.

1) One is the practice of the craft of clown in itself. I certainly did not stop being a clown while researching my doctorate. I could even risk saying that Gorgonio (my clown) is my partner in the PhD process. Every performance Gorgonio has taken part in since I started my doctorate has been used as a laboratory by the researcher. In contrast to my practice before I became a Ph.D candidate, here I am using my practice as the environment and object of  my research, bracketing a specific research inquiry before entering the workroom and asking the research questions through actions.  This is a fundamental difference to when working purely as a clown.  As a clown I enter the workroom to generate stage material.  As a researcher the stage material is a by-product of my attempt to investigate specific questions. But the material is also essential.  If the research does not generate clown material, how can the findings be said to be valid?  Thus, clown material could be seen as evidencing data for the research.

The difference between my current clown practice and the past one is that now my clown has more information so he can get more dazed and confused. The researcher, on the other hand, must try to be clear and focused bringing to the reader a trustworthy interpretation of what is being investigated and what, if anything, is being discovered.

The second way practice informs my research is through the use of workshops.  I am using workshops not only to test the pedagogic value of my hypothesis, but also to create some kind of further objectification of the practice.  Through the bodies and minds of other clowns (or clown students) I am able to perceive research data in a more objective yet highly active way.  As I am researching principles of practice of clowns it is essential that they should be communicable and transferable, otherwise they might belong purely to the idiosyncratic world of my clown. Although I believe I have observed them in other clowns, it is only when I attempt to generate them in other clowns that I can get more specific data about this.

Planning the workshops also makes me articulate my inquiries in a more structured and simpler form. What the reader understands from written words is often too complex for the body-in-action.

The data collected in these workshops (through personal notes, cameras and observers) is part of the material analyzed in the ‘workshop’ section of this thesis.

The third methodological cut is the observation of other clowns’ way of performing the clown. The examination of these other practices led me to develop what I am calling Clown’s Principles of Practice.

My practice as a clown and the practice of other clowns

My PaR is based on a three-part process.  The first has been to develop a list of possible principles of practice for clowns, based on observation of the work of other clowns. The second is to test these principles in a practical manner, using my own clown as the ‘agent in search for evidence’.  The third is to test these principals on student clowns.

Gorgonio’s identity was built upon his practice.  There is an indication here that the identity of a clown, or his/hers private signature, is reflected in the way he/she practices the craft. It took me more than fifteen years to construct my own identity as a clown. The turning point in my clown process was in 1998 after taking part in LUME’s workshop and starting to work with Leo Sykes. As I explained before, Gorgonio was born after the ‘death’ of many of my other clowns. A Brazilian indigenous shaman named Sapaim told me in an interview that ‘to become a shaman, one has to die many times’. I want to make a parallel with the construction of a clown identity where, in order to find the authentic clown, one first has to ‘kill’ many inauthentic manifestations of the clown. Every single phase of the process of revealing my own clown was an important constituent part of the manifestation of Gorgonio. Every workshop I took part in, every performance I presented, helped me to build my clown signature. Gorgonio is today the result of thirty years of practice. His personal characteristics, his image, his style of performing, his musicality and the material he presents in front of an audience reflects the training I have been through as a performer.  Building up one’s clown identity is a process of formation based on information.

I am inclined to believe that there is a particular clown signature for each clown analyzed in my research. The question that rises at this point is: what do they have in common? Can we observe a common identity for clowns? If so, what are the characteristics that define a clown as a clown?


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Boal, A. (1985) Theatre of the Oppressed, New York, Urizen Books.

Bolton, R. (1987) New Circus, London, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Burnier, L. O. (2001) A Arte de Ator: da Técnica `a Representação,  Campinas, Brazil, Editora Unicamp.

Carroll, N. (2009) Comedy Incarnate: Buster Keaton, Physical Humour and Bodily Coping. Sussex, Wiley-Blackwell

Davison, J. (2013) Clown Readings in Theatre Practice London Palgrave MacMillan

Ferracini, R.(2001) A arte de não interpretar como Poesia Corpórea do Ator, Brazil, Editora Unicamp.

Grock (1931), Life’s a Lark, London, William Heinemann Ltd.

Martins, M. (2011) O Som, ouvido, visto e sentido (The heard, seen and felt sound) Unpublished MA thesis – Universidade Federal Santa Catarina Brazil

May, S.R. (2013) You Have to ‘Be There: A Heideggerean Phenomenology of Humour, London: Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. (Unpublished Ph.D Thesis) RCSSD

Nelson, R. (2013) Practice as Research in the Arts, Principles, Protocols, Pedagogies, Resistances, New York and London: Palgrave MacMillan

Remy T. (1997) Clown Scenes, trans. Chicago, Bernard Sahlins.

–       Les Clowns (2002) Paris, Bernard Grasset.

Swortzell, L. (1978) Here Come the Clowns, New York, The Viking Press.

Towsen, J.H. (1976) Clowns, New York, Hawthorn Books.

[1] In particular Circo Teatro Udigrudi, the company I helped creating in the eights. I took part of virtually all the activities developed by the group as a producer, performer and administrator.

[2] Janne Marie founded Circo Udigrudi in Belem do Pará, north of Brazil. The group headquarter was in a basement, underground or the neologism udigrudi.

[3] Concerto Cabeças were open-air concerts vey popular in the 80s in Brasilia.

[4] Marie moved to Brasilia and brought the idea of circus for kids. Udigrudi was a combination of Grupo Ajir, Ideia Colorida and Circo sem Lona.

[5] Ary Pararrayos and his “life squadron” (Esquadrão da Vida is a word play with Esquadrão da Morte, a group of policemen that hunted, judged and killed street people). His “squadron” performed on the streets to make people laugh. Many of early Udigrudi clowns trained with him before joining the group.

[6] Gambira Goiaba means Guava Exchange or a reference to open markets and the trade that does not involve money. It was a play based on Lord of the Ring by JRR Tolkien adapted to the time Brasilia was been constructed.

[7] For more on Auguste Clown please consult Towsen (1976) Swortzell (1978) and also Davison (2013)

[8] A Brazilian small guitar – distant ‘cousin’ of the ukulele.

[9] The reprise is a short sketch designed to fit in between other acts covering the change over of equipment.

[10] Peteleco was a well-known clown, part of the traditional lineage of clowns in small circus in Brazil. He trained Sacarrolha in the master/pupil relationship, where all gags was passed orally.

[11] Brasilia has a very red earth. The red dust would make any white clothe reddish.

[12] Escada literally means stairs. It is used here as a metaphoric image for the clown climbing up the strait man’s words to reach the top of the joke.

[13] Magic words here have nothing to do with spells. There were call magic because of the effect they had on the audience. The way the dialogue is constructed produced almost inevitably laughter.

[14] Making the bed for the clown is another expression used in small circus. It means preparing the terrain for the clown act to function in its appropriate way. In this case, the final goal (or laying in bed) would be sensation of enjoying the audience’s response.

[15] Hugo Rodas is a reference in the performing arts in Brazil. He is a retired professor at the University of Brasilia and directed many of the best well-known productions in Brasília.

[16] FIAT National Award and Brasilia’s Producers Association Award in 5 categories

[17] In fact we sold the tent in an auction. Gama bought it and became a rich circus entrepreneur.

[18] Compare images of both shows at and

[19] The Green Bomb was presented at Royal Holloway in 1992. The ostrich (a giant puppet that we built out of recycled material, operated from up the stilts) toured 5 countries in Europe in ’93.

[20] Eudoro de Souza is one of the most influential philosophers in my student career. For more information please see link

[21] For the reviews on O Cano please follow the link

[22] Morgana Martins (2011) O SOM OUVIDO, VISTO E SENTIDO (The heard, seen and felt sound)

Thesis abstract

This dissertation presents an analysis regarding the sonorous repertoire within the theater environment and how it can become the conductor in a dramaturgy.

This analysis runs through the importance and functions of the sound repertoire in the theatrical ambit as well as other aspects of the subject. The explanation on the subject is discussed from a study about the Circo Teatro Udi Grudi from Brasilia.

This group is known for its eminence on the sound repertoire as diversity. For this dissertation three plays were analyzed: O Cano, Ovo e A Devolução Industrial. In all three plays it’s possible to realize that the sound repertoire is the conductor of the scene´s dramaturgy, each one in it´s own way. The following authors were used as reference for the theoretical basis support: Lívio Tragtenberg, Luiz Otávio Carvalho Gonçalves de Souza e Roberto Gill Camargo.

They are theoretical and in practice researchers. The following authors were taken to deepen the discussion: José Miguel Wisnik and Murray Schafer, who write about sound in a reflective matter.

[23] I am referring to Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist, a collaborative work presented as part of my PaR in September 2013 at RCSSD. For more please see Post-Collisions Paper in my blog.




2 thoughts on “Contextualizing my Clown – PaR Practice Journal

  1. stacey sacks says:

    Hi Marcelo! i am a new phd candidate at stockholm’s university of the arts, and am working with contemporary clown in a postcolonial context. i’d love to have a ‘conversation’ with you, to find out how your practice as research is coming along, i’m wondering if you’ve now completed your phd? i’m very inspired by this digital archive you’ve created here. Please contact me at the below email address when you have time, hopefully soon :0)

    Many thanks

    Stacey Sacks


    • Hi Stacey, I’m sorry I took so long to reply. I was holding a field research in Brazil and forgot about the blog for a while. Now I’m back to the UK to finish my PhD. I’m in my writing-up period -three chapters to go. It would be good to know how you’re doing and if the postcolonial clown has any resonances with the misfit clown. We can keep in touch through email. Mine is
      Hope to hear from you soon
      Marcelo Beré


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