Ph.D -Practice Based Research


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On the trajectory of my research towards a Poetics of the Clown I have experienced many challenges. As a clown, what I am looking for is something related to practice. As a researcher, I am searching for a better “translation” of the clown’s practice. Practice as a field to be analysed in order to extract principles. Principles here are understood as points of departure, the basis, the beginning. Clowns are considered to be the embodiment of the concept of incongruity. Living paradoxes, clowns represent the upmost misfit, the one who does not fit in to a given context. However, one could argue that clowns are full of rules and code of conduct. To be able to call a clown a clown we have to have some references, some indication that such a performer is a clown. The kind of clown I am talking about is someone who dedicates his or her life, or at least good part of it, to the art form of clowning.  Gaulier says that the clown is the performer that gets paid to make people laugh. I would add that clown does not just make people laugh but also presents a particular perspective of existence. The perspective of poësis (poetic, poetry) is where the practice of the clown creates a product (performance).I am inclined to believe that clowns are full of rules. My question at this point is: what are the norms that regulate the norm-breaker?  I wonder if the clown is one of the most recognizable figures in the world of performance and if so, why? Why is a clown called a clown? Probably because of the things the clown does. It is his/her practice that defines the character. It is not just a matter of how clowns clown. Or what they do they when they clown. The suggestion is that some rules can be bent, others broken but some must remain firmly in place as a referential point to be questioned[1]. One could argue that any rule can be broken, but if all the rules are broken simultaneously then the result is not clown but anarchy. I am suggesting an analysis of principles of practice that might help defining and understanding what it is to be a clown in the world.I intend to try to be as practical, literal and physical as possible, grappling with the body of the clown in order to discover his basic nature.  In my approach the focus would be the phenomenon of the clown in action. I intend to define and then examine the principles of practice of the clown using my own practical experience and transforming rehearsal rooms into laboratories. After critically reflecting on my own practice I came to the concept of misfitness and the clown as a misfit by profession. With the idea of the misfit as a background I started a codification of the principles of practice of the clown relating them with the concept of misfitness.My overall Inquiry: the Misfit UmbrellaFocused through the lens now of the clown as misfit my main inquiry is:  Is there a single practice that we can call Clown? And if so, are there some recognizable principles that could be applied to this practice? So far I have identified the following principles of practice that I believe many clowns, myself included, use:1) The Misfit Relationship (The Clown’s odd interactions with others)2) The Misfit Image (The Clown’s incongruous appearance or figure)3) The Misfit Object (The Clown’s interaction with objects that discloses aspects beyond their daily selves)4) Misfit Timing (The clock’s misinterpretation of the Clown’s timing)

5) The Misfit Body (The imperfect body of the Clown in action)

6) Misfit Logic (The Clown’s embodied logic)

These clown’s principles of practice are an attempt to define the mode of being that typifies a ‘clown’.

In an attempt to deepen my understanding of these principles and within the context of my PaR I participated in a collaborative, practical research process called Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist.

The specific inquiry of Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist

Paul Barker wrote a musical piece with the idea of examining the theatricality of the classical pianist. The clown would be the alter ego of the pianist and would ‘dance’ the music played and play some hidden aspects of the musician’s persona. Barker invited Alban Coombs (a classical pianist and also a PhD candidate at the Royal College of Music) to play the piano. He also invited Leo Sykes to co-direct the staging of the piece with him and invited me to be the clown.

Four researchers involved in a creative process with different research proposals. Paul Barker is a Professor at Central School of Speech and Drama and he is well known for his compositions where music and theatre are worked simultaneously.[2] Alban Coombs’s thesis is called  ‘Sobornost Revisited: Liturgical Models for a Synthesis of the Arts’[3]. Leo Sykes was interested in the collision of languages, the paradoxical idea of the highly formal classical pianist and a clown who does not know or at least obey the concert conventions.  The first was to play a written musical score while the latter was performing an unwritten physical score. Despite each one of the members involved in the process having a particular motivation and objective I would like to suggest that the process was one collective creative process, where each one involved came with a different background and professional luggage to contribute to the final products. I am considering that we are in a process of not getting to one final product (performance) but many different products: a performance, various academic papers and data than can be interpreted in various ways.

The Misfit Relationship

In the work in Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist my clown employs all of the clown principles I have so far identified, but it is a unique opportunity to test one specific principle above all others, that of the Misfit Relationship.

By using the term Misfit Relationship I wish to suggest that one of the principles of practice that is present in my own practice as a clown is characterized by the way my clown relates to other people, such as partners on stage (or clown acts), audience member, and objects.

I found this opportunity for testing the principle of practice of the Misfit Relationship to be an ideal configuration for experimental research because of the challenge of putting together two performers with completely different ideas of what the outcome of a performance should be. The classical pianist is trained to perform in an almost ‘transparent’ way, meaning that he/she is there to interpret a musical score in as accurate manner as possible, following precisely and sensitively what the composer wrote. When a pianist is performing the attention should be on the music or the musical result. In spite of the fact that he/she is a human being playing a musical instrument, what is important for the quality of his performance is the music that is being played.  S/he is a physical presence that serves the auditory experience. Classical pianists usually have a fixed score and their duty is to keep to it. The challenge of this process for my clown was to construct a ‘physical score’ and a sequence of actions that would be an interpretation of the musical score but also a way of highlighting the aspect of the inevitable misfit relationship that a classical pianist would have with a clown on stage.


The Methodology of Research in Musical Moments

In the case of Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist the research methodology applied was similar to the one used when I work alone, however it was more complex as it involved other collaborators.

At the beginning of this process the relationship suggested by Paul Barker between the clown and the pianist was that the clown should be the page-turner for the pianist.  This is a highly formal relationship, fraught with many rules and conventions and bursting with potential for mishap.  The process thus far has been an exploration of all the possibilities we can find for this relationship.  We focused on the idea of a page-turner who does anything and everything but execute his primary function, which is to turn pages and to be an absent a presence as possible.  In a somewhat Heideggerean manner[4], where failure of an equipment discloses its functions, the clown became the primary scenic presence precisely due to his dysfunctionality as page-turner.  Gorgonio, despite all his attempts, did not manage to turn one page without mishap and inadvertently called much attention to himself by a general lack of regard or indeed knowledge of the conventions of being a page-turner.  He disturbed the pianist by attempting to turn the pages not only at the wrong time but in the wrong way, so that sheets of music flew off the key board and others were ripped to pieces. He brushed the pianist’s tails as he played, obscured the pianist from the audience’s view, climbed under the piano and, sin of sins, he played the piano! At first this was inadvertently with his elbow, but later he did this willfully, forming a kind of crazy duet with the much beleaguered pianist.  The erudite classical pianist played harmoniously while the clown, with his clumsy fingers, played crashing chords.  This was all composed by Barker and formed a moment of unison between the two performers after many moments of disunity.

The methodology that we established, and that was in fact a discovery of this process rather than a pre-conceived idea, was that the misfit quality of the relationship was established exactly by each performer remaining in the realm of their own practice.  The concert pianist made every effort to allow the music to appear more than himself, to maintain the flow of the music in the face of many obstacles and to continue the formal relationship with the audience, bowing despite disaster and ignoring the chaos around him.  In some ways he was akin to the white clown, who is the foil to the red clown, the Auguste.

However, instead of following the clown tradition and repeating the model of white/red oppressor/oppressed clown[5], the relationship between the pianist and the clown changed throughout the performance.  Sometimes they were in confrontation, at others they were in synchrony, sometimes they were oppositional and at other times attractive.

A plan for how the outcomes of the presentation will be analyzed.

The presentation and the process of conceiving it were not purely aesthetic.  As the creative team is made up of four researchers (Prof. Paul Barker, Dr. Leo Sykes and the Ph.D candidates Alban Coombs and myself) the whole process is being documented in various ways (from personal notes to video record) and analyzed critically before/during/after the proper work in the room as it forms part of the different research projects of each participant. We had four different disciplines in the working room: Barker is a composer and head of MA Music at RCSSD. He is a specialist in composing music for theatre. Leo is a theatre and film director who specializes in musical clown shows. Coombs is a professional pianist and has toured Europe playing concerts. I am a professional clown and researcher. The aspect of a transdisciplinary work/product was clear from the very beginning. Each one of us had a specific research method and a different approach to the creative process and most significantly, different areas of enquiry.

I am suggesting an interpretation of the concept of clown’s principles of practice where the modes of being of the clown define his presence on stage. The analysis of the presence of the clown on stage compared to the presence of the classical pianist proposes a paradoxical relationship where the concept of misfitness will be the basis of the presentation. In other words, the challenge was to combine two figures that have many conflicting characteristics and intentions. The pianist is on stage to play a fixed score; the clown has to create a ‘performatic’ score based on improvisation.

I am considering how to contextualize the presentation in relation to the broader enquiry of my research by opening up my key questions to the audience and my fellow-researchers.  The audience will be informed and invited to take part in the suggested contextualization through questionnaires and interviews. The presence of the audience is fundamental in the analysis of the affectivity of the work. The responses of the audience, kinesthetic (e.g. laughter or not), will be part of critical examination of the performance.

Barker, Coombs and Beré will present a panel at CPR 2014 at RCSSD about the interaction of languages.

Blog, documentation of insights – evidencing relevance to the research.

I am working on a blog that will encapsulate the reflections and analysis of the work. Following the presentation, the research results, analysis and examples of the documentation will be presented for a supervision assessment.  This will enable the presentation and associated reflexive and documentary materials to act as a model for how the overall project should operate. The annotations, photos, and video clips of the insights that bring to light my research questions will by presented on a dynamic platform. Notes and comments from my research partners will also be available, demonstrating a close dialogue and exchange of ideas that characterized this collaborative work. The audience perspective will be recorded on video (in a Q&A style after each performance) and also through a small questionnaire that can be answered on paper or by email/blog interaction.

Musical Moments for a Pianist and a Clown: four researchers, one process, many products.

The process

In our first meeting, Paul brought some musical scores and we listened to Alban playing them. We realized that the complexity of the music to be played required peculiar physical actions from the pianist. In order to execute the musical score, Alban had to perform some ‘contortions’ with his hands and elbows. He was like some kind of bird flapping its wings, trying to take off. Movements that pianist avoids doing and composers avoid writing because the execution would require an anatomic complexity. It could be funny just to look at Alban playing the score. However, the music was so intense and elaborated that the physicality of the pianist could be seen as part of this complexity. For the clown, every movement of the pianist and every note of the music were important to help creating the clown score. My point as a performer was not specifically to ‘dance’ the music or to build a physical score exclusively base on the musical score. I was focused on the Misfit Relationship with the pianist. The relationship would include not just the human beings involved but also the piano, the stool, the score, the context and of course, the music. Paul had a preconceived idea of what the work should look like. He wrote notes and indications in the musical score for the clown as well as for the pianist. For instance, he suggested that the clown would be the pianist alter ego. I understood the indication as ‘Gorgonio should play Alban’s shadow or reflection’ – the audience should be able to see some hidden aspects of the pianist through the clown physical action. It turned out to be something like that. But the temporary result (it is a work in progress) presented was much more elaborate than the clown just mirroring or mimicking the pianist. It was a relationship that evolved and assumed many shapes, layers, and intensities.

Through the observation of the pianist’s actions (e.g. sitting down on the piano stool, adjusting its height, adjusting its distance to the piano, checking the score) I suggested a physical routine that the clown would do before the music was played. It was a way of building up a ‘clown score’ based on improvisation and on the Misfit Relationship. The clown score was being constructed with the idea in mind that ‘there is something here that does not quite fit’ or like an odd piece in the theatrical puzzle. In the case of the page-turner, the action that would fit correctly in the presentation of a piano concert is that the person who turns the page knows how to do the job e.g. knows how to read music, knows when to turn the page without disturbing the pianist or the audience. In this case, I had real elements to support my attempts to build an improvised misfit clown score. I don’t know how to read music and had never worked as a page-turner before. That means that my familiarity with those actions was close to zero. My actions and reactions while creating the score were spontaneous and trustworthy because I was not pretending that I don’t know how to read a musical score. Gorgonio was turning the pages when he felt like was the right moment. That spontaneity highlighted the misfit quality of the relationship with the pianist. Alban’s reactions to the clown’s misconduct as a page-turner made the improvisation rich in details e.g. reprievable looks and small controlled gestures, that were worth working on. The difficulty in this process was to ‘crystallize’ the improvisation, meaning that once the clown repeated the improvisation it was not improvised any longer. Crystallizing the improvisation here has a sense of making an action (or a series of actions) crystal clear in a solid, in a transparent way. How does one make a choreographed physical action look ‘fresh’ or spontaneous? The challenge for Gorgonio the clown was to repeat a series of action with a touch of ‘imperfection’ or a combination of precision and lack of perfection. As a performer, I was always looking for ‘stupid impulses’ or physical reaction that would add something or differentiate my actual action from the previous repeated one. One of the strategies used to compose the clown’s choreography was to recall some of the principles of practice identified up to the moment on my research.

Though the main focus of the research here is on the Misfit Relationship, other aspects of misfitness were inevitably touched upon.  Each of these aspects will receive its own specific research however it is also possible to mention them briefly here.  Just as they were sub-products of this research, so they are sub-titles of the main chapter.

Misfit Timing

Misfit Timing, for instance was used in the first piece when the clown page-turner showed that he was not on the same page as the pianist.

The result of this moment of practical research was unexpected, yet, on reflection, perhaps obvious.  Now that I consciously attempted to apply principles of practice previously used unwittingly and instinctively, they did not all automatically work.  Principles that previously would be used by Marcelo (the performer who embodies Gorgonio the clown) when the creative process demanded them were now chosen and applied by Marcelo the researcher, independently of the process needing them, but rather in an attempt to test their applicability.  For some principles this was very rewarding, for example in the misfit relationship between the classical pianist and the clown. A more misfit relationship is hard to imagine and the clash of cultures inherent in this relationship was the cause of laughter for the audience who could observe the mutual misreading by the performers.

Misfit Object

The principle of misfit object however was applied less successfully.  Though technically correct, the execution of this principle was conceptual rather than organic.  Following the qualities so far identified to be part of the misfit object of the clown the piano stool was transformed into a cajon, a percussive instrument and later into a dog.  It was also sat upon incorrectly, carried around and generally treated in a manner that broke the conventions applied to piano stools.  But the material created is weak, in the sense that it could have worked much better from the clown’s perspective.  Perhaps in order to function the object itself would need to be transformed in some way, so that it sounded good when played as an instrument, and was more evocative of a dog when treated as one.

The Misfit Image

While avoiding the classical image of the clown with his colourful clothes and red nose, Gorgonio nevertheless must always find a way to distinguish himself from the average gentleman.  In this case both performers were wearing highly formal morning tails. In order to distinguish the clown from the pianist Gorgonio wears red socks. Normally Gorgonio’s shock of hair is also a signal that he is a clown, but ironically the pianist almost outdoes his hirsute outlandishness with a truly magnificent beard.  Thus small details were used to ‘disturb’ the formally correct outfit and turn it into a miss fit.

Gorgonio also uses his eyes as part of his comic/misfit appearance. The mostly mute clown uses his eyes to involve the audience by constantly commenting upon the action and directing their gaze through an exaggerated use of his ocular orbs.  Thus his eyes become a vital source of complicity with the audience, which is, after all, the clown’s primary aim.  Indeed, the clown’s eyes were the most commented upon aspect of his appearance by the critics.

“…a pianist wrestles with his page turner to great comic effect, assisted by one of them looking like a cross between Marty Feldman and Andy Zaltzman.”[6]


“The first act involved one of the clowns of the piece, a real one called Marcelo Beré, who had a shock of vertical hair and Marty Feldman eyes with which he gimleted the audience.”[7]

Misfit Logic

Another principle tested on this opportunity was the misfit logic. The conventional logic would suggest that if the piano stool is far way from the piano, one should take the stool closer to the piano. The clown here, using the misfit logic, tries to bring the grand piano closer to the stool. Throughout the performance, the audience could see the pianist using his logic, trying to keep the conventional rules for a piano concert, while the clown was always suggesting a new approach to these conventions e.g. repositioning the stool, touching the pianist shoulders and playing the piano. When Gorgonio walks down the steps of an imaginary staircase to get under the piano and takes a lift to get back to the same level as the pianist, he is using a logic that is not necessarily rational but imaginative. However, even the clown’s misfit logic has its limits. At a certain point, Gorgonio lifted the stool over his head. If he had thrown it on the grand piano or on the pianist’s head it would be chaos. I am suggesting that the clown’s logic, despite coming from ‘stupid impulses’, is guided by dramaturgical rules that keep anarchy at bay.


As soon as I entered the workroom in order to investigate The Misfit Relationship it became immediately clear that what I thought in theory to be a principle of practice, was in fact a broad umbrella term for almost everything the clown does, as nothing happens in a vacuum and everything is based on relationships.  Thus the principle, in order to be put into practice, needed to be broken down into further sub-categories.  The sub-categories so far identified in the process are:

Misfit Relationship with Objects

Misfit Relationship with the Audience.

Misfit Relationship with Other Performers.

The Misfit Relationship with Other Performers itself contains sub-categories:[8]

Misfit Relationship with Another Clown

Misfit Relationship with a Non-Clown

Thus the process of practical investigation rather than help to refine Misfit Relationship into a definable concept, has had the opposite effect, that of showing its endless permutations.

Having tested the principles of practice in a practical way I have now realized that they do not always function, or rather, they are not independent from their context.  Their usefulness depends entirely on how, when and to what they are applied.  In other words perhaps they are not something as lofty as a principle, but rather are just simple, useful tools.  And as Heidegger would be the first to explain to us, tools only work as they should if used in the correct manner. The moment in which an unskilled person employs a tool it will not achieve the desired effect, but rather attract attention for its very failure.  Thus I find myself back where I began, with the idea of failure as disclosure, but this time it is my own failure that is being disclosed.  My attempt to prove the presence of principles of practice has made me realize that there is something else that lies deeper – something more fundamental than these.

[1] The clown as a rule-breaker will be discussed in the body of my dissertation, mainly in chapter 4 and 5.

[2] Paul Barker’s abstract for CPR 2014:

Intersections are transgressed boundaries, open divisions crossing places between allegedly unrelated streams. The process of research and creation for Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist led four individual researchers to begin to disclose the intersections between creating and performing material for a clown and instrumental composition and performance. I composed a score which explored clowning within the microcosm of the pianists fingers; the pianist reconfigured these patterns and incorporated them successfully into the virtuoso pianist’s armoury; the clown amplified and developed aspects of the pianists physicality and natural absurdity; the director took the phrasing and structure of the music and found a theatrical truth in parallel or in opposition.

The disciplines of clowning and pianism reflect curious connections and exceptional confluences. Whereas there may be some superficial similarities in the tradition that includes the Marx Brothers to Victor Borges and Les Dawson, our specific objective to create original chamber music theatre for clown and pianist intercedes somewhere between violin/song recitals and comic duos/two-handers. Paradox is a crucial underlying principle: where we uncover the theatre of the pianist we discover the music of the clown; when we see tragedy and find comedy we discover silence and music; where we find truth behind pretence we discover pretence behind the dramatic truth.

As McGilchrist has pointed out, our minds can discover connections almost anywhere and the concept of intersection itself might be an illusion, albeit a fecund starting point for exploration and research.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,

If we should stumble when musicians play,

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

If I Could Tell You, by W.H Auden

[3] Alban Coombs’ abstract for CPR 2014:

Of all classical musicians, the concert pianist is, perhaps, the most solitary. Except for lessons, when hopefully another human being is involved, most pianists find that their only companion during their long training is the instrument itself. It is no surprise then that collaboration for the classical pianist can be a stressful process. Models of collaboration for pianists, far from being extensions of their practice, seem often to be retreats into narrower specialism – song accompanists and chamber pianists being obvious examples. Ubiquitous as the pianist seems, they rarely engage in experimental or improvisatory encounter – unless specially trained to do so.

The challenges then for a classical pianist engaged in experimental collaborations with a clown and theatre director are multifarious. Yet, despite the seeming difficulties posed by working with a clown, the experience of creating Musical Moments for Clown and Pianist suggests that the very differences between these two performance practices –clown and pianist – offers particular opportunities for creative collaboration.

Sophistication of technique is shared by both clowns and pianists, even though the clown’s explicit exhibition stands in marked contrast to the pianist’s implicit mastery. Contrasts of practice, such as the classical musician’s approach to the score that values ‘correctness’ rather than the actor’s (or clown’s) search for ‘dramatic truth’ might seem at first to be an obstacle. But these points of dissimilitude can become the points where trans-disciplinary influence and transformation are most apparent.

During the processes of rehearsal and performance, dynamics of synthesis and transformation were discovered and demonstrated. The apparent incongruences between these two performance practices – clowning and pianism – became less important for both performers, resulting in a shared technique that incorporated and celebrated both differences and similarities.

[4] Whether the Heideggerean notion of unready-to-hand can be applied to people is a contested issue, I am suggesting that the misfit relationship established in this case could be related in a way or another to this concept. [At very least, I would suggest that the person ‘fails’ in a different manner, and this failure discloses a different aspect, but the case for this position needs to developed phenomenologically.]

[5] Please see Chapter 1 of Poetics of the Clown (thesis) for more on this.

[8] the idea of categories and sub-categories will be fully developed in the CPR conference.

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Two Clowns, um álbum de claire.shovelton no Flickr.

photo album of Gorgonio & Pagliacci by Claire Shovelton -Video clip – creating a clown score

Ph.D -Practice Based Research


One of clown’s principles of practice that it is been examined in the Poetics of the Clown is the Misfit Body or the unique physicality that clowns might have while performing.

This clip shows an exercise held by Beré at the London Comedy Forum in August 2013. Here the seven rings of the clown are tested together with the musical clown -where a tambourine helps the teacher to highlight specific regions of the body of the performer to reveal the comic aspect of the clown’s body.

The Seven Rings of the Clown (Clown’s Body Reading) – a method under construction

My interest in clown’s differentiated physicality is the main motivation for developing a method for clown’s training based on Wilhelm Reich (1961) concept of character armor and the seven rings of tension. I must make clear from the outset that it is not my intention to develop a therapeutic method or a method closed linked with psychotherapy. This method under construction could be seen as a free adaptation of some of Reich’s concepts but not an application of his methods and theories.

Reich could be seen as the godfather of many of the current therapies that work with the emotional life of the body and psychotherapies focused in the body of the patient. His work contributed to psychological studies and suggested new paradigms such as the unity of body and mind, his concept of character armor and the inclusion of the body in psychotherapy. He is considered the founder of somatic psychology and body-oriented therapies. Bioenergetics founded by two former Reich students, Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, is considered to be a post-Reichian therapy. Martin Alexander founder of the Alexander Technique (designed to improve awareness of one’s habits of movements) and the Feldenkrais Method (designed to help people recover the natural grace and freedom they enjoyed as children) can be seen as techniques derived from Reich’s ideas.

The Armor Segments or Seven Rings of Tension in Reich’s work.

In his therapeutic work, Reich gradually came to focus on the importance of working with the physical manifestations of an individual’s character, especially the patterns of chronic muscle tension that he called body armor. Freud’s concept of libido inspired Reich to investigate the role of biological energy (later bioenergy) in human functioning. His idea of orgone could be compared with the Chinese definition of energy (Chi). For Reich the sexual energy was the fuel that moved human beings and neuroses were some sort of block of this energy. He suggested that we create a character armor repressing feelings and emotion. These repressed emotions would be localized in specific parts of the body, suggesting some kind of muscular memory. He defined seven regions of the body where we would accumulate these neuroses causing some kind of block that would interfere in our everyday activities. He indicated that the physical and psychological armor were basically the same:

Character armorings were now seen to be functionally identical with muscular [hypertension]. The concept, “functional identity,” which I had to introduce means nothing more than that muscular attitudes and character attitudes have the same function in the psychic mechanism: they can replace one another and can be influenced by one another. Basically, they cannot be separated. They are identical in their function. (Reich, 1973: 270–271)

Three major therapeutic techniques are used in dissolving the armor: (1) building up energy in the body through deep breathing; (2) directly massaging the chronically tense muscles and (3) assessing the patient by dealing openly with whatever resistances or emotional restrictions arise. Reich and post-Reichian therapists used these tools in each of the seven armor segments.

Reich’s 7 Rings of Tension

  1. The eyes. Includes eyebrows and the ocular region.
  2. The mouth. The oral segment includes the muscles of the chin, the throat, and the back of the head.
  3. The neck. This segment includes the deep neck muscles and also the tongue.
  4. The chest. The chest segment includes the large chest muscles, the shoulder muscles, the muscles of the shoulder blades, the entire chest cage, and the hands and arms.
  5. The diaphragm. This segment includes the diaphragm, stomach, solar plexus, various internal organs, and muscles along the lower thoracic vertebrate.
  6. The abdomen. The abdominal segment includes the large abdominal muscles and the muscles of the back.
  7. The pelvis. This last segment comprises all the muscles of the pelvis and lower limbs.

Adapting concepts – from 7 rings of tension to the seven rings of the clown

After taking part in a course held by John Pierrakos, the cofounder of bioenergetics, in Brasilia in 1995, I began my research on Reich’s theories. Despite the academic restrain on the Austrian-Hungarian psychiatrist’s work I found that his idea of dividing the body in specific regions and relating them with a ‘physical memory’ could be useful for my personal formation as a clown. The concept of having an incarnated psycho experience reflected in the body could be a differentiated approach to clowns physicality. My personal experience in Pierrakos intensive course, were memories of my childhood arose out of the exercises on each of the seven rings, made me think about my own body as the body of a clown. At that time, I had more than a decade of experience as a professional clown and was working as a schoolteacher for state schools. I began to develop a body reading technique of my own which would use the image of an armour to assess the initial body image (the image of the character) of my teenage students. This was the beginning of the development of the Clown’s Body Reading.

The body of a teenager is a body in transition. Transition from childhood to adulthood is very apparent in the body. These changes can disclose bodily incongruities that could be associated to the comic body of the clown. It is a phase of life to define a definitive posture in life. Observing the adolescent body and its characteristic daily changes was the first step to develop a series of exercises that would work the comic physicality of the body. I was holding theatre classes and clown workshops and had a relative freedom to introduce my personal research into the classroom.

To work the comic aspect of the body in transition was an opportunity to sketch some ideas in a practical way. At the same time, I was incurring the risk of touching some very complicated aspects of a body in formation. Teenagers are usually very concerned about their appearance and finding the space and conditions to play games that would deal with their looks can be very tricky. I was always highlighting the performative aspect of the training avoiding in this way to transform classrooms into therapy room. Therefore, as a facilitator, I was sharing with them their anxieties about the changes in their bodies but calling attention to the funny side of it. For example, I would suggest an exercise called ‘the diagonal of expression’ where the pupils, one by one, would just walk from one extreme diagonal of the classroom to the other. These moving bodies, with their long arms and asymmetric proportions were good and fun to look at. The continuation of the game was that we would ask the student to walk again exaggerating a particular characteristic of the walk. The participation of the students and their comments were welcome and the bulling was avoided because every one had to walk the diagonal. The results were generally positive and the construction of a method was setting its basis. Clown’s Body Reading would be a method based on observation and analysis of the comic aspects of the human body.

The seven rings of the clown

While the Reichian and bioenergetic therapies deal with emotionally charged blocks in the body, my approach to the seven regions of the body is less therapeutic and more pedagogical. The Clown’s Body Reading is a method (under construction) where, through the observation of specific parts of the body one can identify and work the comic aspect of it. Different from Reich’s seven rings what we observe here is not the ‘incarnated neurosis’ but the comic effect that muscular memory can reflect but what Noël Carroll calls ‘comedy incarnated’ or humor expressed through the body. Observing clowns throughout history and in our time, we might be able to identify particular characteristics of a comic body. I am not talking about the body image of the clown, which would include costumes and make up. Here I am focusing in the body schema of the clown, which is related to the physicality of the clown. Thus the idea was to work a series of games and exercises that would help reveal the comic aspect manifested in specific parts of the body. The objective was to work on the physicality of the clown in order to provoke the manifestation of the incongruities characteristic of the Misfit Body. (to be continued)

  • The eyes,
  • The mouth,
  • The neck,
  • The chest,
  • The belly,
  • The pelvis,
  • The knees.


Reich, W. (1961). Selected writings. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Noonday Press).

———. (1970a). The sexual revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

———. (1970b). The mass psychology of fascism. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

———. (1973). The function of the orgasm. New York: Touchstone.

———. (1976). Character analysis. New York: Pocket Books.

———. (1990). The passion of youth: An autobiography. New York: Paragon.

———. (1999). American odyssey: Letters and journals 1940–1947. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.


Ph.D -Practice Based Research

Case Studies on Misfitness

Case Studies and Misfitness

Toilet hat 3

This section of my research will be based on the analysis and critique of case studies that will elucidate some of my research inquiries, in particular one of the principles of practice for clowns that is linked to the concept of misfitness: The Misfit Body.

The Comic Body of the Clown

I will start with the premise that ultimately what characterizes a clown is the body in action and the way this body relates to other people and objects. The body of the performer is where the clown comes to be in the world. I will analyse the comic body of the clown and its relation to the concept of grotesque and misfitness. I am suggesting that the incongruity of the clown’s body discloses aspects of the human body that can be funny and laughable (and sometimes scary and terrifying). I intend to argue that the body of the clown can be seen as a representative of the misfit body. By misfit body I mean the body that does not fit in normative patterns and pre-established models of a given culture or society. I will also argue that it is not just a matter of physicality or body behaviour. My approach suggests that clowns have a peculiar attitude towards life and this attitude is what drives the clown to embody misfitness.

The focus of my research is the clown and the principles of practice that can be identified as a clown’s principles of action. The clowns to be analysed here are examples of physical-clown, or clown that use their body (mainly) to create a performance. The images to be used will be sourced from a wide range of original material: the silent movies of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, later film clowns such as the Marx Brothers and Tati and contemporary clowns such as Mr Bean. I will also be analysing the filmed live performances of contemporary clowns such as Dario Fo, Angela de Castro, Avner Eisenberg and also my own work in the clown company Circo Teatro Udi Grudi.

The Body of the Misfit by Profession

One of the principles that can be applied to a clown’s practice is related to the comic body of the clown. My analysis of the comic body suggests a dialogue with some theorists and practitioners in the field. The dialogue with theorists is part of another chapter one – an Ontology of Clown’s Principles of Practice.

In terms of practitioners, I will develop a dialogue with some contemporary clowns or comedians who use their body as the main vehicle for comic performances. One of these practitioners is Jos Houben, in his master class The Art of Laughter.[1] I intend to compare some of Houben’s approaches to the comic body to my own view presented in the work demonstration Poetics of the Clown – Mischief of the Misfit, a performance/lecture performed at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in October 2012.

The platform:

In order to present this current analysis, I am proposing a blog-like presentation, including images, to facilitate the understanding of my point of view. Using the technology at hand (WordPress) I will try to suggest a new model of presenting and scrutinizing data that is part of the methodology of my PaR. The analysis of images might help the understanding of my approach to the comic body of the clown as a misfit body.

Principles of Practice for Clowns.

One of my goals in this part of my research is to find out whether there are some principles of practice that are strictly related to clown. I am questioning if we can relate some specific ways of performing with the art of clown. I have to take into consideration that these principles of practice might not be fixed and immutable throughout the history of clowns, meaning that some of these principles might have changed and adapted to the context of a given period. My intention here is to analyse and perhaps codify some principles of practice that might help the understanding of the clown’s role in performance art. For the sake of a methodological approach, I will focus on specific case studies avoiding other sources of data. The clowns and clowns’ figures to be looked at here were chosen to fit my line of argument. I will avoid clown examples coming from literature or word-based clowns. In this way, I will try to keep the focus of my research to clown experiences that use the body as their main media of expression.

Case studies.

The idea of using case studies in my research is an attempt to analyze and translate into words the tacit knowledge that is implicit in the work of the clown. The attempt to share with others my own experience as a clown and the idea of trying to develop a deeper understanding of my clown’s practice is part of the practice that is at the basis of my research. I am suggesting that dialogue with other practitioners will help the understanding of what I am calling clown’s principles of practice.

In Poetics of the Clown – Mischief of the Misfit[2] I suggested that there are many principles of practice that guide the clown’s performance. One of them is the misfit body. In the sequence of this presentation I talked about the reading of the clown’s body and the seven rings of the clown. The seven rings of the clown is a method (under construction) of analysis of the comic body of the clown inspired by W. Reich’s Seven Rings of Tension. In my approach there are seven regions of the body where the comic aspect can be highlighted. I want to establish a dialogue with Jos Houben and his position about the comic body and the regions of the body that can be worked on in order to achieve a comic effect. I am using the transcript of his master class. The reason I am using Houben’s performance/lecture is that I found some parallels and many discrepancies between his approach to the comic body and mine. The analysis of these differences might help clarify some of my inquiries, mainly related to the approach of the comic body of the clown as a medium of revelation of incongruity.

In order to help the reading and the flow of the argument, I will use edited video material together with analytical/dialogical writing.

The most important event in terms of practice that happened up to now on the process of my research was the work demonstration presented at Collision 2012. Here, some selected images of this presentation will be used to frame the dialogue with other clowns and practitioners. Because of the necessity to use advanced technology, sometimes not available to the reader, I will also use a transcription of the recorded material, when possible, to make my arguments coherent.

Poetics of the Clown – The Mischief of the Misfit – 3/10/2012

The performatic lecture presented at Collisions was an attempt to show in practical terms my main research inquiries. It was conceived and rehearsed in the summer of 2012 and directed by Leo Sykes[3]. I am calling it a “work demonstration” because in reality it is a decomposition (or deconstruction) of one clown scene presented by one person (myself) and two characters (Gorgonio, the clown and Marcelo, the Researcher). Gorgonio is in charge of the first 15 minutes of the demonstration and the “Researcher” takes over for the rest of the time, around 35 minutes in total. My intention is to describe, analyze and reflect upon this presentation.

The clown plays with the audience, getting them together in the foyer and inviting them into the theatre with a samba, kazoo and tambourine. Gorgonio has a problem with books. There is a pile of philosophy books at the front of the stage. The clown calls attention of the audience to the pile of books and invites a member of the audience to move the books. The whole scene was prepared, including moments of spontaneous improvisation, to show how a “volunteer” from the audience performs a task and how Gorgonio performs the same task, for example moving books. The clown’s way of dealing with the books on stage is very different from the way the member of the audience performed the same task. Gorgonio carries, sits and even burns books in a very particular way: his clown way of doing things. I am suggesting that Gorgonio, through his uniqueness of performing a task, is revealing another side of the researcher and the main inquiries of the research. Through carrying philosophy books, heavy with knowledge, weighing more than they really do, the clown is making a scene of the metaphor, or better making the metaphor literal by enacting it. When the clown finally successfully jumps over the pile of books he is showing through his action how difficult it is to leap over the hard cover of knowledge. Sitting on top of the pile of books illustrated a different meaning in the clown’s understanding. Using the pile of books as a stool is a transgressive way of relating to books. In a way, it represents a naïve approach to the matter (they were books, now they are a stool). On the other hand, the leap over knowledge was so hard for the clown that now, he thinks, he deserves a rest. Another clown approach is that the knowledge that he is sitting on top of will, in some way, become part of him, maybe through osmosis.

When Gorgonio tries to read one of the philosophy books, he has a hard time pronouncing some words used in philosophy nowadays. The first word he struggles with is “phenomenology”. Gorgonio plays with words (e.g. in the very beginning of the show he says High/Low as if it was Hallo) but he is not a word-based clown. Here he is calling attention to a word that, despite its meaning, is difficult to say. He stresses the difficulty of pronunciation and implies that the understanding of this concept is beyond his capacities. He gives up and tries to say “hermeneutics”. Again, an academic jargon is put on display and the meaning of it played with. After almost saying something like hemorrhoids, the clown gives up and moves on. The third word he chooses to read is “epistemology”. At this point of the work demonstration, the book Gorgonio is reading is set on fire as if by magic. It could be seen as a metaphorical image for the enlightenment that reading brings to the research. He finally manages to say a whole phrase, full of academic jargon, that make sense. He says: “Epistemology is the science of knowledge. The phenomenological approach to the clown. Clown as the quintessential manifestation of misfitness.” From one point of view, this phrase sums up the main inquiries and methodologies of the actual research. In fact, all the other words used in this demonstration, including hermeneutics, are part of the new vocabulary that is being used in my analytical writing. In the light of the fire of the burning book, Gorgonio brings to light, in one phrase what I have been trying to say in a thousand words.

After a “striptease”, with the musical help of the audience each attempting to play a drinking straw (a recycled instrument provided by Gorgonio), the clown figure is abandoned as a dummy in a corner of the stage and the “Researcher” takes over the demonstration. I am arguing that because of the performative mode that the lecture is conducted, the Researcher is also a character. Despite the fact that he is analyzing what Gorgonio did as a clown and in spite of the text he says was written by himself, the Researcher is playing a game with the audience. He has to be sure that some, if not all, are following him and his line of arguments.

At this point I think it is important to note that I am bringing three different approaches, at the same time, to the process of my research. One is the clown’s perspective: his acts, action and attitude as the source of the inquiries; another is from the Researcher and the performance he presents to state the key questions or the problematization of the research. He is also a character who through his performance illustrates the process involved in memorizing the written word and developing his role. The third part is sitting now, in front of the computer, writing these words. The three of them are one person divided for the sake of the research methods.

When the Researcher takes over the work demonstration he is responsible for the deconstruction of Gorgonio’s performance. He is the one who will introduce the inquiries and throw some light on the process of the search. First he will suggest that he, or all three, were a natural born clown. The anecdote, based on real fact, of how Gorgonio’s name came to be is an illustration and introduction of the concept of misfitness. Here the Heideggarian idea of “throwness” is subtly introduced. One does not chose the place, time or family where one is born. The concept of misfitness is reinforced throughout the performance. The Researcher talks about the principles of practice for clowns based on the misfit condition of the clown.

Principles of Practice of Clowns and Misfitness

Some of the principles of practice suggested by the Researcher are: Misfit Image, Misfit Body, Misfit Timing, Misfit Relationship and Misfit Object. Each one of these principles is exemplified in Gorgonio’s presentation. In a way the Researcher is using Gorgonio as a case study. The clown provided in his presentation, some actions and behaviours, are deconstructed by the Researcher in order to make a link with the idea of the misfit conditions of the clown.

The misfit image for example, is clear on Gorgonio’s costume and make up. According to Clayton “[t]he clothes define the clown: mark him out from others, shape his body and delineate his identity” (2007: 68) Gorgonio’s hair is back combed and sprayed to keep its shape. Parts of his eyebrows are painted with black mascara. His black and white checked suit and clown boots are badly fitting, the former being too small and the latter too big. His image does not fit conventional, everyday style. However, it can easily be identified as a clown’s image. The misfit timing is highlighted in the pauses and breaks in rhythm of his action: he constantly interacts with the audience to see whether they are following him, also checks up on himself and also the object on the stage. This can be seen as a technique to provoke surprise and to highlight the incongruity of the moment. The misfit relationship is established from the beginning with the audience. The clown goes out of the theatre space to collect the audience and invite them in. He chooses a “volunteer” as a participant. His actions break not just the fourth wall, it challenges other boundaries too, creating what Ferrancini calls the “turbulence zone”[4]. It creates a two-way path for exchanging perceptions. The clown here imposes in a certain way, compulsory participation of the audience where the perception and reaction of the audience influences the perception and reactions of the clown. Gorgonio teaches them how to make an instrument out of a simple drinking straw and the audience play together the music for the striptease. The way Gorgonio manipulates the objects on stage demonstrates the for-what-else-for of the objects, or what I am calling the misfit objects, or better, the misfit relationship with objects. However, my focus now, for the sake of the flow of the search, is on the misfit body. The other principles are to be analyzed in a deeper approach here or else where in the course of my research but for the purpose of demonstration of case studies, the misfit body will be at the core of the analysis suggested here.

The body and the bodily attitudes of the clown and the relationship with the concept of misfitness is the thread throughout the body of my research. The main inquiries the case studies intend to show are: What is the importance of the body for the presence of the clown? Can we identify principles of practice for clowns strictly related to the body that embodies the clown? How can these principles be related to the idea of the clown as a misfit by profession?

Case Studies – A Dialogue with Jos Houben

As stated before, I will establish a reflective dialogue with Jos Houben and his master class the Art of Laughter[5]. His approach to the comic body presented in this master class has many points in common with how I presented the work demonstration. However, my approach is directed related to the clown, while Houben’s can be seen and used in many other comic characters or in the training of a comic actor. While I talk about the comic body and principles of practice of the clown, the Belgium actor shows principles of practice of the comic body in general. The case studies are meant to show principles of practice applied to the body of the clown.

The first parallel I want to trace is the idea of different regions of the body that, once modified, can change the way your body is in the world with other people and objects. He implies, and I agree, that modifying the position of specific parts of the body is a way of highlighting some incongruence that can make the body look comic. Houben says: “changing the position of any of these parts, changes my whole relationship with the world”. I am suggesting that the clown has a very peculiar relationship with the world and part of this peculiarity is manifested in the body of the one who embodies the clown. The change in one of the regions provokes a misalignment or a re-alignment of the body that reveals the clown identity. I am suggesting that the disruption of the acceptable way of positioning your body in the world brings to light some incongruities that characterize the clown figure. There are other factors related to attitude, and the way the clown’s body get involved while performing a task, that must be taking into consideration when we analyze the comic body of the clown. These other factors will be part of the general analysis of the principles of practice of clowns.

The Regions of the Comic Body

Jos Houben states in the beginning of his presentation:“There’s three levels that are of importance. The feet and the knees (…) The pelvis. Then there’s the chest and then there’s the head.”

It is important to realize that he speaks of three levels, or three region of the body, and shows four. In my presentation, the Researcher presents the concept of a clown’s body reading and the Seven Rings of the Clown. This concept is actually a methodology “under construction” inspired by the seven rings of tension of Wilhelm Reich[6]. My approach to the comic body of the clown suggests that there are seven rings, or specific regions of the body, that can be worked on in order to bring to light a comic quality of the body of the performer. These qualities, despite the general approach, are particular and private to the body where the clown becomes manifest. This implies that the seven rings can be identified in every body despite the individual and personal qualities of the body. (clip) Houben brings the focus to three (or four) regions that, depending on the change imposed by the performer, can highlight some comic qualities of the body. The seven rings of the clown are related to his vision but more defined and developed. The seven rings of the clown shown by the Researcher are: 1) The base (the feet, knees and legs); 2) The pelvic area; 3) The abdominal region (front and back); 4) The chest; 5) The neck. and the facial rings 6) The mouth and 7)The eyes. Four of my rings are directly related to Houben’s levels. The feet and knees (ring one); the pelvis (ring 2); the chest (ring 4) and the head (rings 6 and 7). In my approach, I am including the abdominal region (ring 3) and the neck (ring 5). In subdividing “the head”, I suggest the “reading” of two facial rings: mouth (ring 6) and eyes (ring 7).

The Belgium comedian uses all the seven rings of the clown in his presentation but he talks about four of them in particular. He talks about the relationship of our verticality as human beings and “dignity” (clips: We are vertical, no roots and the base is smaller than the top. We are obsessed about verticality) When he speaks about the first ring (base or feet and knees) he says: “[the walk] it was just like a signature, I can see you in a crowd from a mile away, my mother. Because that’s the way she walks, and only she walks like this.“ The Researcher in Collisions 2012 says: the walk is like the clown’s greeting card. The walk is the link with the clown’s personality. As Jos can see his mother miles way because of her way of walking, we too can recognize some clowns by their walk. The walk of iconic clown figures of the silent movies were described and analyzed by many clowns theorists. Clayton’s definition of Chaplin’s clown, the Tramp, is remarkable: “His waddling walk and the dog-like way he stretches his legs … his peculiar method of navigating corners at speed, by hopping on one foot and jutting out the other at an angle” (2007:5), (clip KID)

In this rare clip, Chaplin teaches the passengers of the White Star Liner “Olympic” how he did his walk. We can see that all the passengers that tried to walk like him had a different perception and interpretation in their bodies of the Tramp’s walk. There is even an anecdote that in the Lucerne[7] Chaplin’s annual contest Chaplin himself entered the competition and came third.

Buster Keaton’s walk is compared to a machine, reminding us of Bergson’s statement that “[t]he attitudes, gestures and movements of the human body are laughable in exact proportion as that body reminds us of a mere machine” (2008:15).

Agee’s description of Keaton’s walk-as-machine found in Clayton’s book:

His short-legged body was sudden, machine-like angles, governed by a daft aplomb. (…) When he ran from a cop his transitions from accelerating walk to easy jogtrot to brisk canter to headlong gallop to flogged-piston sprint (…) were as distinct and as soberly in order as an automatic gearshift (2007:25)

The first ring of the clown’s body reading is related to the base of the performer’s body. It has to do with grounding or lack of grounding. Grounding, in the sense that the relationship linking the body in action and the ground, is balanced or out of balance. Feet, knees, legs and tights make the connections from the ground to the pelvis and upper body. Some of the articulations (bones and muscles as well) in the lower members when changed from the daily to some extra-daily[8] use suggest a dance-like movement or as Houben says: “All these hinges … allow us to compensate. That’s why we don’t fall over, when something goes forward something else goes backwards. Head goes forward the pelvis goes backwards. We can compensate. We kind of undulate through life.“ This “undulation” or “dance around the central axis” happens in the whole body but it is the lower ring that makes the connection with the ground.

Groucho Marx walks as though he is always about to fall, projecting his head forwards and but compensates by projecting his pelvis upwards. (clip)

Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks is a classical example of how “serious” the silly walk is for the development of the nation. John Cleese includes the silly walk in the list of priorities of investments of the government, together with education, housing and health. Jokes apart, as if it was possible in the analysis of Monty Python’s clip, we can notice that Cleese’s walks are caricatures of normative walks, or exaggerations and dilatation of movements in the lower ring that makes the whole body looks funny. The actor’s serious face works as a bodily contradiction, reinforcing the incongruence of the action. One of the most interesting things about this clip is Cleese’s analysis of the not-silly walk. He says: “The right leg isnt silly at all and the left leg merely does a forward arial half turn every alternitive step”. The sequence that follows the “scientific approach” is a hand full of examples of silly walks with a highlight in the duck-walk. Behind the joke, Cleese was showing us what “works” and what “does not works” in a funny walk. He shows us with his examples that it is not just a matter of physicality (yet, is in the body the the silliness is revealed) but it is also a matter of timing and attitude.

As stated before, change in one ring changes the whole alignment of the body. The next ring to be analyzed here is the second ring or the pelvis region. Houben uses the example of two Greeks meeting on the street showing cultural differences in positioning the pelvis. The Researcher shows his interpretation of an adolescent body and the way it is positioned in the world. This ring is clearly linked with sex and sexuality. However, it is also linked to scatological functions like defecation and flatulence. (to be continued)


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[1] The images used in this paper (blog) were copied from Routledge Archives – exclusively for academic proposes.

[2] To see the whole presentation follow the link:

[3] Leo Sykes has been, for the last 15 years, the director of Circo Teatro Udigrudi (, the company I founded with clown partners in 1982, in Brazil.

[4] “This is the zone that is “between” my physical actions [of the clown], the matrixes*, states, the space, the other actor and the audience, and that affects and is affected by what I call the turbulence zone. *The matrix is the actual physical/vocal actions, alive and organic, codified. In this way, each actor possesses a set of matrixes that become his living vocabulary of scenic communication – his expressive vocabulary to be recreated in the moment of the body-in-scenic-state.” (Ferracini 2012).

[5] The presentation was recorded in Edinburgh in 2007. Jos’s one-man show The Art of Laughter has toured the world many times over and in May 2010 sold out a five-week run in Paris’s prestigious Théâtre du Rond Point. He is a devisor and consultant with comedy troups, opera companies, circus schools, workshop festivals, dance schools, universities and magicians worldwide. Since 2000 he has been a teacher at L’École Jacques Lecoq in Paris.


[7] falta referencia

[8] “The way we use our bodies in daily life is substantially different from the way we use them in performance… The first step in discovering what the principles governing a performer’s scenic bios, or life, lies in understanding that the body’s daily techniques can be replaced by extra-daily techniques, that is, techniques that do not respect the habitual conditionings of the body.” Eugenio Barba (2005:7)