Ph.D -Practice Based Research

Clown Keynote – Poetics of the Clown – Misfit Clown and the Toilet

Clown Keynote

I strongly recommend watching these videos before reading the post

Clown Keynote Part One

Clown Keynote Part Two

Clown Keynote Q&A

This post comments on the work presented in the Collisions Festival 2014. It is part of the documentation of the Poetics of the Clown – Principles of Practice and Misfitness – PaR/Ph.D in progress at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.
Collisions is the name of a festival held at RCSSD annually where the PhD candidates who are doing PaR have the opportunity to show how practice motivates, informs and inspires their research. As part of my third year researching the Poetics of the Clown, I decided to present what I am calling the Clown Keynote. The presentation was recorded both days (on the 29th and 30th September 2014). I divided the recording of the presentation into three parts, each with specific links to YouTube. The first one is circa 12 minutes long – what I’m calling Just Clown – where the clown show works as an introduction for the Keynote. The second part is the Keynote in itself and lasts about 38 minutes. It is the critical and theoretical contextualization of my thesis. The third part is a selection of what happened after both presentations in a Q&A format. We (myself with Emma, the editor) selected images of the audience on the first day to show their response to a clown work demonstration.

Click on the link below for Collisions 2014 – Programme

Clown Keynote – Part One – Just Clowning Through
Clown and keynote are two words that don’t recognize each other. Keynote, similar to Power Point, has a connotation of academic presentation and the concept of a lecture or conference embedded in it. Thus, keynote here would stand for the ‘serious’ part of this presentation, where I would show how theory informs my research. The clown would represent the playfulness side of the research. The idea was to show the paradox of the researcher and the clown in an academic environment. My intention was to sum up 33 months of research in a one-hour presentation. It was a way of using my practical work to demonstrate a theoretical point.
The first part of this performance was conceived as a ‘clown show’, where Gorgonio, my clown would present the three principles of practice, which will be scrutinized later, during the actual keynote. Gorgonio would be responsible for preparing the mood of the audience for the second part of the show – the ‘serious’ keynote. He was responsible to introduce the idea of misfitness not with words but through action. My intention was to investigate the Misfit Object as a clown’s principle of practice. The starting point was the idea that, for a clown, the most ordinary object can present itself with functionalities other than its more prosaic ones. Nevertheless, what was found was that this concept of Misfit Object or the what-else-for of the object, had to be expanded into the Misfit Relationship with Objects. It also became apparent that the principle of Misfit Object is composed of various subcategories of codification: the object as sound source (musical instruments), the object as puppet, the object as an animated object (different to the puppet) and so forth. The object in itself, with all its material characteristics (weight, height, shape, colour, etc.) was to be treated as another ‘being’ in the room. The identity of the object was to be defined by the actions of the clown. The interaction between the clown and the toilet discloses other symbolic and significant functions of the object. Leo Sykes directed this first section of the presentation.
The concept of Misfit Object derives from the Heideggerean idea of the primordial functionality of the object (present-to-hand, ready-to-hand, what-for) and the concept of ‘discloser through failure’. An object has a ‘what-for’, a primordial functionality (a hammer is for hammering, a toilet is for taking a shit). When things are functioning efficiently and according to their intended use, his premise is that they become transparent. We don’t notice that we are hammering as long as we don’t hit our thumb. It is all part of a context. The hammer, the nail, the wood and the thumb of the one who hammers are part of the same context. So my question is: How do clowns use objects in order to show the what-else for of an object? What is the what-else-for of the toilet? What else than its primordial functionality can I use the toilet for? What kind of logic guides the clown towards an (ab)use of ‘equipmental’ norms, in Heidegger’s sense – i.e., using the ‘for-what’ of equipment inappropriately?
Toilet to let
The toilet is a symbol of contempory times. A toilet is a sanitation fixture used primarily for the disposal of human urine and feces. Toilet is a complex piece of machinery that mediates between us and the ‘brute fact’ about our body – and it brings to mind all the scatological images that humour approaches, what Simon Critchley (2002) calls the ‘gap between our souls and arseholes’. The toilet bowl is a piece of equipment we have to learn how to use as one of the steps of growing up and fitting into society, culture and civilisation. Every animal defecates but only humans use a toilet to do so. In spite of the fact that, throughout history, many similar facilities were used for our human private physiological needs, the white ceramic basin is not even two centuries old. The toilet for a clown it is deeply meaningful. Many clown theorists and clown teachers (Lecoq and post-Lecoquians) make a relationship between the failure of the clown (flop) and the image of being in the shit. A clown and a toilet, what a duet! The toilet is an object that is present in our daily lives, at least in Western so-called civilization. It is an object that we all have a very private relationship with. I wanted to highlight the way in which the toilet is symbolic of the relationship that we have with the world and our own bodies, and how the former mediates the latter. A Brazilian poet (João Cabral de Mello Neto) says that writing poetry is like going to the toilet to take a shit. Writing poetry would be an act of intimacy and privacy comparable to the act of defecating. Gorgonio’s duty was to present to the audience “three principle of practice and one logic” – the actual title of the presentation. The misfitness of the object, the body and the relationship were to be probed in public. The Poetics of the Clown is now to be tested with the toilet, in front of an audience.
A clown in the room
At this point in my research I had to ask some help from Gorgonio, my clown. The what-else-for is better worked when some kind of clown’s logic is guiding the action. The system of rehearsal was divided in three sessions: a) one hour warm up and research of clown material with toilet b) two hours with Leo, showing material and working on improvisation c) two hours of fixing material. Fixing here has a double sense; one is mending, lapidating, putting together and the other one is repeating an action up to the point where the action is known by the body. It is the expanded idea of ‘knowing it by heart’. Here it is necessary to ‘know it by body’.
My proposal was to work with an object in order to reveal its misfitness. I was to explore its potential as fully as possible. The methods used for creating clown material were based in the improvisation of physical actions taking into consideration the toilet not just as an object but as a stage partner. It was a partner in the sense that its presence inspired my actions, which at this point became reactions to its presence. Here the phenomenon to be analyzed is not the misfit object in itself but the object in a specific context. The context of creating material for a clown performance changed the status of an ordinary toilet to a stage partner.
When I first started to work with the toilet, I didn’t have a story, a plot or a dramaturgical line to guide me. The idea was to use the toilet to help me pull the trigger that would detonate my clown creativity. I wanted to show the clown’s principles of practice I was working on, but they should appear throughout the conception of the show without much theoretical interference. I had the impression that, if I could reach my ‘clown-state-of-being’ (through Gorgonio) the principles would necessarily be there, meaning the being-a-clown-in-the-world provokes the doing. I have being involved in my research almost as my ‘own-private-guinea-pig’. I have stated before that the clown is seen here as a ‘pragmatic doer’ and that the doing is what defines the being. For the sake of the focus of my research, I had to invert the hypothesis. In order to create ‘clown material’ I had to invite the clown to the rehearsal room.

The Great Pretender
It is very controversial to talk about a ‘clown’s truth’ if we take into consideration that the clown is a ‘pretender’. The clown is pretender in the sense that that there is always a person embodying the manifestation of the clown. Gorgonio is a fictional character playing ‘for real’, which means, he is Marcelo in a performative state of being. In conceiving this presentation, Gorgonio was the one ‘writing the clown score’ or, in other words, doing clown things in a clown-like manner, which eventually led to an embodiment of the reactions to the score. This clown score would be the base of the routine to be presented. Any improvisation that happens should fit in the context of this clown score. The audiences, and the interaction with the audience, were part of the elements that could motivate spontaneity and improvisation. Therefore, the clown score would help to keep the clown on the clown’s logic track, or serve as a controlled zone of turbulence where the clown could always go back.
Singing the Great Pretender in the beginning of the scene was a way of playing with the concept that clowns have to be authentically spontaneous. Louise Peacock (2009) says: “The concept of performing truthfully is common in clowning … [and there is] the need for the clown to be entirely present in the moment” (Peacock 2009:107). The presence of the clown and its relation to truth is questionable. My clown challenges these concepts of truth and spontaneity assuming, from the outset that he is a great pretender. The idea of a ‘clown score’ already indicates some sort of structure, of something preconceived, of lack of spontaneity. Framing a sequence of actions does not necessarily ‘kills’ the clown. In Gorgonio’s case, the opposite happens. When Gorgonio has a score to play with means that he also has a score to challenge, change or disrupt. Or a save base to go back to, if everything goes wrong.
The clown score for this presentation can be summarized in a line of actions: clown sitting on the loo sings -> he acknowledges the audience -> looks and tries to reach the toilet paper -> kicks it to the side -> tries to reach 3 times (it does not work) -> rips the newspaper to clean himself -> makes a magic trick (the ripped newspaper is a whole page again) -> he has to stand up -> uses the page to cover his parts -> eats the newspaper -> time to give a paper (interaction with audience giving pieces of loo paper) -> collecting data -> consulting the Clown Oracle -> final action (toilet on the head). Part of this score was rehearsed again and again – the singing, the magic trick, kicking the loo roll and etc. Some of this score could only be performed with the presence of the audience – and that is what makes the score (something rigid and structural) flexible and fluid. The feedback from the audience (or the lack of it) makes the presence of the clown noticeable, effective or not. To be “entirely present in the moment” for Gorgonio means playing the score as precise as possible and enjoying the “real play” that happens with the audience.
Collecting Data

The first part of this presentation was intended to ‘expose’, in a clown way, an intimate side of my research. This was a way of inviting the audience to come to the toilet with my clown. It was a way to show misfitness as the background of a clown performance. The metaphorical images created to this show were loaded with symbolisms and some signs. The Poetics of the Clown, or the principles of practice were being tested in front of an audience. The Misfit Object was present all times, inspiring the creation of the clown material and being used in a trangressive way e.g. eating the newspaper, the toilet bowl becoming a recipient for research data and consequently the Clown Oracle, etc. After eating the newspaper, Gorgonio feels the need of giving a paper – and distributes pieces of toilet paper to the audience. This was not just a word play but also an action with consequences. Mocking with academic concepts of ‘giving a paper’, which usually means holding a conference or presenting an article, in academic jargon, Gorgonio was also playing with the role of the researcher that Marcelo would play later. When the clown asks the audience to write down in one phrase what a clown is and collects the ‘precious thoughts’ in the toilet bowl there is a clear example of Misfit Relationship going on. In fact, the final scene of this sequence, when Gorgonio asks the Oracle the ‘fundamental question’, all the precious thoughts were inside the toilet, suggesting the idea that sometimes one has to dig in the shit to find precious insights. The answers given by the audience were collected after each presentation from inside the toilet. Below in italic bold, the transcription of some of the feedback, selected accordantly with the resonance with my approach, with brief comment on the data.
• A human being being human
Clown Through Mask (2013) by Sue Morrison suggests that if acting is wearing a mask, clowning is to get rid of all masks, leaving the “smallest mask”, the red nose. Angela de Castro (in Peacock 2009) e John Wright (2006) says that clowning is a state of being. But, what is not a state of being for a human being? Being human is a constant state of being. But sometimes the human being is less human than others. I am suggesting that the clown is a performer that develops proper skills for embodying misfitness; in doing that the clown reveals aspects of imperfections that were concealed in conformism.
• Someone who can make you laugh due to their comic skills
Definitely laughter is welcome in a clown performance. It means that here is someone there. Sometimes it even means that they got the joke. Laughter can be seen as the very final goal to the one who uses comic skills but it is not always determinant for the manifestation of the clown. The idea of identifying clown’s principles of practice has to do with the training of comic skills.
• The clown always tries his hardest
One of the characteristics of the Misfit Logic is that the clown has a different understanding of the world. I used the term insistentialist to define the clown before. The insistentialists are the opposite of the desistentialists –the ones that give up, desist. They insist in behavior, attitudes and ideas. They believe in their action –even if others think that it is a silly action. The concept of misfitness is related to the idea of rupture, of trespassing boarders of common behavior. Trying harder could be acceptable (or understandable) from the audience’s point of view. For the clown’s perspective it should not be a matter of trying harder but of insisting in resolving problems using his/her logic. They don’t accept failure as an impeditive to keep going. The solution for a simple problem can be very complicated. The solution for a very complicated problem can be very simple.
• A magic maker
I always make a relationship of magic and wisdom. If magic is the result of hard work, than it is magic what the clown does. But there is a kind of magical element – if magic is something that can’t be translated in words. I am talking about something different from magic tricks. Magic tricks, with props or not, can be trained and controllable. The kind of magic I’m talking about happens when there is some kind of complicity + synchronicity of what the artist is doing and the audience’s perception. It is a sort of communal flow of attention and concentration. In theatre and real live performances they are ephemeral intense moments that our senses record somewhere that engraves forever in our memories. Chaplin, in order to capture these kind of magical moments, had to shoot 64 times the same scene.
• A clown is an outsider looking in
The clown as an outsider is an archetypal characteristic of the clown. The outcast, the underdog, the misfit. But it is not just a matter of looking in – it is a matter of revealing – which takes me to the next piece of loo paper…
• A clown is someone who reflects the world in a different way
Reflecting reminds me of mirrors. There is a Portuguese (Latin) trinomial that is crucial for this research and practice: Espelho, espectador, espetáculo (mirror, spectator, spectacle). This indicates the essential dynamic of clowning as the art of interaction. The focus of this research is the clown as a performer who is not afraid of disclosing imperfection. It is a distorted mirror that reflects a distorted reality. The clown’s work is fundamentally based on the relationship with the audience. And how, why and if the audience identify themselves with what they see in the mirror.

The body of the clown – the place where clownery happens

The third principle of practice that was presented is called the Misfit Body. I am suggesting that the clown has the ability to use the body in a way that challenges the conventional way of using the body. This challenge happens when the clown uses his/her body to manifest the Misfit Logic. The Misfit Body highlights the bodily imperfections and at the same time reveals a different bodily attitude than the ones found in everyday life. One example of this concept can be seen in the sequence where Gorgonio pulls his trousers up. A conventional way of doing it would be: standing up and using both hands to do the job. Here, Gorgonio bites the newspaper to protect his nudity. He does that using his Misfit Logic – he thinks: if I stand up and grab my trousers the audience will see me naked. Thus, I have to use the newspaper to hide my pubic parts – he walks forward with his knees bended and than pull his trousers up. After few attempts, he manages to get hold of his trousers. The news paper functioned perfectly for his intent (to cover his nudity) and is still in his mouth. The Misfit Logic continues to guide his actions. He has the newspaper in his mouth, tastes it, and decides to eat it. My argument is that, in order to train the Misfit Body the performer has to transposes some boundaries of the conventional way of behaving. The Misfit Body is in reality a well-trained body – trained to do and perform misfit actions. The posture and the attitude Gorgonio had while pulling up his trousers were rehearsed and performed for more than a decade – the scene is an adaptation of one of the scenes of O Cano, a play that Gorgonio takes part in since 1998. Eating the newspaper had its consequences for the actor. In order to chew the page of the newspaper, I had to open my jaw so widely that I dislocated the back joint of my jaw.
What worked and what did not work.
These presentations fulfilled the objectives, which were to present my research and research process and the methodologies applied up to now. However, if I take under consideration the response of the audience for the clown show in the second day, I might consider it a flop. Similar to Collisions 2013, where day two was completely different from day one, this time my clown had a hard time in the second day. In 2013 on the first day, I was concerned about playing the clown score so precisely that Gorgonio became tense and rigid. That interfere a lot in the ‘presence of the clown’, once it was very difficult to be present and thinking about the research at the same time. There was a conflict going on – the researcher and the clown were fighting for ‘being there’, with the audience.
In 2014, I tried to avoid this paradoxical fight between two sides of the same person dividing the show in two clear sections. The Gorgonio could be the clown in the part and the researcher could take over for the second half of the presentation. But, in spite of the preparation and the rehearsals, there are always elements that one can’t control. On the first day (29th Sept), my PhD peers came (almost 20 of them) to watch to show and brought with them what I’m calling the ‘sympathetic laughter’ – that kind of laughter a previous relationship facilitates – a laughter that helps the clown show to flow. It was like an invisible contract was signed – they came to a clown show and they will laugh. This same audience got a bit bored by the middle of the second half of the proper keynote – they wanted more clown.
The number of the audience member got reduced by a third on the second presentation (30th Sept). Amongst the seven people present I had both supervisors and other members of the staff (or other people from the academic environment). It was much harder for Gorgonio to keep his clown presence. The lack of feedback made the first part of the second presentation cold and not funny. Nevertheless, the second half of this presentation was much more fluid and the ‘researcher’ felt much more comfortable delivering the philosophical information. Afterwards, in the Q&A part, the audience really showed their interest, questioning and arguing not just with me but also among them. A different contract was signed. A contract between a Misfit Clown and the academic world.

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.

Two Clowns - 20Two Clowns - 21Two Clowns - 22Two Clowns - 23

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

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


Banana exercise is a way of approaching the concept of misfit object, one of the clown’s principles of practice identified on the course of Beré’s search for the Poetics of the Clown.
Rules and the breaking of rules are part of this training. How can you relate to a banana in a misfit way?

Ph.D -Practice Based Research

TOP OF THE FLOP – Dr Brown and the crack

In this clip I am showing what I am calling the top of the flops.  It shows how an experienced clown can be in trouble when experimenting with  techniques and methods of clowning. This was the last time I was on stage in this workshop. In the previous times I was just trying to let my clown flow. When I was up there I was trying to be my clown, to show the class what I considered to be a good way of clowning. Phil Burgers made many comments and suggested some stage directions that made me question my whole experience as a clown. Before this last attempt, I tried a couple of times to execute this same number unsuccessfully. But at least I had few laughs coming from fellow clowns sitting in the audience. In one of this attempts, Phil asked me to step down from the stage and asked me to repeat exactly the same phrase I said on stage but in a diferente context. He was trying to make a point that I was not clowning but acting. He was pointing out that the road towards emptiness and openness can’t be built on fake assumptions. When he asked me to say ‘can I have a cup of tea’ off stage, me and everybody else in the room noticed that the tone of my voice changed, my body posture changed my presence changed. He was trying to demonstrate that, just because I was in a clown workshop, doing an exercise where you are supposed to be funny, I should not change my way of being. He asked me to change my routine and also to take my clown shoes off. The clip here shows me trying to be myself. It is interesting to notice that even some of the movements and physical actions that were supposedly funny (at least people laughed when I presented for the first time) now became almost sad. I was anxious to show them, my peer clowns and Phil, that I was capable of showing some other qualities of the clown that was not just the idea of being funny. But I didn’t know at the time what other qualities a clown show could in that context. Phil was very generous, letting the students go onstage again and again in order to try something new.

How does shit happens? Once your are on stage and your clown material doesn’t work ( by which I mean the audience is not laughing or even engaging) you can feel it. You can almost smell it. Shit! It didn’t work! What do I do know?

Of course I had experienced this feeling before. I even had advice for my students and myself: when the moment of the flop happens or when you feel yourself in the shit, breath, swallow and show the audience that you acknowledge that that part of your act didn’t work and keep going. Sometimes the audience will laugh or respond to your act of swallowing. But here I was experiencing something different. Perhaps if I explain how one of Phil’s exercises works it might be easier to understand why the crack occurs and how shit happens.

The chair exercise-

This is an exercise that is at the base of Phil’s pedagogy. With an apparently simple structure the chair exercise is an exercise that trains the performer to ‘read’ the audience. This reading of the audience is fundamental for the kind of clown that Phil teaches. For the actual exercise the teacher asks one of the students to leave the room. Another student will go on stage, where there is already a chair, and create a tableau or a specific position of the body, either sitting down, standing up, using or not using the chair- but the chair must be there as a referential point/object. The goal of the game is for the student that is absent from the room to return and repeat this exact same tableau despite not having seen it.  The only indication will be given by the audience (formed of clown students) by clapping. From this moment on this exercise is very similar to the cold/hot game. In this children’s game you hide something and a child has to find it. If the child gets close to the hidden object the others will say ‘it is getting hot’ if the child distances herself from the hidden object the others shout: it is cold. Here the same rules apply.  If the clown doing the exercise gets close to the position (tableau) everybody claps. Silence, on the other hand, means that he/she is not repeating any elements of the tableau. The game finishes when the student finds the same position his peer suggested. When this happens we can hear a big round of applause.

This exercise is an interesting way of testing the complicity that the performer has to have with the audience. Phil says that the audience is ready to love the clown. The clown has to realise when he is being loved and react to it. The flop can happen if the clown does not listen to the audience or does not read their reactions accurately or even worse, when he tries to be funny. Trying to be funny already shows that you are not – you are just trying. The problem with the development of the chair exercise is when you are clowning you don’t get clear reactions from the audience all the time.   It is not like the chair game where the the audience will clap to indicate the right position or tableau. In the real clown game the indications are much more subtle. The idea is to develop a sense of reading the audience where even the subtlest reaction is felt by the clown. Then there is a reaction. It is not acting, it is reacting. Phil says that we all know when we are being loved. We can sense it. When the audience shows their love the clown has to show his love back. How? By making them laugh and have a good time. I asked him if this is not acting.

The answer is still not clear.  Trygve Walkenshaw, an actor trained at Gaulier’s and a student at this workshop, tried to help Phil in his answer saying that in acting the performer has a frame – a text, a context, a dramaturgy – in clowning there is no frame. If the frame exists the tendency is that the clown will break  it. Both however agreed that the clown is a performer.. Therefore, even if the clown is not necessarily acting, he definitely is performing, or in other words, he is playing. What game does the clown play?  Susana Alcantud said that ‘le jeu’ (play) is the principle that should guide training, both for actors and clowns. (Clip) Phil talks about ‘stupid impulses’ that should be the fuel that moves the clown. When I asked where these impulses come from, he thought for a second and pointed to his solar plexus – ‘from here’, indicating that clown impulses should be gut impulses or body impulses. Not from the head. Not a preconceived reaction.  I am inclined to believe that there is always some kind of pretence in the clowns performance. The performer is not really stupid. He is open to respond and react to his ‘stupid’ impulses.

When asked about the clown as an agent for poetry to happen, Phil was categorical: ‘the poetry is already there! The clown just reveals it.’

I asked Phil if the clown could exist without an audience. He answered that there are ‘moments clown’ where we get caught up in clowning. Those moments can happen in public spaces – bus stops, tube stations, market places – or in moments of privacy or solitude. Those moments are not performances per se. They are moments where the clown mood takes over. It can happen to anyone.

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)