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
- The eyes. Includes eyebrows and the ocular region.
- The mouth. The oral segment includes the muscles of the chin, the throat, and the back of the head.
- The neck. This segment includes the deep neck muscles and also the tongue.
- 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.
- The diaphragm. This segment includes the diaphragm, stomach, solar plexus, various internal organs, and muscles along the lower thoracic vertebrate.
- The abdomen. The abdominal segment includes the large abdominal muscles and the muscles of the back.
- 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.