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Meeting 1

Meeting 1


The meeting started with an introduction to the Modern Jesters project, describing how the idea came about through the challenge of incorporating fun and interest into the day job as an academic.

We started with 9 attendees, from a variety of professional backgrounds and associations which led to them being involved in the project. Each introduced themselves and described how they became engaged with Modern Jesters.

Andrea Jiminez then took the floor to give her perspective of clowning. The main themes which emerged here, for me, were that clowning was not something one achieved by ‘putting on’ but rather by ‘taking off’. Her view was that we were all clowns and stupid, but we covered these with camouflage and pretence so that no one would notice. The art of clowning was in stripping away these layers to reveal the child like ‘innocent’ state which lay beneath them all, the clown as his stupid self, with nothing to hide behind. This was an interesting perspective, that red nose of the clown was the one mask which revealed rather than disguised. This is the ‘stupidity’ perhaps of naivety, as a child’s view of the world and associated misunderstandings are not stupid in the pejorative sense, but stupid in the sense of naivety and equally insightful, maybe.

This echoes some of the views of the early church and subsequent teaching. It resonates with the invocation to ‘stand naked before God’. This recalls the innocence of Adam and Eve of the Old Testament, who in innocence stood naked, without shame and promotes the idea that the outer covers with which we hide ourselves are of no use. There is a lot of stripping away and nakedness in the early church. For example St Francis of Assisi and his followers, who some suggest were clowns in their way of being ‘fools for Christ’, giving up the trappings of society to follow their faith. Francis himself stripped off his clothes before going about his ministry. So it is interesting to hear of becoming a clown described as a process of achieving innocence, through the stripping away of the external trappings which we adopt to protect our own modesty, albeit with a little less nudity, thankfully. Although I am reminded of a chance meeting with Martin Burton of Zippos circus in which he told me that he believed that a clown must be prepared to stand naked in front of their audience, for they must be prepared to go further than anyone else and the audience must know that. This brings us back to Andrea, who made the point that the mantra of the clown must be “Yes…and…”, where we take what we are given and extend. This sounds a little like P. Nalle Laanela’s 11th Commandment in his Clown Manifesto “Accept the gifts from the clown gods”

Now onto the exercises, Andrea led us through a process from early warm up through to improvisation, a daunting yet exciting journey for some, if not all.

The first task was to relax, this exercise took us through methods of relaxation and centering. This started with a self-massage, beginning with tapping our heads, cheeks, jaws, shoulders and moving down our bodies, until we stood up, patting our chests, abdomens, butts and legs, getting some blood flowing and some life into our bodies after a day at work. We then sat in our chairs as Andrea talked us through a relaxation exercise, relaxing each part of our body and feeling its weight where it contacted, the floor, our chairs, our head rests and back rests, relaxing every part of our body in turn moving up from our feet, legs, thorough our torsos, necks and heads and each part of our face, closing our eyes, relaxing our jaws, feeling the weight of every part of our body, pulling down. This state was held for a while before we were asked to feel with each of our senses, to hear the sound around us, the smells of our environment, to taste the air and to feel the sensation of everything in contact with our bodies, and slowly we opened our eyes, and tried to see everything as if for the first time.  We focused on the sensation of touch and felt our own skin and the furniture around us, we were encouraged to reach out to our desks and computers in a state of wonder, as if encountering them for the first time and to focus on the sensation that their touch produced. This was intended to draw us into the clown state of hyper-sensation, where every sense, every emotion is felt more strongly. As we explored our new surroundings, we were asked to identify just one thing nearby and put it aside, safe, to return to later.

As we returned to a more wakeful state, Andrea had us stand make some space and play a game. Some music started, Andrea quickly explained the rules and off we went. Andrea chose a participant, they danced to the music and everyone else had to copy their dance, then another person was chosen, the music changed, they led the dance, this continued until all participants had taken a chance to lead. The activity had people feeling relaxed and unself-conscious and a little revitalised and energised. From this we moved on to another movement game, starting with Jog and Stop, Andrea had us follow her instructions, until the meaning of the words was reversed and then more instructions were added Jump and Clap which later were also reversed, then (Reach) Up and Down were added, also to be later reversed. This whole time as we tried and failed to follow the instructions Andrea shouted at us and berated us, called us stupid (in good humour) until she decided to have a competition to find the most stupid amongst us.  The competition began, Andrea shouting instructions, us trying to follow, the most incompetent being identified, criticised, laughed at and eliminated. This continued until there was one winner. At each stage, inhibitions fell away, and being stupid became more normal.

We sat down again, this time were asked to pick up the objects we had selected from our desks earlier and individually, one by one we needed to think of many things as possible to do with them. This was a very interesting exercise, for the first person it was a real shock as they struggled to imagine new things to do with a mundane object. Andrea maintained a pressure, to not allow them time to think before acting.  From this emerged very spontaneous and instinctual responses and activities, which in itself made them amusing. Of course, at this stage, everyone else is having a mild panic as they regret their choices and try to imagine what they might do with their object. The next person, as with everyone after, burns through their preconceived activities very quickly and each time there is a frantic pause as the instinctual clown takes over. Andrea maintains the pressure and excitement to not allow the shell to fall back in place, so the participant in clown mode, outside of their comfort zone is pushed to quickly act, rather than think. Here lies the clown There is no “I can’t do that”. For the pressure to do something, rather than think of something means that ‘anything goes’. The interesting observation here, is those actions which are premeditated, no matter how skilled or interesting, do not provoke the same visceral response as those which are spontaneous and in the moment. At these times, we get a glimpse of the clown of which Andrea spoke. Accepting those gifts, taking what is given, in terms of props and ideas and saying “yes…and…” and being rewarded with laughter, for actions which in themselves are not particularly funny. To misquote Bananarama and Fun Boy Three.  “It’s not what you do, it’s not the way that you do it, it’s where it comes from, that’s what gets results”. The level of discomfort of having to publicly, come up with actions with an inanimate object, provokes a tension which allows something truly creative and inventive to emerge. The discomfort is essential and must be created in anyone, no matter how extensive their repertoire. Andrea held that balance for all participants. And just when we start to relax, with Andrea asking us to lean in to the camera and proclaim “I am very stupid”, she blindsides us by asking us to repeat it in a language we don’t speak, but this is easier now, for we know we are stupid and everyone else knows we are stupid, so we can say what we like, we are not hiding anything.