clown and teacher: how the clown serves the teacher
“Knowing what to do, when you don’t know what to do,” Max Van Manen.
Teaching is, more often than not, unpredictable. In a classroom, we are expected to be tactful, intuitive, sensitive and make crucial decisions that affect individuals and the group. As Alan Maley shares, teachers need training to help them deal with and create conditions for handling the unknown and for embracing risk, to develop the ability to ‘think on one’s feet’ and respond in the moment (Maley & Underhill, 2012). These skills may often feel unlearnable. Thankfully they are not.
Workshops for teachers or teachers in training are an invitation to playfully approach stagnant situations with creativity through improvisations. When clowning, participants practice trust and acceptance, awareness of feelings and needs, and regularly discover new options or perspectives for struggles. They walk away with an appreciation for struggles and challenges, experiencing them as gifts which opens a door to cheerful serenity. Participants also a wide range of positive side effects stemming from meeting the world as a clown, making big things small and the small things big, who lives without a plans and is curious about everything encountered along the way, including failure. Laughing at the touching absurdity of our humanity builds team spirit, provides together helps build a team, gives you a healthy distance from things and thus enables a refreshing change of perspective. Clowning is a playful way of recognizing, letting go and redesigning relationships, with oneself and others - a celebration of all that makes us human. Clowning is a way of building resilience and thus makes a decisive contribution to maintaining teacher health.
We don’t become clowns, we step into the state of the clown. Through warm ups, gentle physical exercises and self-reflection, we practice the ability to be present and set our imaginations free. We leave behind preconceived plans and explore letting something happen instead of making it happen…effortless heart centered intuition.
THINKING WITH OUR HEART
Theater clowning is the moment when the seemingly absurd becomes visible and meets reality. It's unusual and amazingly simple. Upper school, teacher training participant
Techniques are what teachers use until the real teacher arrives, and we need to find as many ways as possible to help this teacher arrive. Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach
WHAT IS THEATER CLOWNING?
The theater clown
The theater clown experiences life through the heart. A clown is completely absorbed by feelings, images, details and dreams. The theater clown meets the world with an open hearted, fresh, wise wisdom, much like a court jester. However, what our clowns perform is not scripted, nor are they character interpretations; they have a fluid character that freely adopts a variety of persona.
The clown welcomes challenges with deep curiosity and wonder. Problems and frustrations are celebrated for the gifts and surprises they offer. The clown dives into the depths of the sea or soars above the clouds, stepping of the linear time train turning a millisecond into eternity at whim. The clown lives in the now. How an adventure unfolds is far more enthralling than the whats or whys.
Clowns are in constant dialogue with their inner worlds, their partners, the objects they encounter and ability to create a sense of complicité by connecting to these worlds through play. The audience is part of the game, they are on board for the voyage into absurdity, becoming the chair as the clown becomes it. How does the world look from the perspective of an unused dark oak chair sitting in the corner of a famous library? How does it feel to watch the new chairs at the tables be used every day? When the doorknob speaks to the chair, what does she say?
Poetry in motion
The art of theater clowning opens up the mysterious world of spontaneous metaphors, trusting deeper levels of logic and meaning. This inquisitive process is experimental. A group is a community of learners and we grow as much by playing ourselves, as watching others play. We switch regularly between activity and reflection, without analyses, to pool our wisdom.
No previous knowledge of theater or performance is required to step into the world of the clown. Exercises and courses can be repeated as our approach is more of a practice than a technique to master. However, the more we clown, the more often we find ourselves feeling committed, curious and interested in our unique journey. Side effects also included a readiness to engage in unexpected situations, trust in vulnerability, and rejuvenation.
OUR MISTAKES ARE OUR BEST TEACHERS
A workshop starts with gentle warmups to connect to ourselves, our space and the group. These are followed by games, many voice and physical exercises, not acrobatics, which invite playfulness. Improvisations naturally evolve, alone or with others. Reflections, sharings and exchanges highlight personal experiences, surprises, favourite moments, and questions arising from the improvisations. We work with a basis of respect for the individual process, within a framework of rules that provide a safe and protective place to explore and play.
Since theater clowning is not about being funny, nor about creating a character. Our focus in on fun and play, not performing skills and techniques. As the courses evolve, attention is drawn to techniques which support play to open us up to the simple and complex world of the clown. We hold a space of compassionate inquiry and are open to new learnings.
Feedback and reflection are a process of inquiry, following warmups/games and improvisations, and at the end of a workshop session. The facilitator prompts with open questions that create a safe space for personal contributions based on direct experiences, not analysis or judgement. Technical suggestions or attention to themes may be discussed to serve the next exercises or improvisations. Retelling, naming feelings like discomfort, confusion or joy, contribute to higher levels of awareness for the group process.
HOW CAN THE CLOWN SERVE THE TEACHER?
We teach who we are
The Hattie report confirmed that who we are and how we teach supports a rich learning environment. When we clown, we celebrate our unique selves, with all our fears and foibles. We practice relaxing into who we are and letting go of the tensions related to how we think we should be. We step out of a role and into authenticity.
Knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, Max van Manen
Teaching is unpredictable. Teachers are expected to make important decisions tactfully, intuitively and sensitively, both for individuals and for the whole group. The classroom might feel like a mine field of uncertainty bombs. Clowning helps practice breathing into these moments, stopping, looking, then choosing actions not panic reactions. Spontaneous conscious interaction can be trained. When accept confusion, mistakes and personal weaknesses with serenity and humour, the impossible becomes possible. The clown leaves no aspect of our shared humanity unexamined!
All the world is a stage
As adults, when we clown, we develop stage skills in a playful humorous way. The theatrical exercises support an inner distance which leaves space for humour and learning. Experimenting on stage opens up worlds of possibilities that we might not have seen. We continually ask ourselves how could I meet this situation differently? More playfully, humanely, lightly or authentically?
When clowning, we invite connections to our unique, often illogical, emotional reality. We embrace our full realm of feelings, giving priority to the heart over the head. Thinking with our hearts triggers natural empathy and connection to ourselves and our students. We move away from judgment and blame, closing our hearts, to mutual understanding, opening our hearts.