Oct 31 – Know what?

It’s Halloween. People keep asking if I will be dressing up for Halloween and doing something fun. I say that I have clown class tonight, so I will be in a costume, but I am not so sure about the fun part.

Last class went the same as usual. Our assignment was to come in and tell a joke. No one thought my first joke was funny. Then later I had to tell another joke, but again, no one thought it was particularly funny. I thought both of my jokes were (which is why I told them), but what can you do?

Our assignment for tonight is two different things. First, we are supposed to write about what we have learned so far. Second, we are supposed to come up with our clown name. Writing what I have learned so far shouldn’t be too bad, mostly a case of organizing my thoughts, becaue luckily I have been writing this blog to help me process the clown experience. But coming up with a clown name is hard. I keep trying to think of things, but they all sound stupid.
So I am going to start with the easier of the two things and write about what I have learned so far. This is what I have submitted as my assignment.

What I have learned in clown class….so far.

My first instinct is to say I learned how to feel like an idiot, but actually I knew how to do that already. Though as they say, practice makes perfect. I wonder about the difference between learning something intellectually and then learning something practically. I have a lot of conceptual ideas that have a) been told to me, and b) I have observed in others and myself. Then there is the ability to put these ideas into practice, to show learning by doing.

I have been told by more than one of my teachers that commitment is vital. Make a choice and commit to it, even if turns out to not be such a good choice. I have seen the effect that commitment has on the performance of the clown in the ring. You can tell when the person is really going for it, and even if it is not laugh-out-loud funny it is interesting and engaging. Wishy-washiness is not funny, not engaging, and often comes across as pathetic. Putting commitment into practice however, is challenging for me.

To make a commitment you have to settle on a choice, which means that you have to have choices to choose from. I think this is the hardest part for me. I suppose this is following your creative instinct and letting your imagination go. My imagination needs exercise. It’s gotten flabby and atrophied by adulthood.

How did we spend hours running through the playground pretending the sand was hot lava and the jungle gym a spaceship? Now when I have to imagine things my brain freezes up. Either that’s because imagination doesn’t show up, and I left standing there like someone waiting for the last late-night bus to arrive. Or it arrives with smorgasbord of cornucopias and I have no idea which way to go. I don’t want to make the “wrong” choice. I’m trying to get over this, and it is getting better, but…you know.

I have also learned that failure is funny, which is a sort of weird thing. I should clarify that failure is funny to the people who are watching, not the person who is experiencing the failure. And I’ve noticed that it has to be a real failure to be funny. A fake failure isn’t funny. The person really has to be suffering, which it seems to me goes back to commitment. They had to be committed to something, then thwarted in some way, and then affected by the failure.

Maybe it is related to why we laugh when people walk into glass doors or fall down. They are really trying to get somewhere when they smash their nose on the glass or fall on their asses. If they faked running into the door, we would look at them and think, what a dork, instead of laughing hysterically at their misfortune.

Aside from commitment I have also learned about alternating levels of intensity, and that bigger/louder/wilder isn’t always better. Less is more and all that. Although, too much of less is too much. I guess it is the contrast between the two extremes. And you have to explore the middle ground, because if you just did the extremes that would be boring too. I tend to want to stay on the low end of the spectrum.

Then there is specificity of movement. Vague or generalized gestures lack impact and become tedious the more you use them, whereas subtle specific movements can be way more powerful and interesting. Working with the masks showed this really well, I think. Then there is specificity of intent, to have a specific goal in mind, a specific action to play. Going up with a vague sense of I’m going to make people laugh doesn’t work (as I found out here), but it is by trying to achieve something real that you become engaging.

So that’s what I’ve submitted. Really that is a lot considering we are only half the way through class. I can say that I have learned a lot, and I have a lot to learn. And a lot to practice, because knowing this stuff and being able to type it out is one thing, but being able to do it is a whole other world.

I wonder what other crazy things we are going to learn. I know it will be interesting, and will probably (definitely) make me look like an idiot.


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