The Contemporary Clown Actor: Seeking New Modes of Performance

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Central Sch of Speech and Drama
Department Name: Faculty


This project begins by asking an age-old question in a new context. The question is of how an actor is to be convincing. It has vexed and provoked actor training since at least Stanislavski, and the question has been around much longer. I will be asking the question in a new context, that of clowning.

The main objectives are to examine the techniques and tools of performance available to the contemporary clown. And thence, to explore how clowning can move on as a key performance technique in the 21st century.

I will be concerned with three broad areas which, in my view, are in need of investigation. They are:

1. Techniques of 'presence' in contemporary clown (self-ridicule, failure, contrariness, profanation)
2. The 'rules' of clowning
3. The relationship between clowning and acting

In the last half century, clowning has undergone a major transformation. Since Jacques Lecoq founded his Paris school in the late 1950s the search for, and discovery of, one's personal clown has become an invaluable tool for the performer. Simply put, the personal clown is 'discovered' when we accept our failure in front of an audience, our clown appears, and as a consequence the audience laughs.

Contemporary clown practitioners have taken this basic tenet and developed it in a variety of directions, some seeking spiritual truth, others greater laughs, others self-discovery, others political activism. We now have clowning for business people, clown-analysis and clown-shamans.

However, there still remains a gulf between the clown world and the theatrical world in general. On the one hand, clowns have ventured little into traditionally theatrical territory, such as text, long narrative, or 'serious' themes. On the other hand, mainstream theatre knows little of the discoveries made by clowning, particularly in actor training. In addition, clowns themselves have not so far engaged in disseminating or reflecting on their techniques, nor have academics or critics given much attention to these matters.

In my own work over the last 20 years as a clown-actor-performer, I have consistently been attracted to the boundary between clowning and theatre, drawing upon my experience in theatre, circus, variety and street performance. In Macbez (1999), for example, my aim was to re-write Shakespeare's Macbeth, using clown gags, but without losing any of the 'weightiness' of the play, avoiding parody at all times.

I am not suggesting that all clowns should do Shakespeare, or that all actors should be ridiculous, but there are many profitable lessons to be learned by looking at clowning within the context of theatre in general.

In order to explore these issues, this research project will be organised as an ongoing series of workshops, or 'clown laboratory' at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Because most of the cutting-edge work in this field is developing in mainland Europe, I shall also spend time at the Escola de Clown de Barcelona (ECB). CSSD is historically a place of training for stage actors; ECB trains clowns. The research project therefore provides the opportunity to build institutional partnerships across national borders and to bring innovative European work into the mainstream of British clown studies.

Beginning with looking at how clowns and actors achieve 'presence', we will aim to arrive at asking the questions: Where is the boundary between clown and theatre? Is there one? If not, why are they divided? What has created this division? What forms of theatre would emerge when this division is disregarded or dissolved?
The results of these investigations will be made public through performances given each year of the project, designed to test and share the work with both the general public and other clown practitioners. Results will also appear in the form of articles, the beginnings of a future book on the subject.


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Davison J (2009) Clown Prosthetics and Amputations in Performance Research

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Davison Jon (2013) Clown

Title 21st Century Clown 
Description a solo clown performance drawing together research into both clown presence and clown dramaturgy presented at Collissions Festival - PhD festival at CSSD 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Clowing by Numbers 
Description 30 min clown performance exploring historical clown texts and how they might be performed presentd at the Accidental Festival 2010 at Battersea Arts Centre 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Clown Workshop 
Description Clown workshop given at University of KEnt 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Clown Workshop 
Description a clown workshop given at Shakespeares Globe 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Clown Workshop 
Description clown workshop given at Trinity College of Music London 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Jontxu 
Description several solo performances given at a wide variety of London cabaret venues testing new discoveries in clown performance in front of non academic audiences 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Jontxu 
Description solo clown performance as part of the Side Show Cabaret at the Edinburgh Festival 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title Jontxu. . . . to be 
Description performance given as part of an evening of improvised performance at Chisenhale Dance in London. A solo piece and a group piece was presented involving research workshop participants demonstrating the work of the first year of the project 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title The Chair 
Description a solo clown piece exploring clown presence adapted for the circular perfoming space at the Barcelona Clown School and for a specialist clown audience 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title The Contemporary Clown Actor 
Description an exhibition of photographs and accompanying anyalytical texts exploring clown presence workshops originally presented at central school of speech and drama documenting practice in novemeber 2008 and the selection of photographs have remained on display until october 2010 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Title The Dramaturgy of Clown 
Description a performance involving research workshop students demonstrating the outside in approach to clown training given at the Festival Of. . . .. at Central School of Speech & Drama 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title The Phenomenology of Clown 
Description a re-working of two improvised clown pieces presented at the Festival of Emergent Art exploring clown presense the theme of the first year of the project 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Title The Spaghetti Horse 
Description a full length (70 minute) clown peformance drawing together the major strands of the investigation performed by 5 clowns a combination of professional and recent clown graduates the performance was rehersed at Central school of speech and drama and the Barcelona Clown school and will tour internationally in 2011 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Description Better ways to teach clowning.
Exploitation Route Improving clowning teaching modules
Sectors Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description In modifying the teaching programmes for clowning at a a range of universities
First Year Of Impact 2010
Sector Creative Economy,Education
Impact Types Cultural