Ending her Spymonkey clowning course after two weeks because of Coronavirus was a shock for this writer. Here, she talks about her ‘clowning’ journey and the incredible experiences she has had doing the course.
I started my ‘clowning journey’ 12 years ago, when I was a naive acting student who thought I could be funny, just like that. But guess what? I wasn’t. Spymonkey, the Clown School I was attending until recently, says that it’s OK to be bad initially, to accept that you are not funny and do something different. They call it ‘the flop’ and when you start to embrace it with eternal optimism and hope, interesting things happen. Studying clown is probably the most helpful life-skill I’ve ever learnt; yes, it isn’t easy but it’s addictive.
In 2009, I saw my first ever clown show: Spymonkey’s Moby Dick and I was completely blown away. They were having fun on stage but in a new way I hadn’t seen before and it was actual live fun – not pre-planned fake fun, which I now understand can never be quite the same. Maybe now more than ever, we crave authenticity in a world where an edit or a filter can morph the truth.
I’m an actor/theatre maker from Manchester. I did not get the whole drama school experience – something that has sometimes blocked my way, along with the occasional bout of imposter syndrome and instead went to Northumbria University, where I got a degree in Performance. Because of my vertically challenged stature (4ft 11), I’ve always been cast in family shows and television as cute animals and children. After 7 years of doing this, I wanted to explore more so I decided to create my own work, which led me to do a 5-day Masterclass with Spymonkey
It was tough and sometimes felt like going back to square one, especially when working for free or very little pay but after completing it I just knew that I had to keep going and do a longer course. This would be the next step in helping to build my confidence and it came just at the right time, especially as up until that point, I felt like I could not catch a break.
After gaining a place, I received an email to say I had been chosen for the bursary and subsequently jumped around the kitchen for about 30 minutes, crying/laughing simultaneously. It was like winning the lottery.
The beauty of being taught by Spymonkey is that they do not claim to be masters (even though they are!). They have humility, understanding and patience – traits that create an exciting atmosphere and lead to everyone having so much fun. The course is like learning to drive a car, with there being so much to think about and instead of checking your mirrors, you check the audience (are they with you? Or are they bored? Are they laughing? Are your fellow clowns having fun too?) As with driving, the more you practice the less you must think about it.
All the students have had their own confidence battles that were fought out in class, but the support and understanding from everyone, helped us to jump out of our comfort zones. Beautiful idiots (as us clown students often call each other) have the biggest hearts – we are brave, authentic and playful. From that comes great comradery and for this course, our bond was one of the strongest I’ve felt. This was intensified during our second week with news of coronavirus impacting the UK and potentially becoming a global pandemic; a new anxiety was in the room… we were not just frightened of the flop anymore. We made jokes about it, but if anyone coughed you could sense a communal bottom clench and ultimately, it soon became clear that we would need to end the course after 2 weeks. Many of us cried and of course, there were bigger, more important things to worry about, but we had to be sad for a moment and mourn what could have been.
The course had created this clowning bubble, where we all felt protected from the outside world and we are left with half-written songs and ideas that could have been great or awful. Now, I sit here in my flat, a self-isolating clown, plotting and planning but most days just hanging out in my pyjamas eating crisps, hopefully ageing like a fine wine, ready to go out and play when we’re allowed to once more.