Want to be a better clown?

Feature in Issue 14-1 | Spring 2002

Danny Schlesinger goes back to basics' with Avner the Eccentric...

As part of the London International Mime Festival, Avner Eisenberg gave a three-hour workshop in clown theatre. We started off with breathing. I believed I was proficient at breathing already, but Avner wanted the twenty-five of us to breathe deeply with the stomach. Then we launched into Avner's philosophy about flight-fight-freeze. What? Humans have three automatic responses to danger: running away, fisticuffs or stillness. The majority of the workshop was exploring this through exercises: playing with your point of balance through falling and how to change your centre of gravity: increasing your resistance and energy to become unliftable or unbendable, and exploring personal space – how close can you get to someone without them feeling uncomfortable?

What has this to do with clowning...? Wait! The clown or performer has to be comfortable before even attempting to go on stage. In a longer workshop Avner would then move on, applying these principles directly to clowning. We had a little taste of this with the last exercise. Enter the room, find the correct place and show a little trick that you think is brilliant. Simple – no! You have to get the permission from the audience, and you are only accepted if you are totally comfortable with being there. Are you too close or too far from the audience? And so on... easy to describe but hard to do well.

It was just the beginning of a long journey to Avner's way of eccentric performing. Having taken part in many clown workshops it was really refreshing to have a completely different approach to the same end. Breathing, personal space and balance are things we all know about, but it was interesting to see how they could be used in moving an audience along (through breath), and encouraging volunteers to come and help you (using awareness of personal space). It is always inspiring and nourishing to do workshops, learn new things, improve and build on old ones.

This article in the magazine

Issue 14-1
p. 8