Angels can Fly - A Modern Clown User Guide
Angels can Fly includes a mix of fiction which follows the adventures of ten clown characters, personal clown anecdotes from clowns from around the world, a total of 50 practical clown exercises, and some theory on the nature of modern clown. The book is available on order through bookshops and online stores in New Zealand, Australia, America and England.
And You can get a free eBook copy of the book to read on your computer at: www.alanclay.com/ebook_list.htm
On this page you will find excerpts from the book. Check back often for new excerpts from Angels can Fly.
And while you are here, why not check out Alan Clay's short clown film, , staring Annette Devick from Canada and Mark Hudson from Australia which was shot in New Zealand in October 2006.
And also the new comming of age romantic comedy, Courting Chaos, shot in Los Angeles in 2013, in which a Beverly Hills girl falls for a Venice Beach street clown named Chaos and she must overcome her inhibitions and become a clown herself for the relationship to survive.Chapter 6. Anecdote: Female ClownSue Broadway, Australia
I am looking at a picture of myself aged about twenty. I am wearing a clown ballerina dress, giant point shoes and a funny red wig. I am looking out past the camera with an expression of open-hearted pleasure, my eyes sparkling with the sheer delight of being in front of an audience.
The girl clown I see in these pictures went into hiding shortly afterwards and it took nearly thirty years to coax her out again. There were other clowns; a fat lady with a stammer, an elegant white face in a sequined frock, a manic 'beautiful assistant' causing havoc in a juggling act, a pompous trapeze artist... but the simple, open naïve clown seemed to be gone for good. I had stumbled on her thoughtlessly, just the first thing that came to mind, without realising just how fragile she was.
How did she get lost? Well, she was a bit lonely. There were few other women clowns in evidence and none I could find from the past to look to for inspiration. I didn't think to go looking in other art forms (Lucille Ball, Goldie Hawn, Guilietta Massina) and everywhere I came across conventional wisdoms that told me women and clowning were a problem zone. For a start, they said, the clown is androgynous and it is impossible for a woman to be androgynous. She carries her sex around with her as a constant. Other factors intruded; the male clown can take a fall or a hit and jump up laughing, but if a woman does the same it carries an inescapable implication of violence. Especially if the clown that knocks her down is a man.
Also I began to think – perhaps too much. I wanted my clowning to say something, to communicate ideas about the female condition, to provide a role model and a character that other women could laugh with. The naïve girl who was so happy in her skin and just delighted to be out there having a go at it seemed too simple and childish to tackle the big questions.
So Frou-frou packed up her tutu and put her older, tougher sisters into the firing line. Maureen was fat and had a stammer, she wore a daggy dress and a headscarf and lived in a gag where she was constantly put down by two male clowns. But she was tough and acrobatic and always bounced back. She did dangerous things on a ladder and although she was a victim she never took it lying down.
Then there was the nameless clown, she never spoke and people just called her Sue. She sabotaged the juggling acts of Dave Spathaky with her over enthusiasm, her clumsiness with props, her scene-stealing and her inability to concentrate. In the same company (Ra-Ra Zoo) she appeared as a trapeze artist striving for artistic perfection and failing.
Later there was Athena the white face, based on the goddess of Wisdom and War, her sequined dress was her armour and her mop was a spear. She appeared in a show called "Angels and Amazons" with Angela de Castro and Debbie Woolley. Together we explored the traditional Clown trio, White face, Bouffon, Auguste - in female form. This show was the starting point for a new search. Like many white faces, I came to resent the high status role, feeling (shame on me!) that I was doing all the set-up work and the others were getting all the laughs. So I set out on a quite deliberate search to find a naïve clown of my own. I'd forgotten that Frou-frou had ever existed.
That was twelve years ago. I started with Phillipe Gaulier. His course "Le Jeu" was an excellent beginning, the rediscovery of a readiness to play and of 'complicite' was just what I needed. Then I did his Clown class. In the circus when they want to teach the horses to lift their knees high in the air, they tie heavy weights to their feet for days at a time, so when they take them off, the horses' knees rebound, creating that prancing walk. Training in Clown with P.G. was, for me, just like this. The experience was painful, dragging, distressing and exhausting, but afterwards…! The next time I went in front of an audience I was fearless. I had suffered P.G. and survived! I couldn’t make him laugh, but I could get my revenge by succeeding with an audience.
At a Gaulier Workshop in Sydney 1999 I met Jeff Turpin and later worked with him on and of for four years. This work provided a space for testing the discoveries made in workshops in the public arena. Jeff is a natural anarchist and his constant playfullness forced me to let go of my perfectionism and relax much more with the audience.
There have been many other teachers and directors - Angela de Castro, Virginia Imaz, Shannan Calcutt, Tom Gruder, Therese Collie - and the experience has been quite different. These people all work in a much softer way - they create open spaces where it's possible to relax and allow things to happen. Some people learn and develop really well by rising to challenges, but for some of us encouragement and a slower, less competitive process seems to work better. This is partially a gender issue, generally speaking, men seem to respond better to competitive training than women, while women prefer a softer approach, but there are always exceptions.
In 2002 Alicia Battestini, Angela de Castro and I convened a week of creative development in Wollongong. Eight women clowns got together and explored possibilities. It was only a week, but it was a very intense week and I came away from it with a script for a piece of clown theatre, a potential new clown partner (Fleur Evans) and loads of ideas for teaching and creating new work. One issue we came up against a lot was clown travesty, women choosing to play male clowns and vice versa. For many women the adoption of male dress makes a good starting point for clowning – it seems to free them from the constraints of the feminine and allow them to step outside themselves. I have never been attracted to the idea of parodying the masculine as a source of comedy. For me, the challenge has always been to create a female archetype that has the same force, simplicity and truthfulness as the male.
The biggest leap for me came at the Festival Internacional de Pallasses d'Andorra in 2001. This gathering of women clowns from all over the world showed me that there were hundreds of women exploring this work and the diversity of their styles and obsessions was awe-inspiring. I performed a small piece with Angela de Castro, "The Stagehands", for which I put together a new costume and put on a nose (skin pink not red) for the first time in twenty years. Frou-Frou was back - renamed Soobee, but essentially the same open-hearted, brave and enthusiastic girl of my earliest shows. I finished the festival dancing eccentrically in the street surrounded by over eighty women clowns and went home filled with excitement and optimism. Two years later I returned to the festival in Andorra with a fifty minute solo work, "The Soobee Show", which is a compilation of all my work of the previous twenty-five years.
So here I am in 2005, turning fifty, with, I hope, years of clowning ahead of me. I've let go of so much, I used to cling to the idea that I had to do something clever or dangerous or mysterious to keep the audience interested. Now I know I don't need those things (well, not all the time). The older I get the looser my shows become and the freer I feel to go anywhere my impulses take me. I perform different clown pieces in different costumes, but gradually they are drawing closer together and I begin to realise that they are all the same clown, the same foolish person just pretending. A clown can be anyone or anything she wants to be.
Sue BroadwaySue Broadway is a performer, teacher and director of circus and visual theatre with many years experience both in Australia and internationally. She was a founding member of Circus Oz and toured the world with the legendary Ra-Ra Zoo (U.K.), appearing at festivals in Europe, Canada. Africa, South America, and the U.S.A. From 1992 to 1995 she was the Artistic Director of Circus Oz.
In 2000 she was the Circus Director for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Sydney Olympic Games, working closely with over 3,000 volunteer performers, and in 2001 directed the Sunrise Ceremony for the opening of the National Museum in Canberra, featuring Canberra Youth Theatre, Warehouse Youth Circus and two indigenous dance groups. She has also directed large-scale community events for Viva La Gong, South Sydney Council's 'Mascon Festival', The Sydney Opera House 25th Birthday Celebrations and the Uralla Youth Festival.
In July 2004, she was Artistic Director for "Y - Voices and Visions of World Youth", a Celebration of the Oxfam International Youth Parliament which was produced by Cirque du Soleil Social Cultural Action. This visual and musical explosion, combining urban rhythms, contemporary circus, traditional martial arts and indigenous sounds took place at the NIDA Parade Theatre in Sydney over two nights. It brought together 30 young artists from Brazil, France, South Africa, Chile, Canada and Australia, who rehearsed together for three weeks and also participated as delegates in the Youth Parliament.
In 2002 she set up "A Nose of Her Own" in Wollongong, in collaboration with the WOW Women's Circus. They have undertaken a series of workshops to explore the possibilities of women's clowning and produced two shows at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre - 'Waiting Not Drowning' and 'The Baggage Carousel'.In 2000 she created 'Eccentric Acts' with Jeff Turpin – a theatre show which is a tribute to her vaudeville family background. This show toured Australia and England until 2003 and has since been remade as a show for schools - “Broadway Follies" - which she performs with Fleur Evans all around Australia.
Other appearances in recent years include the Manchester Commonwealth Games, Golden Jubilee Celebrations in Newcastle (England), National Theatre London, Armidale Women's Comedy Festival, The Melbourne International Festival in the Famous Spiegeltent, the Perth International Festival, the Andorra International Women’s Clown Festival, The Magdalena Women's Theatre Festival in Brisbane, The Tiny Top and International Clowning Hour at the Adelaide Fringe and the Morpeth Teapot Festival.As a teacher she has worked with the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, Circus Oz, The University of Western Sydney, Circus WOW, The Australian National Circus Festival, Cirkidz and regularly runs clown and performance masterclasses around the country.
She is currently engaged as Circus Consultant to Arts Projects Australia, to develop and coordinate Circus Events for the Performing Arts Program of the Cultural Festival for the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Whenever she can she takes time out to put on her nose. And play.
Find more info on Sue's site at: www.artmedia.com.au/broadway.htm
Angels can Fly is available on order through bookshops and online stores in New Zealand, Australia, America and England. Order your copy today. Find it on Amazon by following this link: http://tinyurl.com/9nrwj
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Last updated 01 November 2013