For the past six years I've studied and worked in an around theater as a tool for social change. I studied with August Boal and immersed myself in Theater of the Oppressed. I attended workshops for it and classes as often as possible. I did a Fulbright Fellowship with it, I taught classes in DC with it. After about three years, I started to get disillusioned. So much dissecting of the pain and anger and focus on asserting oppression with very little practical approach to transforming it in a constructive way. And just generally kind of depressing...
I started to get into clowning then and really fell in love with the art of play. I loved the way movement and physical expression in and of itself can heal. I did it out of a frustration with the social change community and their intense anger. I wanted to bring some lightness back into it all. As I study the art of clowning more and more I cannot get enough. I literally want to run away to the circus.
And I probably will.
But not for the sake of doing so. There is so much more to learn here to bring into theater to educate.
I've been toying and teasing over the past year with this dynamic of what I like to call "clown forum". The trip down to the peace protest last year was interesting. OccuPIE DC was certainly a cool experience/experiment as well. This Friday was the first time I was able to explore the merging of these worlds in a teaching environment.
I had the chance to teach a class at Sitar Arts Center with my colleague Joelle Thomas. The kids were aged 12-17. They were a group of inner city DC kids with an interest in the arts. We taught a silly clown exercise where you create a chorus, with a beat, a phrase, and choreographed bit. Then the singers peel off one by one and improv over the chorus line, saying something completely un-rehearsed regarding the chorus line. The song we made up was about funny, fancy, forks. Totally silly. Lots of fun.
Then we moved directly into a free association of words that come to mind when we say "peer pressure". I was shocked to hear the words the kids used. They were surprisingly experienced. Sex, weed, and lonely were some words thrown out. We split the kids into three groups and one person from each group shared a story that came to mind around these words. After everyone in each group thanked the person for sharing and I personally acknowledge how difficult these things are and in that same vein to think for a moment about what was absured there. Not discounting the difficulty of the situation but rather looking for the humor in it. Looking for the play.
We then asked them to go back to the original clown song exercise. This time rather than singing about a funny fancy fork, we asked them to write the chorus for their song using the absurd idea/part of the peer pressure story. What resulted were three incredibly honest funny performances that poked fun at the difficulties of being a teenager. One was about peer pressure around smoking pot and some wet matches. Another was about how silly the notion is that it's "dumb" to be smart and the third song was about girl fights and the weird things girls say to each other. They were beautiful messy bits of sweet theater created on the spot about real shit. The kids loved it. So did I.
I can't wait to do more.