The Blog

The Hobo Adventurer Removes Her Mask

This week I went to Clown Camp; a week long retreat to learn the skills of clowning. I am keen you understand that this was never meant to be therapy. Clowning is not therapy. Clowning is an artistic skill which when done well, with sensitivity and joy can bring great pleasure to an audience eager to laugh and momentarily escape the madness of our challenging world.

As I sit at a small wooden table in front of my beaten up laptop, within a soulful little café in Hackney, my body prickles with energy as I think about telling you my story. I feel like crying. Should this happen, those in the café may well see my tears but they should not feel alarmed as these are tears of a beautifully deep contentment.

To try and put into words what happened to me over the last week is difficult. To contemplate telling you makes me fear your judgment, that you may think me mad. Playing the clown is easy. Actually being the clown is not. Perhaps I should not be so open on a public forum with strangers I have never met. Perhaps I should not expose the real me to acquaintances that know only my public persona; that of an apparently confident, silly, girlish girl, eager to please and entertain, a girl content not to win. Yet I am going press on with my story, because this is the truth and today the truth is all I have. I realise this sounds dramatic but for this I shall make no apologies.

This week I learned that the front I put on and the mask I wear to protect myself from you all seeing the real me is pointless, damaging and tosh. Very well meaning tosh and nothing to get hung up about, but tosh none the less. Freeing myself of this mask for just one week has been one of the most liberating experiences of my life and I have never before felt so content in being my little raggy doll self, with all the cracks, imperfections and a life time of failings.

This week I went to Clown Camp; a week long retreat to learn the skills of clowning. I am keen you understand that this was never meant to be therapy. Clowning is not therapy. Clowning is an artistic skill which when done well, with sensitivity and joy can bring great pleasure to an audience eager to laugh and momentarily escape the madness of our challenging world. It takes years to master and like all great art forms, there is always more to discover. The Grand Clown, (my good-humored title, not self-acclaimed), the man who was our tutor for the week, is one of the most talented and revered performers on the circuit today, despite his relative youth. With clarity, honesty, sensitivity and an incessant amount of mocking, he set about teaching us the rules that underpin this great art form. Slowly and falteringly with many a great flop, I began to partly unlock each one. "Stop acting" he would shout at me, "We don't care about your acting skills. And get out of your writer's head. Just be you." An easy ask unless years of pretending means you don't know exactly who you are any more. Clowning requires an open an honest performer, exposed and bare, free of armour and falsity. To say the journey towards this place was difficult would be a profound understatement.

I am not going to tell of all that went on this week and I am sorry if that leaves you unfulfilled. To do so could never do it justice for me and for the fifteen other people on the course. Fifteen other people who all went on that journey with me and had their own massive disappointments, joys and revelations, on stage, off stage and everywhere in between.

This last week I laughed harder than I have laughed in a very long time, to some extent since childhood. This week I cried and felt hideous, sad and an absolutely massive failure, sure to never really master any art form. This week I danced naked on a table, went swimming in a pitch black lake at midnight, cured my childhood fear of goats, got so gassy I looked pregnant, sang like no one could hear me and slept like I haven't slept in years. I met people so open, honest and beautiful, who accepted the scared little girl I am, the woman I am becoming and the artist that tries so hard to win but always comes runner up.

For the first time in perhaps my entire thirty years I felt accepted by a community of people who could see all my failings and loved me regardless. I regained my great passion for performance, previously lost through years of struggling to make a career from it.

I am a really awful clown. A lifetime of faking it has blocked the creative impulses and silliness which came so easily to me as a child, but that's ok. A tiny seed has now been planted and through self-nurture, one day I will perhaps be a better clown, maybe even a good one. But where I am right now is perfect, because it is where I am right now.

I went on this course with no expectations other than the hope of freeing myself from my mind, a mind creatively blocked by the need to write a 'successful' Edinburgh show and a colossal fear of it failing spectacularly. I came away having had an experience I never could have imagined. I will most definitely attend this course again but I know I will not have the same journey. And that is why I am not telling you where or with whom this week took place. Some of you in the industry may have guessed which course I am referring to but I would never want anyone to sign up to this week with the expectation of having the experience I did. Perhaps you would but perhaps you would not. I do not want to endow the course with false hopes or put our tutor on a pedestal upon which he does not wish to sit. I will go again but simply with the intention of increasing my skills as a clown and start putting the rules we spent a week learning into practice.

As a 'comedy blogger' perhaps this piece should have made you laugh. Perhaps another time I will tell you of the ridiculous and stupid hilariously comedic moments the week was awash with, about this one time, at Clown Camp....

But today I just wanted to tell you about my journey and the truth. I really hope that this truth is enough.