March 20, 2018
When most people hear the word “clown” many images come to mind.
Some people may think of a party clown wearing a rainbow wig and size 28 shoes. Other people may think of horror movie clowns or even Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker.
However, the purpose of the UCCS clown class is to go beyond the stereotypes and discover students’ personal identities in theater.
“We think, in our western centric mentality, of the classic red nosed clowns and mimes. These are all well and good, but there are also Japanese and Chinese clown traditions,” said Kevin Landis, instructor of Clown and Physical Theatre and director of the Theatre and Dance Program.
The Clown and Physical Theatre class, offered through the Theatre & Dance Program, is an upper division class taught once a year. The course explores an actor’s individuality and teaches them valuable theater techniques, said Landis.
“Clown is an opportunity to understand how (the actors) represent themselves physically. There is beauty and ridiculousness in all of us. Physically engaging students is what clown is really good for,” he said.
Senior theater majors Eleanor Sturt and Jareth Spirio have recently taken Landis’ clown class. The class has been impactful, according to Sturt.
“The thing with clowns is that they are impulsive, and I’m not an impulsive person, so finding that whatever I want to do is the immediate thing you have to do in clown, I found this different style of acting I was unfamiliar with. It’s really opened up my ability to try new things on stage,” she said.
“Before, I used to have to plan my movements, but after clown, it’s more of an ‘I’m going to feel it out in the moment.’”
Spirio reinforces his belief that clowns are honest actors and strip away all pretenses to reveal their true emotions and thoughts in the moment.
“Actors aren’t liars, they are telling the truth, and clown is really good at stripping that away and not pretending and just playing honestly in the moment,” he said.
“That adds a lot of truth to who you are as a person. If you defy your natural tendencies and mask them, you’ll never be able to express anything honestly in the world of acting.”
Landis explained that the clown class is popular among students. Whenever the class is offered, seats always fill up.
Landis bases his training off of the French style of clown created by Jacques Lecoq in the late 1900’s. However, various clown techniques can be studied from around the world, according to Landis.
During the class, students perform various exercises and activities that help them explore the specific clown technique of theater.
“We do exercises that focus on awareness. A clown, for example, notices everything. So, we spend time to notice every sound and every unusual object around us; that’s where clowns live. It recalls our child-like impulses,” Landis explained.
However, Landis said that this class is not for beginners. The clown class deeply challenges students to recognize their own flaws within themselves, and learn to love and embrace those flaws. It can be a grueling and emotionally challenging experience for many students, according to Landis.
“Clown is notoriously difficult in any university because the requirement of a clown is to be vulnerable and show off who you are and be ok if people laugh at you. And that’s tough for human beings,” he said.
Initially, Sturt had her doubts about exploring her flaws and learning to love them.
“The weird thing with Buffoon is taking what you hate about yourself and showing it off, and I was like this is complete rubbish. I can’t love this. I can pretend to. But somehow, through the two weeks we did Buffoon, by the end I had a completely different confidence within my insecurities,” she said.
Spirio’s perception of clowns has also changed through the class.
“When I think of clown, I think of an exposed mask. In clowning, you put the nose on and there’s a whole ritual that goes on with clowning about not being able to speak or be yourself when you are in nose. Kevin describes the nose as the smallest mask you can hide behind,” he said.
“You are fully exposed, but you are still giving all of yourself. I think of it as presenting the raw base impulse of yourself.”