Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Wonders of Personal Clown by Laura-Beth Straight

George Lewis’ Personal Clown class was the highlight of my summer two years ago.  I’d finished all five improv classes at Unexpected Productions in June and some of the seasoned improvisers had told me about George’s July class. They said very little about it -- it seemed like a secret and rather sacred experience -- but what they did say left me with the impression that the class would greatly improve my physical theater skills. I figured I had nothing to lose and I registered for the class.

As it turned out, Personal Clown led me through an intense learning process that in some ways changed my life.  I’d always found most meaningful those theater projects which offered me an opportunity to reflect upon my own life, transforming me in the process. Within a supportive community, Personal Clown did just that.  This kind of personal transformation would not have been possible without a leader who could build an
atmosphere of unconditional acceptance.  It’s impressive to see how George Lewis creates trust amongst participants and a safe, fun-loving, and authentic environment that allows people to share their vulnerabilities.   In the moments when I was quietly wiping tears away from my eyes as I felt the terror of being so emotionally exposed, I was able to trust my ability to connect with others and share in our common humanity together.  And then it was all play.  It became a game to play with exaggerated but truly felt expressions of sadness or anger and to feel how all parts of my body could express those emotions.  It became a game to accentuate and expand elements that seemed to "go wrong" in a scene. Throwing a temper tantrum with flailing arms and legs on the floor or getting kicked out of the classroom for “misbehaving” was so much more fun than when I was a child.  And the laughter and joy I felt in the discovery of my clown name, “Suzy” was amazing.

It was a very different experience from the Advanced Clown class I took last summer. 
While Personal Clown was more of an individual exploration, Advanced Clown placed more focus on duos and scene work.  Advanced Clown offered a greater exploration of the clowning self already identified through Personal Clown.  We explored the authentic physicality of specific improvisations and learned to trust one’s own creativity and the creativity of a scene partner in the moment.  Who knew following the flow of interaction with music, two suitcases and two umbrellas would offer so many rich and varied storylines or how much joy one could experience with multiple attempts to simply sit in a chair?

I’ve taken many improv and clowning classes in the Seattle community, however, I place tremendous value in my learning experiences with George Lewis.   His classes are a safe space to explore the very depth of what motivates me in my theatrical expression and sharing. Not only do I look forward to being reminded of all of the techniques of eye contact, discovery and stillness in scenes but also recognizing how much I’ve grown and developed in the confidence of my performance process over the course of the past year.  I’m grateful for George’s insight and wisdom and for the joy that George shares with his students. As long as George returns from Argentina to teach in July, I’ll be taking his Advanced Clown class. 


More information on Freehold's Summer Quarter Classes including George Lewis' Clown classes can be found here:

Photo: George Lewis

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