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Clowning as Catharsis

It was another dreary, unusually overwhelming Monday when I remembered I had signed up for the Association of Teaching Artists’s “Creative Fall Salon 2: Clowning for Creativity and Mental Health: on Zoom!” While it was wonderfully facilitated by Ania Upstill, as I logged into the workshop I found myself stuck in boredom, exhaustion, and even apathy many of us are experiencing due to working at home.

I’ve grown so accustomed to the windowless room that I Zoom from daily, the last thing I wanted to do when Ania asked us to “find an everyday object and approach it with the idea of “Wow!” was to do anything, besides completely phone it in. I was having a very long day and certainly felt that there was nothing exciting or special about the objects on my desk. After begrudgingly playing along with the activity, I found my attitude shifting. As I picked up a former student’s fidget toy, I was actually surprising myself with how many different ways I could interact with it. Then sparked some joy in myself playing with a box of markers. Slowly, but surely I was opening myself up to deeply engaging with the objects in my space. By the time Ania sent us to randomly assigned break out rooms to try the activity with a partner, I was happy to keep exploring. I also felt a kind of quick, wordless (as Ania has suggested we continue the activity non-verbally in the spirit of clown), collaboration happening in our Breakout Room, that I hadn’t yet been able to feel a part of since pre-pandemic theater partner work. My mind instantly jumped to how I wanted to adapt this to work with students I serve with disabilities or experience social anxiety on Zoom. These low focus activities that can be done with any household objects allow for so much creativity with relatively low pressure.

In another activity, we practiced expressing overdramatic clown emotions, first alone in a guided emotional meditation of sorts then with partners. I was struck by how easily emotions like anger and sadness bubbled up from deep within me while participating. Sadly, many of us are forced to bury or ignore our emotions while existing on Zoom, particularly in our places of work, while there’s an almost collective moment of grief and anger we’re experiencing as a country during this pandemic. I had never imagined clowning as a kind of catharsis, allowing me to safely express some of those emotions and then come back to the experience and center humor and laughter. It’s something I’m excited to bring to my students, which isn’t always the case when I’m struggling as an educator to find activities I think will truly engage young people I work with.

I also think as artists and humans, more than ever, we’re craving some kind of release, of both acknowledging the personal, professional, financial, and global upheaval many of us are experiencing and despite it all, still find a way to still connect, play, and maybe even find delight in a few minutes of acting like a clown.


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