The Clown by Lindsay Brill (MFA '15)
(Andy Grotelueschen as Milky White and Patrick Mulryan as Jack in Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods, in a reimagining by Fiasco Theater, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, in a production that originated at McCarter Theatre Center at The Old Globe. Photo by Jim Cox.)
Clown is difficult to write about because the clown does not exist in the brain, but in the body, in the core of us. I’ve studied some clown in New York with the renowned clown master, Christopher Bayes and it completely changed my life. I learned quickly that clown is the core of the actor’s work. Whether one finds it in a clown class or through clown surgery, it is vital for an actor to be in touch with her clown in order to perform in her most authentic and vulnerable and playful way.
Andy Grotelueschen (we’ll just call him Andy) is one of just several people who have apprenticed under Chris Bayes and is certified to teach his method. From the first moment of our workshop, I could tell that Andy is like a mini-Chris. His energy, his way of communicating, his encouragement, his honesty felt like a home-coming.
In under two hours, Andy opened the door and invited us in to begin walking around the world of the clown. The clown is the playful self, the child, the savage self, the vulnerable self, the self that does not abide by or know of the rules society has forced upon us. Through a series of exercises, Andy asked us to jump into the unknown and to play with abandon. We spent most of our time working on an exercise in which we had to create songs. Chris uses this warm up activity in every class. The actors are broken up into small groups and the teacher assigns each group a title for their song. The rest is then created by each group. The songs have to have lyrics, choreography, harmony and everyone must sing a solo. You have about ten minutes to create the song. I have found that it is in these songs, particularly in the solo portion that the presence or absence of the clown is most clearly apparent to the performer and to the audience watching. In the allotted time, each group usually creates a basic tune, some basic lyrics and choreography, but there is rarely time to rehearse the solos and it’s best this way. And then the performances: You are up there singing your song with your group and you’re dancing and singing harmony even if you have no idea what harmony is and suddenly it’s your turn for your solo. You are thrust in front of the group as they sing and dance a background jig and there you are in front of the audience and you have to sing something you’ve never sang before. In our workshop I came out on the stage and started singing about something I thought would be funny and clever and I flopped. The audience wasn’t laughing. I wasn’t having fun. I wasn’t expressing something that really excited me in that moment. Thus, I wasn’t playing, but performing. So I stopped myself. I took a breath and let that junk go and I allowed my body and the audience to take me to a place of abandon and play and I found myself singing about something so personal I’m too embarrassed to write about in my own private journal and I moved my body in a way I wouldn’t move in most public places. I was in the world of the clown. In those couple of hours, I watched as my classmates also flopped and also found themselves in the land of the clown as they expressed truth in profound and extreme and unexpected and inappropriate ways.
Andy is a generous and passionate guide for artists to discover their authentic playful selves and what a thrill it was to be a part of his workshop.