‘Clowning: to behave in a comical or playful way’
I graduated just over three months ago. It was a sunny morning in July and I rocked up on four hours’ sleep. I met my parents and they met my boyfriend for the first time (!!!) and it was a day filled with love and hope and optimism. The Principal told a stupid story about J.K. Rowling and James Dyson (literally, why??) and congratulated us all. Congratulations and Champagne were had all around and it felt like a beginning of sorts. I felt a stirring in the pit of my stomach which may have been due to my champagne/tiredness combination but it doesn’t seem to have gone away since.
Everything in Clowning is hinged on a task. You might have to carry lots of things at once, learn to use a new object, wrap a bandage around your leg without any help. The audience find entertainment in watching you try and complete a task. In Clowning, you have to show the audience everything. Everything is Exaggerated. Every facial expression. Every thought process. They want to see exactly what you’re thinking and how you’re reacting. Think Mr Bean. He doesn’t even use words and yet we know exactly what plan he’s conjuring up next just by his facial expressions and his signature “hurumph” sound.
I’ve been spinning plates a lot recently. Whilst juggling. On stilts. Ever since graduation day it has felt like one task after another. Things I hadn’t prepared myself for. Moving house. Taxes. Job applications. Earning money to still survive in London. Keep up my theatre personality on Twitter. Repeat. Keep spinning those plates, keep juggling those beanbags. I try to be private about how I’m feeling but it just spills out of me whenever anyone asks how I am. I can’t stick to just ‘fine, good, yeah’. Instead I tell everyone about how many hours I’ve worked, the commute times, that I’m applying for lots of things. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a lazy graduate; I feel like I’ll have let people down. I smile and laugh, ‘it’ll happen!’ they say. I agree, as waves crash in the pit of my stomach.
Clowns have no idea what they’re going to do, in a way. They have a basic premise but whether the props will behave or how the audience will react is completely unknown. They may laugh or gasp or stay stony-faced silent but whatever they do you have to be prepared to show them how you’re making them feel. Clowning is built around honest to your audience.
I scroll social media a lot. That’s not exactly news. As soon as I finish work my phone is the first thing I look at, before I’ve even got out the door I’m clicking through notifications and trespassing timelines. Everyone seems to be…okay? Doing a better job at this whole post-uni thing? People are getting stuff commissioned or their blog got invited to something cool or they recently got an ace job. I like and put heart emojis and try to be the first to support and say ‘well done!’. Those hearts fall into my stomach-pit and shatter as they land.
Audiences love to see clowns fail. They love to see them fall and trip and get cream pie in their face. It’s hilarious. It’s funny to see someone fail and have to get out of it. Failing is a huge part of comedy. Schadenfreude and All That Jazz.
I don’t speak to my housemates for a few days, I don’t even see them. They’re at university and I am not and it can feel like we’re in two different worlds. I sometimes burst into tears, hugging my boyfriend. I gasp for air, mouthing words about failure as tears and snot run down my face. He strokes my hair and says lovely things that make me feel better [he’s a gem]. It feels like the pit is retching itself out of me, hurling itself out of my throat. Three job rejections in one day, worrying that the little girl who apparently had everything going for her got lazy and peaked. People tell me I’m hardworking but my to-do list is never complete so I can’t be working that hard.
Ultimately, regardless of whether the clown completes or fails their task, the audience have fallen in love with them. Because they let them in. I guess I’m halfway to being a clown, then.
I take three days off work after working 7-day weeks. I let myself sleep with no alarm, stretching out in my sheets like I’m in a Martha Graham routine. I take vitamins in the morning, try not to beat myself up as much about not completing every task, and attempt to say nice things to myself, about myself. It’s a slow process and I’m still scared every single second that I won’t achieve anything I’d set out to do, but I’m getting better.
I’m clowning around.