What if we were to follow our red-noses?

Another week, another red-nose workshop with Wise Fool. 

This past week in red-nose (aka, clowning), we were each asked to perform a three to five minute sketch that brought to life the music of our clown characters. We got through four performances. I was fascinated to watch how each person took the tools we’ve all been working with and created a unique performance. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given that our inner orchestral music is unique. When I think about it, I am reminded of the vision of the Zapatista movement, based in Mexico: Un mundo donde quepan muchos mundos (a world in which many worlds fit). Each performer created an imaginary world.  That evening, we were inhabiting a world in which many worlds fit. How did we get there and what of it?

To create those worlds, performers were guided upon the rhythms and movements playing away inside their selves (I’m not saying our selves because I didn’t perform last week). People stepped into their roles with a sense of character. Before getting on stage, they created a clear answer to the question “Who am I?” That’s the idea behind creating one’s clown character. We are encouraged to have enough clarity of this character that it can fully inhabit and guide us. Were we to bring this clown character into an unknown situation/scene, we would react and respond in ways that reflect his/her dominant traits. I would become my character; my character would become me.

As I watched the four performances, I was struck by how distinct they were from each other and by how we were drawn into all of them.

A character’s music led her to interrupt her journey across the stage with a dance led by her squeaky shoes. She seemed lost in a private squeaky-shoe-dance-party. We laughed at each squeak. We smiled at her delight in the experience. We giggled when she snapped out of her dance-trance and sheepishly remembered us – the audience.  She started to continue her journey to wherever-she-was-going. A shoe became untied. She then, true to clown form, struggled with tying this shoe and keeping her bag on her shoulder at the same time. As she struggled with repeated efforts, we laughed and also felt her frustration. She eventually sat down on the ground, took the shoe off and shyly walked away with a one-foot squeak. We applauded her for persevering to find a solution to her challenging situation, while we also felt a bit sad for her state of being one-shoed. We all know that feeling.

A character entered the stage searching for something. We watched as she looked everywhere for it. We shared her sense of frustration at not being able to find it (not knowing what it was).  We laughed at her when she said in total seriousness “This isn’t funny.” She only revealed to us the object of her searching after allowing us for some minutes to wonder what on earth she was looking for. She did so by saying loudly “Bernice!!! What did you do with my deodorant?!” We felt her annoyance at Bernice. However, Bernice, did not do anything. Rather, the sought-after deodorant had been taken by aliens.  We know this because the performer said so, while she morphed into an alien character who we see opening the deodorant, sniffing it and then trying it out. The alien then did a “Wow, what is this amazing stuff I’ve found” dance. We laughed and applauded at the Alien’s this-deoderant-makes-me-want-to-dance-delight that ended this performance.

A character was an elderly slow-moving woman. She sat down in a chair and talked about her boys. Turned out her boys were two tiny rubber chickens, that she pulled out of handbag. We flinched when she accidentally closed the clasp on one of their legs. We giggled while she tenderly stroked ‘her boys.’ We happily joined in when she stood up and asked (without words, just gestures and sounds) us –  to create a three party harmony backbeat for The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which she then quietly sang. We were clapping and doing our three different beats while she returned to her seat. Still singing, she suddenly fell asleep in her chair. This led to laughter and we-know-the-show-has-come-to-an-end-applause.

The final performer for the evening was a woman in a vibrantly patterned skirt, tights and jacket  with a cheerful old, olive green hat, fronted by a flower. She invited us to join her for a wine and cheese picnic. She sat down before us with a picnic basket. She first pulled out a little purse which all in one go, she somehow unzipped and zipped. We laughed at this. She pulled out a little tablecloth on which she placed a wine bottle and some glasses. She showed the audience a sign with music notes that said “Wine and Cheese Concert.” She repeatedly referred to this sign as a prompt to herself and the audience. After filling each glass with imaginary wine, she began the concert by tapping them. We applauded her musicality. Aware of the promised cheese, she pulled out a cheese grater and added to the music by playing it. We applauded some more. When she packed everything up, we knew the concert was over and gave our thanks-for the-concert applaud. Wine and cheese concert, indeed.

We  – the audience – enjoyed these different worlds that were created before us. We readily stepped into them. We shared feelings of success, failure, delight and frustration with the performers.

Four people given the same instructions and working with a similar set of tools, created very different worlds. Each was guided by their internal rhythms and orchestras. We readily accepted the invitations to join these performers in their worlds.

That’s my experience of what happened last Tuesday night at our weekly Wise Fool clowning workshop.

I’m wondering how this imaginary world-building process is relevant to day-to-day life.

Specifically, how is it relevant to a day-to-day life geared towards helping build a world in which many worlds fit? And what if all these worlds are to be rooted in healthy and restorative relationships with our selves, others and the planet?

What can we – changemakers who want to create different ways of living together – learn from the red-noses?

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