That’s what we focused on this week in red nose, a.k.a. clowning class. In a clown’s world, many problems arise. Problems arise that in our world might be easily solved. My shoelace unties and I can’t figure out how to retie it without generating a new problem. My bag keeps slipping from my shoulder and I haven’t a clue how to stop it from doing so. A fly keeps landing on my shoulder to the point of sheer distraction that I can’t accomplish whatever task it is I’m trying to do. Clowns encounter a lot of failure. Failure sustains problems. Problems become intriguing and, quite often in the clown world, funny. What usually becomes more engaging than the problems is how the clown solves them.
Sarah Jane, our red nose teacher at Wise Fool, told me a story about a clown world problem she encounters when she performs as Chachi. She is on stage and it is raining (imaginary clown rain), raining so much that the waters are starting to swirl around her chair. She needs to get up from the chair and she’s afraid to step into the water. How can Chachi rise from the chair?
In one hand she has an umbrella, the size of the kind you might find in a cocktail drink. In the other hand she is smoking a cigar, an aid to pondering dilemmas. After a few puffs, she begins to notice that if she inhales the cigar deeply, the umbrella begins to rise and pull her up. Inhale. Rise. Inhale. Rise. Inhale. Rise. And then success! Chachi is no longer sitting in the chair.
Today I did my first exploration of problem solving with clown logic in a practice performance. Thinking about the skit makes me smile because I nearly didn’t do it. I was feeling intimidated after a very funny solo skit by a classmate. Thankfully, we are a class full of encouragement, so I gave it a go.
I improvised a skit with a heavy wooden dining chair. I set myself the task of sitting down on the chair, center stage and facing the audience. Inspired by my classmates, I found myself flow easily into the world of repeated clown failure. First I put the chair on the floor, facing downwards and sat down next to it. I quickly realized this was not achieving my task. Then I picked it up and sat in it, only I was facing away from the audience.
Then I tried to sit down leaning against the back rest and ended up simply sliding to the floor. I stood up and put a hand on the corner of the back rest. I was stymied. I leaned in a little and the chair -which was still facing back to front – moved. It occurred to me that I might be onto something. I pushed again. More movement. I held on to the corner of the backrest tightly and ran in a circle.
This successfully turned the chair around in a circle. I was back to where I started.
Only now I was a little bit wiser.
Totally focused, I held onto the corner of the backrest and then gave a little push. I looked to the audience to confirm that I was doing the right thing. After seeing many nodding heads, I continued with little pushes until finally the chair was facing front.
I became excited with the sense that I was nearly at my goal. I looked at the empty seat and then to the audience to check with them again that I was doing the right thing. More nodding heads. They joined me in counting to three and then it happened.
I sat down in the chair facing the audience.
Whew! Mission accomplished.
Until 2010, I worked as a professional in what I call the social policy industry. In that industry, people are tasked with solving problems. Escalating problems from minor glitches into major obstacles is not an approach I would encourage policymakers to take on. I am wondering, however, what insight into problem solving clown logic might have to offer policymakers? What insight might clown logic have to offer social justice activists and changemakers of all sorts?
Clown logic – where could it take us?