Toward a Female Clown Practice: Transgression, Archetype and Myth
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Women who learn to clown within Western contemporary theatre and performance training lack recognizably female exemplars of this popular art form. This practice-as-research thesis analyses my past and present clowning experiences in order to create an understanding of a woman-centered clown practice which allows for the expression of material bodies and lived experiences. It offers a feminist perspective on Jacques Lecoq’s pedagogy, which revolves around a notion of an ‘inner clown’ and is prevalent in contemporary UK clown training and practice. The thesis draws on both the avant-garde and numerous clown types and archetypes, in order to understand clowning as a genre revealed through a range of unsocialised behaviours. It does not differentiate necessarily between clowning by men and women but suggests a re-think and reconfiguration to incorporate a wide range of values and thought processes as a means of introduction to a wider audience.
Specific concerns with the terms clown and clowning initiate this investigation, resulting in the creation of a ‘clowning continuum’, which offers a practical way of understanding various modes of clowning and various types of clowns. I examine my experiences, including those of ‘failure’, while working with renowned performer trainers, as well my negotiation of gender and sexuality through both my clowning in character and my creation of clowns. The twentieth century avant-garde artist Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, who inspired me to create ‘Clown Elsa’ and take her to art galleries and onto the street, is identified as a ‘radical female proto-clown’. My practical investigations into the potential interrelatedness of the masquerade of femininity and the mask of the clown are also shaped by discourses of hysteria and the carnivalesque. Drawing on Bakhtin’s concepts of carnival, dialogic practice and heteroglossia, as well as the transgressive potential of classical myth and archetypes for women, this thesis reconfigures clown practice and discourse by both challenging and developing upon Lecoq’s outmoded pedagogic practice. Its goal is to open it up for more types and modes of clown, in particular an ‘inner clown’ that can operate in a number of masks. It culminates in my creation of a feminist clown, Sedusa, who is inspired by Hélène Cixous’s writing on l’écriture feminine, myth and laughter in ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’ (1976). Sedusa expands clown models and masks for women by exploiting the ‘masquerade’ of femininity, a term originally coined by Joan Riviere in 1929. The thesis includes a performance as Sedusa as an embodiment of my research findings.
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