Monday, 16 November 2015

Clown Truth

Since the dawn of humanity clowns have danced a closely intertwined dance with truth. This dance is a fundamental feature of their timeless attraction. Truthfulness is, behind the mask of grotesque ridiculousness, what makes a clown. When a clown comes from a place of authenticity the clown can say things others wouldn’t dare. 

The clown is a liminal character, polarized between the lowest social standing and a unique position of receiving attention, which in and of itself is a form of social status. Attention not just from common people but also from the rich and powerful. In medieval times the court jester was a clown in service of a King or some other elevated noblemen. In this role jesters had unique access to, literally, the most powerful persons in the land. On top of that he had a unique permission to speak the truth.
The jester’s freedom to mock or contradict rulers is described in records from all over the world, throughout history. India, Persia, China, and Europe all had their own versions of it. Aztec regent Montezuma II (1502-20) said of his jesters: “They frequently pronounced some important truths,” and in Erasmus’ (1469-1536) Praise of Folly he writes: “They’re the only ones who speak frankly and tell the truth, and what is more praiseworthy than truth?”
We must assume Kings were fully aware of this aspect of their fools role. So they would take great care in selecting their court jester. To gain the privilege, of being taken care of and to possibly assert influence, the clown had to deserve it. Only masters of their craft would have gotten the honor of becoming court jesters. They would have had to be able to improvise and have a broad palette of skills to draw upon and combine as they in essence would perform to the same crowd repeatedly. Obviously they would also have to be compatible with as well as being stimulating to the individual King’s humor, taste, and temperament.  
From the Jester or Clowns point of view an important part of their education and development is to discover and develop a truthful representation of themselves. A character which can fall down, juggle, sing comic songs, tell stories or what have you, and  come across as being truthful and himself through it all. They need to be able to pretend without pretense. 

“The clowns who are masters are themselves. They make something wonderful out of who they truly, deeply and simply are. They don’t hide or conceal themselves in clown character, to appear as someone else, or someone good, or someone right. Yes, they borrow routines, shtick, and ideas from one another and their predecessors, and, true, they frequently belong to a long performance lineage and have learned, as apprentices, specific techniques that perpetuate a certain tradition. And yet whatever material they perform, whatever character they present, they enter into their clown persona as a way of being more generously themselves than they might be under usual circumstances. Every time we watch one of them, we don’t view a form or a character or a concept. We see, simply, them.” (Ezra LeBank and David Bridel, Clowns: In conversation with Modern Masters.)

There were of course particular, if unwritten, rules for the way these transgressive expressions of truth could be presented. Guised in silliness, displayed and expressed from a grotesque and lowly state of dignity, the King would be free to take from it what he wanted and discard the rest as jest and absurdity. If the King sifted out a grain of truth from the jesters rants and chose to take the it to heart it was more likely for the grain to fall on fertile ground. 
The jester could speak truths, but the telling of truth is not just a matter of stating facts.  “Earth is not the centre of the solar system,” might have been a fact when it was first uttered, but it was not experienced as such by the vast majority. The type of truth best expressed by jesters and clowns is not factual truth, what German film maker Werner Herzog calls “accountant’s truth,” but rather what he calls “ecstatic or poetic truth.” 
“If facts had any value, if they truly illuminated us, if they unquestionably stood for truth, the Manhattan phone directory would be the book of books.” (Werner Herzog. A Guide for the Perplexed.)
Facts might reflect objective reality, but they do not illuminate. Only truth illuminates. Poetic truth is an experienced truth, greater and more powerful than any fact. It is a process of communication where a recipient experiences someones expression as a deeper and more visceral truth. Poetic truth is not separate from human participation. It is not something which is, it is something which happens between humans. Poetic truth is artificial, meaning “made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural.” (New Oxford American Dictionary.) A poetic truth is fact artificially crafted to make emotional connection.
For poetic truth to happen there needs to be trust between the presenter and the receiver. The King would have to trust his fool. For this trust to develop the fool had to express his self. If the King felt his jester spoke the opinions or truths of ministers or bishops, chances are the fool would have his privilege revoked, possibly by having his tongue ripped out or head chopped off.
 The process of telling truth is a delicate business. As a clown attempts to do so there is always risk. Risk of failure. Not the kind of failure which is mimicked in a clown’s performance, which in actuality is only imitation of failure so well crafted it really is a success, its rather a failure of communication, failure of connection and understanding. If any of these three factors fail; the truthfulness of the clown, the particular truth expressed, or the King’s experience of either, the clown risks death. The historical jester who’s truth broke down could probably face literal death. Todays clowns risks dying on stage. Certainly not as bad as death, anyone who isn’t a clown would say. Yet, the clown’s truth is the clown’s soul.  When a clown dies on stage the truth of his self fails, without which the poetic truth of his message can no longer happen. What dies, when a clown dies on stage, is his soul. Without it the clown is reduced to a soulless clown zombie. Wandering undead in greasepaint with a red nose being but an empty shell. A fate on par with death by royal executioner. (It’s zombie clowns like this, roaming shopping centers and birthday parties which is giving clowns a bad name.) 

 The truthfulness in the jesters persona is the key to his privilege as truth teller. When a clown successfully acts from his heart, the wellspring of poetic truth, truth can happen and rings true. In this subtle, yet powerful, process comes great power. Laughter and levity lowers the minds defense mechanisms, and as cynicism and distrust recedes, the listeners own heart becomes exposed, fertile ground. In such moments the heart of the jester can speak directly to the King’s heart and under these peculiar circumstances a lowly clown can plant a seed of poetic truth in the Kings heart. A seed which has the potential to sprout into governmental reform. If a clown whispers his truth to the King’s open heart, change becomes a possibility. Change of heart. Change of mind. Change of world.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Lessons From the Way of the Showman - 69

Think of nervousness as excitement. With the alchemical powers of the mind you can create this transformation and a greater, more confident Showman will emerge. 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Way of the Showman - III - Sideshow Part Two

Inspired by meeting John Kamikaze and getting invited to join his family of freaks, the Space
Cowboy, Shep Huntly, Tigerlil and myself decided we wanted to create our own sideshow.
The Kamikaze Freakshow was a hardcore experience for the crowds. John Kamikaze's art can be difficult to watch for even the most ardent sideshow enthusiast. So we wanted our sideshow to be a softer experience for the crowds. Personally I have always been drawn in the direction of laughter. A good laugh and gag can make the sideshow medicine go down easier. We wanted to create a show which could manage to convey just how fun and exciting we found the stunts and skills of the sideshows, and make the crowd feel that same excitement. In our talks we talked about wanting it to be a happy vibe show. Shep Huntly had, at the time a smiley face dyed into the hair on his head. He also played the Toothfairy song "You got to be Happy Now," at the start of each of his street shows. Eventually this idea of wanting to make a happy sideshow became our name, not just a description of what we wanted the show to be like.
This next episode in the Way of the Showman series shows glimpses from some of the early exploits of the Happy Sideshow, Australia's Premier Freakshow.
It shows a bunch of the madness arising when The Happy Sideshow opened for the extraordinary showbiz band Machine Gun Fellatio. It was some seriously good times. A deadly cocktail. Rock and Roll meets Shock and Roll.

Monday, 10 August 2015

The Way of the Showman - I - 1 Day in Norway

In this episode Carnival Cinema has dug up an old gem. Flesh hooks, clog dancing, extreme tattooing, and myself without a mustache.
Hamish McCormick and myself traveled to Norway in 2004. One of the days there we spent with my friends at Solid Tattoo and Piercing. It all seemed so normal and straight forward at the time. Looking back at it now I realise I used to be really tough. It was quite a day!

Links to the other episodes

CW Stoneking Film clip
Teaser Introduction
Part I - 1 Day in Norway
Part II - Sideshow #1
Part III - Sideshow #2
Part IV - Act Analysis
Part V - You Create Your Own Reality
Part VI - Confetti and Aardvarks

Monday, 27 July 2015

Invisible Thread

A short movie starring Penn & Teller? How sweet. A simple magic trick saves the world, it might just be plausible.
The movie is from 1987. Features a cameo from James Randi.