Once a participant on a workshop blurted: 'But this is Horror!!'
I replied: 'Yes, Horror - but Horror plus the skilful application of rhythm, contrast, timing, musicality and audience awareness in the service of creating, for the audience, the troubled laughter (which can potentially help them question the nature of humanity and which can help them experience a certain kind of catharsis).
When I say 'Horror' - I don't mean stabby-stabby- scariness but horror in the sense of an opportunity to see an depiction of humanity suffering under oppression (force); to see a human-being stripped of dignity and stripped of all but the most appalling choices. These, sadly, are things which have happened, and which, sadly, continue to happen daily in our strange and troubling world.
When I say catharsis...In Tragedy, the catharsis is delivered via the experience of pity and fear, or compassion and dread. Perhaps it goes like this?: pity and fear being experienced by the watcher - and embodied to a degree by this audience member whose breathing and heartbeat are affected by the visuals, music and action of a well-produced Tragedy - through this act of embodiment, might pity and fear move towards the higher vibration of compassion and dread?
Some describe catharsis as purification, but F.L. Lucas (so my friend Wikipedia tells me), believes 'purging' to be a better word. Purging is unpleasant but good (I think of a documentary I saw where monks were successfully treating drug addicts by, as a first stage, giving them a herbal concoction which caused a lot of vomiting). It seems to me that in therapy, the aim is not solely intellectual clarification, but a change for the whole being. Certainly Arnold Mindell and Dina Glouberman use physical movement in their practice, seeing it as being beneficial to bring stagnant or stuck energies into view and into flow. In my experience, the juddery laughter that we aim to create in the audience of Dark Clown work can provide a literal 'shaking up', a shifting of energy. Wikipedia quotes the scholar F.L. Lucas in Lucas, F. L. Tragedy in Relation to Aristotle's Poetics, p. 23. Hogarth, 1928: "In real life," he explained, "men are sometimes too much addicted to pity or fear, sometimes too little; tragedy brings them back to a virtuous and happy mean."Tragedy is then a corrective; through watching tragedy, the audience learns how to feel these emotions at proper levels.' Those last italics are mine - the 'proper levels', I like this. Is the fall of a tear the 'proper' response to horrific events? As I say in the soon-to-be-released Dark Clown Documentary 'Taking Laughter to the Limits', the absurd and obscene events of horrific torture regimes seem to be better matched* by the shocked 'bwah huh huh', the sob-like laugh which is the aim of the Dark Clown work.
It is natural that attending a workshop can bring some fear - and in the case of the Dark Clown work, some people may feel fear once they start to see the depiction of human suffering. Fear that they shouldn't be watching it? Fear that they might fall into it? Fear that they won't be able to bear it? Fear that a depiction of suffering is being associated with laughter? This last fear can arise quite naturally, at an instinctive level, prompted by human decency and compassion. That is why I take care to repeat a number of times that the intention the work is not to laugh at suffering or at those who have suffered, but to provide an opportunity to witness that suffering in a context where laughter is produced - and a specific kind of laughter - not the released scot-free laughter often prompted by the Red Nose Clown, but Troubled laughter. I believe (or hold the possibility**) that laughter (even the Troubled kind) can serve the flow of feelings. The Troubled laughter is not a 'laugh at' but a laugh springing from the helpless witness (we are usually surprised into laughter***) and containing a healthy experience of shame (I recently looked for a list of negative emotions and found this website, where Karla McLaren makes a helpful distinction between 'applied' or 'foreign shame' and 'appropriate' shame).
The very nature of laughter is movement and breath. The experience of trauma has been linked to the experience of immobility (read Peter A Levin's books 'Waking the Tiger' and 'In an Unspoken Voice').
I have faith in the power of human expression (not acting out, but 'authentic' - this can be a difficult word - expression). I believe that theatre practice has the ability to help dedicated practitioners open to more of humanity in general and to their own humanity - in all its complexity.
Recently I have had two invitations to offer the Dark Clown work in a personal development context. Despite my interest in personal development and in the developmental aspects of Dark Clown work and theatre practice in general; that direction is not for me. I am not a trained therapist and have no appetite to be one. I prefer to work with people who are on a trajectory which goes beyond but includes personal development. When we work within the discipline of and commitment to theatre practice, we realise, or are taught that opening the self is necessary, and that a healthy curiosity and courage to encounter the full breadth of humanity is part of the journey with the work. When leading a Clown & Dark Clown workshop****, I aim to hold the space for the Dark Clown work with hygiene, professional discipline, specificity, compassion, and the joy that comes from courageous play. Plus a healthy sense of humour. Humour for our human failings, for our ridiculous plight. I like this quote: “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.” - Mark Twain. And I have long admired writer Kurt Vonnegut, who had known personal loss and pain and who had also survived the horrific bombing of Dresden. He would describe terrible things then leave a line and then write: 'Heigh ho.'
*in the NLP sense of 'matching'
** thank you Grayson Perry: 'Hold your beliefs lightly.'
*** is this a useful distinction with evil laughter? Is evil laughter a laughter, not of surprise, but of relish, of intent, of geeing the self on to unkind deeds?
**** Dark Clown work is taught at the first level in the Clown & Dark Clown Course – Clown work (openness, rhythm, rules of laughter, audience awareness & audience engagement plus the experience of a shared play atmosphere for the group) prepares the ground for the Dark. Advanced Dark Clown Courses are in development and will be available to Clown & Dark Clown course graduates.