“Theater clowning is not a technique but a personal journey to our unique way of experiencing and expressing the clown’s “jester freedom.” The red nose is the smallest mask in the world. Through our inner clown we experience qualities such as spontaneity and the joy of play.” www.clownforschung.de
Red Nose Dive
A true search for freedom is a nose-dive into the art of asking questions. Questions generate
movement, movement invites change. The clown’s playful approach stirs up a raucous
cocktail of unorthodox, uncomfortable, revealing, and unsettling questions such as:
- How can I nurture loving curiosity to all that is going on inside me and around me?
- How can I be fully present and non-judgemental to myself and others?
- How can I keep an open heart and mind to be able to relate to the best in people?
- How can I live my emotions fully and not hold onto them?
- How do I wake up my inner potential and that of others?
- How can I make intuitive choices, pulling from my heart, my mind, my nature, my life
I have been graced for the last 40+ years with an incurable desire to meet and understand
myself, with and through other people. These yearnings have set changes in motion that
continuously affect and infect my vision of the world.
When I was 6, I discovered how people’s struggles and individual stories move me deeply. I
came home from kindergarten shaken up after a physical encounter with J. I begged my
mother not to make a fuss because J had such a horrible family life and did not need any
more trouble. My tears were for both of us.
A leadership training course at 13 revealed my fascination for the mysteries and magic of
group dynamics. Each group, from 3 to 300, is entirely dependent on the blend of people
present, coloured by their unique experience, interests and needs. The direction of a group
is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
The third element in my life mix has been an attraction to the discomfort and uncertainty
experienced in the fields of improvisation, theater and clowning which started in high
school. I made an inner decision not to let my shyness cripple me or my lack of talent stop
me from this suffering; I continuously stepped into these terrifying worlds.
My combination of an allergy to perfection, a frustration at the inner stress I experience in
the business world and the field of theater development, guided me – primarily
unconsciously – to the world of the theater clown. The clown, the everyman figure, fully
human, shares vulnerability and encourages us to laugh at all we would rather not be, all
that we are, and all we are becoming.
“Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in the transforming
and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and condition our lives.”
– Joseph Beuys
A clown makes no small plans. In the clown’s world, everything is possible, bouncing from
cloud to cloud, stepping through the eye of a needle into the cells of a flea, showering the
planet with drinking water, or conversing with a dandelion. The clown’s only mission is to
live life fully, one step at a time, moment to moment. Saving the world, maybe, maybe not.
Innocently revealing social truths, on some days, some not. Connecting, reconnecting,
always perceiving the world through all their senses.
With an underlying intention of goodwill and empathy, the clown celebrates imperfection,
failure, and exasperation. The clown practices riding the waves of every emotion, living each
one fully and then letting go. Clowns can be in deep distress at the sight of a shrivelled up
plant dying from chemical overdose in one moment then swing from star to star after seeing
a sprout poke through a crack in concrete. The clown suspends judgement, lives the image
and the emotion.
Play is Serious Business
Play. Play dead. Play dying. Play living. Play out a fear. Make it big. Make it bigger. Be the
wind. Be a complete orchestra on a beach. Be the air over the water in a glass or the gap
between the train and the platform. Play out a tragic last conversation between a frog and a
fly or the leaf thanking the worms for transforming it in the compost.
Play is fluid, alive, full of compromise, conciliation, negotiation. Play is rejuvenating,
revitalizing, healing. Play is natural and instinctive. As adults, it is easy to forget the value of
When we play we unlearn the social conventions we have ingrained, perhaps accepting
them as ‘normal.’ When we receive the world through the clown, we open a deep
appreciation for what is going on inside of us and around us. We take a fully engaged step
into the process of living, a move past judgement into a world where everything and
anything is possible.
Catherine Bryden: A modern theater clown and facilitator dedicated to play, unlearning, inquiry, and community learning processes. Born in Canada, has lived in Asia, living in Germany now. Questions and comments are welcome!
More info about theatre clowning: www.clownforschung.de
PS Join the Purposeful Empathy community. Together, let’s spread more empathy in the world.
For more than a decade, I have been singularly focused on leveraging empathy for personal and social transformation. I teach Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation at McGill University and co-founder of PVM-Studio, a global advisory firm that supports purpose-driven people and organizations. Learn more about my work here.