The Clown, The Fool, The Bouffon these are all seriously playful roles, to step into these roles is to let go of holding on too tightly to my agenda and to engage with life in the moment with fresh eyes, to not think I know but to discover, to be open and surprised. As a serious adult, committed to my future plan I can forget how accessible this playful state of being can be.
As part of my acting training I studied Clown and was lucky enough to train with Philippe Gaulier, a French master clown and professor of theatre. Gaulier is known for performing both the Clown and Bouffon and is one of the world’s leading authority on the Bouffon, a comic genre he holds as a sort of inverted Clown, where a balance is struck between grotesqueness and charm.
During one of our training exercises, he put two actors, on stage, each with a piece of fabric tucked into the back waist of their pants. The goal was to take the others piece of fabric. As each pair started to try and get the fabric, he would call NO! (with a French accent) Next! Crestfallen the pairs would leave the stage. We were all young actors, in awe of this man, and the trepidation of wanting to ‘do it right’ grew into tension as each of the pairs were met with strict NO! Then, finally YES! was called out, and we were all startled and excited to hear this, but confused as to why he called suddenly called YES!
He then explained. What was different with these two players, he asked, and he accentuated the word PLAYERS. He pointed out this pair were PLAYING THE GAME of getting the fabric, not trying to win, to please, to be better, just simply PLAYING. Enjoying themselves. You could see it in their faces and in their bodies, there was a different energy, one with lightness to it, and that, he said is one of the secrets of Theatre, to PLAY.
Really, it can be that simple? It was revolutionary for me, I suddenly saw how stressed I was trying to get it ‘right’ for him, a world reknown clown, and instead he gave me permission to let go and allow myself to step into just PLAYING – to hold the task lightly, spaciously, be open to feelings, impulses, be present, see one another and PLAY the game. It brings an energy all of its own.
I move in and out of this PLAY mindset when performing onstage and in life. The more I can step into it the broader my perspective becomes and other possibilities can be revealed. I feel more connected to my whole (body, mind, heart, spirit) self and consequently the more available I am with others. PLAY is a delightful, liberating, joyful, energizing practice to step into, and at times it is that we need to consciously step into it.