Media Reports

Welcome to Playspace, Sydney's Physical Theatre Studio. The following articles are from our local papers on our clown training program.

Why are these people smiling?

by Chantal Abitbolwpe14.jpg (25318 bytes)

Just six months ago, AIannah Wesson had never performed for anyone in her life. But now, dressed in black with her face painted moon-white, she draws a crowd as she clowns for pedestrians on King Street, Newtown.

"When I first decided to give it a go, it was in a moment of madness," says Wesson, 30. a single mother who works as a psych nurse at Rozelle Hospital."! was feeling burnt out with work and I needed a real shake in my life."

So when she spotted an advertisement for clown classes at the Playspace, a physical theatre studio in Newtown, she tried it out on a whim. Now she wants to turn her new found hobby into a full time job. "Before doing this, I did not have a method of expressing myself," she says. "Clowning has given me the opportunity to explore different parts of myself and develop skills, which are really peculiar to me. l'm amazed by it."

What has come as even more of a surprise to Wesson is the fact that she has also been able to find a way to help others through her clowning. "There is such important work in entertaining people. It's just as worthwhile as my nursing work," she says, her voice cracking with both excitement and disbelief.

Then she explains: "Some of the best clowns make you cry. It's all about acting out and getting in touch with emotions, and then dealing with them. Everyone needs that in life at some point." Recently, Wesson has started to pick up work performing at kids' parties, and will soon be going abroad for nine weeks to "clown her way through Europe," she says.

This comes as no surprise to veteran clown and theatre director, Alan Clay who says he is used to people knocking on his doors at all hours wanting to learn how to be a clown. "People who want to be clowns just find their way. It's not something you decide to do; it's an experiential thing - you just find yourself doing it," says Clay, who moved from New Zealand to establish the Playspace studio two years ago.

"The real question then becomes this: Are you just born a clown or can you learn how to become one?" He pauses for a moment, then answers his own question. "The answer is both," he says with a smite. To learn how to be a clown, Clay first introduces his students to both the physical and emotional aspects of clowning. He begins each class with a two hour session of yoga, which is then followed by exercises in juggling, swinging from the trapeze and tight-rope walking.

Students are first encouraged to experiment with all the crafts of clowning, but are then given the artistic freedom to break off on their own and develop their own individual styles and routines. Some prefer to dance with whips and balance balls. Others juggle clubs and play with banana peels. And still others choose to roam around the studio, playing out scenes and scenarios in silence.

After this session, class is then relocated outside, where students brave the bewildered looks of pedestrians watching them practise their clown acts on the street. "One lady seriously thought I was mentally ill," says Olivia Stambouliali, laughing, when she remembers her first time performing her act for street practice. But this does not matter to Stambouliah, 18, a drama student (pictured above), who is learning the art of clowning to improve her versatility as an actor.

"I don't care if I make a fool of myself," she says. "We get to go out into the world, have fun with people and play with taboos and social boundaries. And afterwards, I can look back at the creative process and say, 'Look how brave I was!"'

Check out the Playspace Masterclass with Alan Clay

A clown masterclass, exploring the physical and irreverent approach to clown developed over twenty years at Playspace Studio.

"It is a class where top students are rewarded for clowning around, where practical jokers practice punchlines and where disorder is the order of the day. Welcome to clown school - a year-long education in entertainment for funsters of future generations.

At Newtown's Playspace Theatre, director Alan Clay is teaching his students the most important lesson in making it in the competitive clowning industry. "Basically I give the students permission to act physically and vocally in a way that is not considered normal," Mr Clay said. "Society wants everyone to be normal but clowns have to let go of those inhibitions and learn not to be self-conscious."

Jostling for jokes and looking for laughs may seem a tough way to earn a living, however Mr Clay said interest in clowning and circus-based entertainment was at an all-time high. "More and more work is available for people who are suitably trained and circus-based theatre is experiencing something of a renaissance in Australia," he said. "It gives a physically compelling, immediate experience for an audience and Australian artists are leading the world in this area."

Each Thursday Mr Clay's seven students study the theory behind clowning, such as the art juggling and tightrope walking, before turning Newtown's streets in to a classroom. The students are young, an overwhelming majority are women and all enjoy the challenge of creating a chuckle. "The community at Newtown is very accepting and the students are generally greeted with smiles and waves wherever they go," he said. "Perhaps nowhere more so than Newtown would it be so accepted."

The students are each aspiring to professional clowning careers, mostly working in dance clubs, with theatre groups, working birthday parties or in circuses. The studio runs a 12-month class in each of clown training, circus-based theatre and circus training."

Check out the Playspace Masterclass with Alan Clay

A clown masterclass, exploring the physical and irreverent approach to clown developed over twenty years at Playspace Studio.

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Last updated 10 February 2011

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