A lot has happened since I last blogged about my journey here at Gaulier.

So here are 3 Haiku’s to describe the journey to now:

Made Bouffon breakthroughs
Then broke my back while skiing
Breaking momentum.

An eight-week struggle
Against struggling NHS
Struggled being alone

Now back at clown school
Protected by a back brace
Momentum is back.

Last week, I was just overjoyed to be back in class. I’d been watching the classes on Zoom for the previous four weeks… which taught me a lot, but was also somewhat disheartening because I wasn’t performing on stage.

As a result of my joy, I had quite a few successes on stage last week.

My feeling of “I’m just happy to be back” made me (I think) lighter and more playful on stage… which is exactly what you want in Clown.

This week, I am still overjoyed to be here, but I can feel it is an “intellectual” appreciation. The physical feeling of that joy has shifted.

As a result, I’m not as playful as I was last week. So the things I’m doing on stage are not working well. I’m “too much in my own head” again.

In Clown, there is an almost mechanical sequence that you follow with everything you do on stage (mechanical but imbued with genuine emotion):

1. You do a “big thing” (some action, voice, whatever, on stage) with the belief that “The audience is going to love this. I’m going to get a standing ovation for this!”
2. You show your pleasure to the audience, you are happy by the “shit that you just did.”
3. If the audience laughs, you show your pleasure at their laugh.
4. If the audience does not laugh, you show your confusion or anger that it didn’t work. This is called The Flop.
5. You either repeat the thing (if it worked) or do something different to “save The Flop.”

Last week, it’s amazing how easy it was for me to do something big and stupid on stage and just be genuinely happy about it, whether it got a laugh or not. I’d just been isolated at home for 8 weeks and was just loving being on stage again.

This week, my negative brain has turned back on again.

Old habits die hard, as a nun once told me.

My negative brain tells me: “People don’t like you. You’re shit at this.”

And that’s tightly coupled with my rejection sensitivity (a common ADHD experience). When I’m around people socially, I enjoy being in their company a lot… but the longer I’m around people, the more my brain starts picking out “evidence” that “this person doesn’t like me” (and once I convince my brain that person actually does like me, it latches onto someone else and starts looking for evidence that they don’t like me instead, in a never-ending cycle).

This dynamic then feeds back into the experience of Clown.

If you think the audience doesn’t love you, they won’t.

It doesn’t matter how much you tell yourself, “I love what I’m doing on stage. This is so great. The audience is going to love this.” to try to trick yourself into “feeling it”… if, deep down, you know you’re going to fail, you’re probably going to fail.

That’s probably what happened when I broke my back skiing. I went over a ski jump with the thought “When I last went over a jump as a teenager, I failed and fell over backwards”… and, lo and behold, I fell over backwards (this time doing more than winding myself as I had as a teen).

Turns out, I’m not alone.

Various of my classmates have talked this past week about feeling like “People don’t like me.”

Makes sense. We actors and performers are a sensitive lot. There’s a reason why there’s a stand-up comedy trope of “I do this job because I live off the appreciation of a laughing audience.”

But even knowing that lots of other people here feel a similar “invented rejection,” it still doesn’t make it go away.

In a way, I’m pleased that I’m “flopping” now. I know that flopping is a core part of the learning process here.

But, part of me also just wishes that I could access that joy and optimism that I had last week, when I was simply pleased to be back. When I had been isolated for 8 weeks and loving performing and being around my friends again.

There’s a koan “A Zen master is walking along the road. A Clown is coming in the other direction. They meet. How do they know which is the Zen master and which is the Clown?”

The Zen master is infinitely open and appreciative of life. And so is the clown.

These 2 months alone, I have been very far from being a Zen master. I’ve been angry, distraught, confused, and all the other emotions.

But coming back here at school was like a fresh of breath air.

I became open and appreciative because I had hated being in my enforced isolation.

This week, I feel like I once had the secret key to doing well in Clown… but it’s now slipping from my grasp.

I’m tired, my still-healing back is tired, and I am afraid that my brain’s usual “social anxiety spiral” will become the star of the “Show of Alex’s Life” yet again.

Intellectually, I tell myself “I love this. I love my classmates. And I love performing.” But there is a gap growing between the intellectual and the experiential. (that was a bit of a wanky intellectual sentence, I know).

Clown is about experience.

The only thing I can do is to recognize that is what’s happening.

Which is why I’m writing this blog.

And maybe, just maybe, I can use this recognition to instill that feeling of joy back into what I’m doing on stage.

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