Clown and physical comedy improv, movement, and ensemble & group devised story-telling is no laughing matter for Alicia Gonzalez

Alicia Gonzalez performing clown research in nature, Menorca, Spain. Photo by Daniela Maiwald.

Alicia Gonzalez performing clown research in nature, Menorca, Spain. Photo by Daniela Maiwald.

With a Create NSW Artist Support (Quick Response) grant, Alicia Gonzalez recently attended Eric de Bont’s prestigious International Clown School in Menorca. She spoke to us of her experiences and what she hopes to instil in her work now she’s back in Australia.

You’re a performance maker specialising in clown and physical theatre. Can you tell us about your practice?

Over the last five years, I’ve dedicated myself to the making of new Australian theatre through a genuinely ensemble-based process, working alongside several indie theatre companies. Throughout this time, I’ve chosen to further specialise in clown for the theatre, clown teaching, and most recently therapeutic clowning where I get to ‘heal’ with laughter via various forms of clowning methods.

Since 2016, I’ve most notably enjoyed building a community of clown artists together with my comedy comrade Debbie Zukerman, via a monthly-run drop-in Clown Jam. This is a regularly-run collaborative project in Sydney’s Inner West, open to artists from most disciplines seeking clown development and skills practice.

You recently benefited from a Create NSW Artist Support (Quick Response) grant – how did you make your application stand out?

I hope what was strongly conveyed in my application was my unrelenting excitement and dedication to practicing and teaching clown theatre, as well as my authentic desire to share this artform with the Sydney artistic community.

Attaching encouraging industry references is a good idea. I included supportive letters from The Humour Foundation and Laugh Masters Academy – who shared my decision for overseas professional development.

I shaped my application to be clown specific and provided thorough examples of my previous and future projects emphasising the benefits to Create NSW priority areas.

My budget was well researched, realistic and made clear what I could achieve overseas in six weeks.

I had three focused outcomes:

To broaden my professional skill-set and knowledge

Develop the first draft of a new clown show.

To expand my network of international colleagues.

How did this opportunity come about and what did you learn while you were there?

I’d been curious about de Bont’s pedagogical style for a while, particularly his focus on the human tragedies in clown, as this is closely linked to the work that I do as a clown doctor in children’s hospitals.

From a creative standpoint, before the workshop I was struggling to find a way to write for clown and how to dramaturgically structure a poetic clown piece for the theatre.

I had a profound month making discoveries, creating and deepening my clown performance and pedagogy alongside Eric de Bont.

I learnt how to better trust my instincts as a clown performer and writer. I developed and showcased ten minutes of new material for a clown show in front of an audience and received feedback.

Outside of the clown intensive, I was fortunate to be invited over to Paris to observe the work of two clown doctors from the organisation Le Rire Medecin and meet with the Artistic Director Caroline Simonds. It was interesting to observe the differences there, in protocol and artistic choices, between our countries. I appreciated the fantastic rapport between the clown doctors and the medical team that has been established over the last twenty-seven years. This was one of the many highlights for me, as I could see how beneficial it is for both parties to gain a better understanding and a thorough briefing about each patient before diving in clown mode.

How will you integrate these experiences into your work in Australia?

The experience at Eric de Bont’s school and at Le Rire Medecin will provide further knowledge to take into therapeutic clowning and in creating routines, that I can share amongst the Sydney clown doctor team during our skills development meetings, with the aim of elevating the interactions with young people in hospitals.

This study tour has undoubtedly enhanced my capacity as a performer and a theatre creator too. I have developed my clown writing skills and my research into the human ‘clown’ tragedies with Eric de Bont and this will support the process of my new body of work in development She Looked Really Happy (working title) as it is framed around the challenges of grief and mental health.

In 2019 I’ll also collaborate once more with Clockfire Theatre Company and will be directing an original clown duo piece that I am eager to begin working on, as well as continue to create live comedy shows and videos for the Choo Choo Troupe. Both projects will hopefully benefit from my overseas clown findings.

It is my intention to fill the clown theatre education gap in NSW. While in Europe I was able to observe and discuss other teaching styles and exercises and this has supported me in refreshing and building my next pedagogic program in Sydney and beyond. I’d like to launch a one-month ‘Clown in Nature’ intensive workshop via The Clown Institute, a clown arts lab dedicated to researching and teaching contemporary clown theatre in NSW which has been in motion for the last three years.

Thank you to Create NSW for the wonderful opportunity to reinvigorate my skills, make new connections and further study this artform overseas. I am forever “gratefool”.

Artist Support (Quick Response)
This program supports time-sensitive professional development opportunities for NSW-based professional artists and arts/cultural workers.

Published: 30 November 2018