It was such a privilege to experience in a nutshell what it is to be a clown. For 2 weeks, Clowns Without Borders South Africa in partnership with Zip Zap Circus organised a workshop on theatrical clowning for Dare To Dream students and instructors at Zip Zap Academy in Salt River, Cape Town.

The setting at the Academy was a highlight with an array of props, equipment and space at our disposal and a group of 11 participants testing and playing around with techniques and tools to find their inner clown. Director and teacher, Jayne Batzofin encouraged, advised and motivated a diverse group of acrobats, clowns, jugglers, aerialists and diablo performers. The clearest message being not to TRY to be funny, instead to explore what makes you funny, and how to show this genuinely.

Games, dance jams, theatre and role-playing were built on, moving gradually from play to the actual art of clowning. I quickly learnt that rules are a priority when becoming a clown – what the rules are and if you follow them or not, is how the clown understands his or her world! Many of the participants expressed a desire to improve their stage presence, which was best achieved through the simple technique of ‘clocking’ – looking directly at the audience. Again a sneak preview into what it really is to be a clown, performers in particular in the circus are often taught to look over the audience, whilst clowning is the opposite – the audience and the clown must be connected to achieve the ultimate goal, laughter.

When the red nose was respectfully introduced by Jayne, it was made clear that it is a tool of the trade, not a toy. Noses should always be put on upstage, so as not to confuse the audience when you are yourself and when you take on the persona of the clown. A tough day followed when volunteers were presented the challenge of standing on stage, trying to find out what made the audience laugh and what really did not…This followed with a hilarious day of laughter, where participants returned to group work, embarking on their first routines in the wonderful world of clowning.

I have been in awe of this brave group of young performers, who study, work and live together and the vulnerability they dared to show, as well as the firm yet kind teachings of Jayne Batzofin. It made me also begin to wonder, as to who is my inner clown!