#12 - The Clown Diaries - Stress, Melodrama and Acrobatics.


It is half midnight. My flat is silent and there are over eight pairs of mens' underpants drying on various chairs in the living room. I don't know why, as there is a drying rack less than one metre away for them to be on.

There is also a lone mouldy grapefruit and one solitary weight resting on the dining table. I write the word 'dining table' but what I actually mean is 'the lost property table', (it was probably made initially for classy dinner parties held by official, elegant grown-ups but instead it has become the bermuda triangle of furniture pieces for a group of disorganised comedians).

At the moment we don't really have time to do dinner parties, it's more lone dinners for one. This term has sped up upon us - with only three weeks remaining. All the second years are dominating the rehearsal rooms. All attempting to hone their scenes before putting them forward to Gaulier be considered for the second year Vaudeville show, and all the first years are jumping headfirst into the new module, Bouffon.

It may seem surprising to read, but studying at a famous clown school can be a rather conservative affair in practise- it's not at all as eccentric or as free flowing as one might imagine it to be. Instead it conforms fairly rigidly to a rather traditional and stressful work schedule consisting of waking up early, returning home very late, eating rapidly and often on ones own, drinking far too much coffee - hours spent in the rehearal room and evenings often spent on various work commitments that each student has taken on in order to fund their studies outside of the school - whether these be tutoring jobs, babysitting, translating, or freelance writing jobs.

Unlike other students who now have serious cases of cabin fever I've been absent for two weeks of school due to work commitments. This did result in Philippe saying "ASPARAGUS! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!" which I was thrilled about, mainly as it meant he had remembered me (sort of), as for a period of time he's just been calling me 'Jeff'.

Back in class, we've been dealing with Melodrama. Melodrama is possibly one of the trickiest, frustrating and funny modules at the school. Going by past students recollections of the module it seems clear that it is hard to be good at it. Originally we had the notion that 'Melodrama' was simply a case of being melodramatic, but oh no, it is much more complicated than you think. One step wrong and your melodramatic performance can veer into the garish, ridiculous and hysterically funny.

To summarise the techniques of Melodrama in a few words - It involves looking at lots of empty chairs, stairing up at the non-existent fifth gallery of the theatre, whispering to an imaginary man named Monsieur Dumas and asking him not to die, singing if you have no idea what is going wrong and only ever walking in a semi-circle. It also involves abandoning lots of pretend babies in churches - which, after watching several students perform this exercise helped me realise the school is also very much an endurance test for your mental health.

It's also an endurance test for the body. Our new movement teacher arrived looking like a young chisellled south-african Rick Astley in Yoga Pants, (I glimpsed over the shoulder of one of my classmates the sentence "Ben is so dreamy, You could fall into his big blue eyes" written in her journal) and since the first day he's jump started us into gymnastics.

In a short period of time we've covered head-stands, hand stands, cartweels, round-offs, back-flips and shoulder stands alongside the old-school forward roll. Considering how diverse the students are in flexibility and physical ability it's impressive how far everyone has come whilst all being taught collectively in one class.