The Living Clown

My name is Raymond and I am a clown. Clown is not all that I am and everything I am. And that’s the first paradox you will read. 
How am I a clown? In Native American or now First Nation traditions it is believed a person is born or compelled to become a clown or heyoka if he dreams of the wakinyan or more accurately if the wakinyan appears in his dream. While the wakinyan never appeared in my dreams I do believe the clown is my destiny. 
So how did I become a clown? “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. And while the clown is fundamentally a truthsayer truth is very often very unreliable especially when it relies on memory. And what are we but a collection of our memories. Oscar Wilde once said “Man is least himself when speaks in his own person, give him a mask and he will tell you the truth”. For me “clown is the mask behind and through which is revealed the very essence of our being in all its greatness and fragility”. 
Story! It’s the 1960s, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. Ireland. I am in fifth class. My teacher, who shall remain nameless, designed and administered a particularly humiliating form of punishment on me, and interestingly, me only. Whenever I broke expected school behaviour, which was often, his bizarre punishment was to paint my nose with red biro. Humiliating enough in itself but coupled with the instruction that I was to not remove it until I returned home so my parents would be aware of my wrong doings was deeply degrading. 
It might seem a mild form of child abuse amidst those days of accepted corporal cruelty that most of us were regularly subjected to but the psychic and emotional scars remain. We are I believe the sum of our love, hope, dreams and wounds. The unreliability of memory is a wondrous thing but this is my memory or, at the very least, how I choose to remember this event. Not disregarding the personal, peer, public and familial shame it caused me, over time my red biro painted nose became a source of pride. I wore the mask of rule breaker and the mask of shame; I wore the mask of clown. I was of course relieved yet somewhat disappointed when my father eventually put a stop to it. So in a side-ways, up-side-down, inside-out-ways, contrary-ways I award the mantle of wakinyan to my unnamed psychotic fifth-class teacher.
Why am I a clown? The answer to this question is simple and complicated. In the wider context I am a theatre practitioner. Predominantly, with my company Barabbas, I make my own theatre and at any given time I may be an actor, writer, director and teacher. In my now thirty-five years experience of my chosen art form the clown continues to take top drawer above all other disciplines I have encountered, studied and practiced. The reasons are easily explained. The clown has taught me most about theatre and about life. It is my core discipline that infuses all other practice and my philosophy for living.  
It is also true to say that I am clown who aspires to being a fool. We may fear The Fool. We may embrace The Fool. We may do both. We may even choose to ignore The Fool but I will propose we do so at our peril. So right here right now I urge you all to embrace The Fool; And more importantly, your own inner Fool. 
We say The Fool in all his or her ridiculosity is by consequence fundamentally a truthsayer. There is an ancient image of The Fool, that is my daily refection, where The Fool is depicted naked from the waist down. His nakedness a sign that the true Fool is prepared to show those things, which others prefer to hide.
Imagine I am now dropping my trousers. This is where I am.
Shakespeare reminds us that The Fool operates outside the system while all the while at his King and Queen’s side. It is The Way of The Fool and symbolically The Way of The Artist.  
This is where I want to be.
In the Tarot The Fool steps off a cliff edge, two dogs at his heels but only one barks. If or when he jumps The Fool carries his baggage over his shoulder and a red feather on his purse symbolizing death and renewal; death, renewal and hope. This is where I want to go.
I know my cliff. You know yours. So, my Kings and Queens – come jump with me?
And as every clown knows…It’s not about what, it’s not about why, it’s how!
And now is the time. Now is the time for the bare-arsed truth. And now is a trick of a present condition.
Now is a very tricky thing because once it is here it is gone. In clown the ‘now’ is all that matters. It’s not about the show; it’s not about why the show; it’s about what is happening in the present and the conversation between. And for the clown to be in conversation he must be present, but not just present but ‘authentically present’. You might say the clown is Zen Theatre.
So for the clown to be authentically present means to be present in all his love, joy, truth, vulnerability, gullibility, stupidity, failure, divine failure, and all the way down to his darker shadow self, his seven deadly sins if you will, wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony, shame, hairy-arse warts and all, and all the way back his love, joy, truth; completing the circle of self. 
In our journey in clown we come face to face with ourselves. In Native American/First Nation clown traditions which I have studied under master clown and shawoman Sue Morrison it is said that; “There are six directions of the self, North, South, East, West, Above Above and Below Below, and we were to face ourselves in all six directions at the same time we could only laugh at the beauty of our own ridiculousness”. 
My brilliant friend Dr. Eric Weitz who is head of drama at Trinity College Dublin and whom I like to call my Clown Professor writes that “perhaps the soul of clown serves as psychic buffer for life’s willful vacillation between elation and despair, fortune and disaster, success and failure and whatever else they do, clowns seem to remind us from behind their masks of ineptitude the resolute untidiness of being human. And they advise us to keep playing at al costs”.
And for me the greatest clown of all Samuel Beckett hit it on the nose when he wrote; “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” And my all time favourite; “When you’re up to your neck in shit, all you can do is sing”.
And no clown class would be complete without quoting Leonard Cohen who sums it all up in one short line; “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
About the author: 

Raymond is the Artistic Director of Barabbas Theatre Company, and has over thirty years’ experience as clown performer, teacher, director and maker of clown theatre. Raymond has designed the ‘I a Clown’ classes which are offered as part Degree/MA courses, Theatre Academies and Conservatoires as well as for the professional theatre community. To find out more about Raymond’s work and courses see