Choosing your unique clown character
Choosing a clown character is the foundational step in being (or becoming) a clown. Allow me to correct myself: choosing your clown character is the foundational step. You don’t want to copy some other clown, unless you intend to be the clown equivalent of an Elvis impersonator.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t include parts that appeal to you in your own clown character. But you want your clown character to be unique, distinct, special. Is your character energetic & lively? slow-paced & leisurely? A mellow fellow or Don Knotts? Does he overreact, or underreact? Is he old or young? Curious? Stuck-up? Intimidated? How did he get that way, anyhow?
You need to spend some time thinking about your clown character, with as little or as much as you already know about him. You might want to sketch out on paper some ideas about his costume, his make-up, his appearance, how he walks, how he talks, anything that would visually describe your clown. Why? Because that’s what your audience will see, and make their first impression on. What your clown is will have to correlate to who and what they see.
Something you might want to think about as well is the type of clown — is he the whiteface clown, an auguste, a character or hobo clown? Don’t feel boxed in by those definitions, however – they’re entirely artificial. If auguste-style make-up feels “right” for your character, and by strict definition, a whiteface clown would suit your character better, ignore the strict definitions — it’s your character. As Jim Howle once told me, (paraphrased) “Don’t worry about the make-up so much. It’s your clowning, your love for people that will shine through — the makeup is just a tool.” I took that advice to heart, since Jim’s one of the great clown make-up experts alive – perhaps you should, too.
Now, where does this wonderful clown character come from? It depends entirely on the individual. Charlie Chaplin always claimed that his little tramp character was born completely from his bowler — by putting on that hat, he saw the entire character of the little tramp. It should be stated that Chaplin spent years fine-tuning and learning more about his character, but all of the major details of the little tramp were born in that one moment.
Some people project some aspect of their own personality and exaggerate that trait. Others take a trait that they wish they had (assertiveness, for instance) and use that as a cornerstone of their character, playing out a wish fulfilment. For others, it comes from the makeup, or costume, or a certain prop. In my instance, it came primarily from the voice for my clown, Raynbow. From the special voice I use for him flows his child-likeness, his lower intelligence, his wish to be liked, etc.
In a nutshell, you will need to try things outânot unlike trying on clothes, put on some aspect, and see if it “feels” right — if it does, keep it; if not, discard it. There’s no crime nor sin in changing your mind later on, also.
Next time, we’ll look at choosing your clown name. See you then!