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  • Suzy Bashford

Connect with your inner clown's creativity, with drama therapist Holly Stoppit (ep 30)

This podcast interview broadcast on Christmas Eve, because it was just so timely.

I mean, Christmas is a tricky time at the best of times let alone during a global pandemic when we are living in some Grinch-like tale called ‘the year that Christmas got cancelled’. There was grief there was loss there was death - then there was no hugging allowed, there were masks on our faces and our guards were up and we were lockeddown again from boxing day. I mean honestly – how could we find the Christmas cheer and goodwill to all men in that monumenal Christmas crapness?

Well, it was brought to me in the form of my guest Holly Stoppit, a clown, drama therapist and theatre director. Here are some of my favourite quotes from our conversation:

"The circus [where she grew up] was the normal part of life. Having to fit in at a very big school – that was the odd bit."

Did you fee more yourself as a clown?

"Definitely. I really struggled to tow the line at school. I struggled to play iby the rules because I didn’t really understand what they were and didn't understand why it would beneft to behave in ordinary ways."

How do you feel about the school system?

"I've not got much connection with the school system. But I have a sense that there is a change, a sense that there is a little bit more understanding and compassion and embracing of the individual."

"I’m severely dyslexic – and it was never picked up. Teachers were really cross about my writing. 'Could try harder' they said. Lot of aggressive language. Nobody went 'I wonder why Holly is struggling with her writing'. No one came in a with a bit of curiosity and compassion. Just a lot of teachers insulted by my behaviour."

You had this double life – circus and school? You were able to be more yourself – why?

"Circus is a place for freaks and weirdos it attracts people who want to live outside the mainstream. It travels around society but isn’t part of society, it’s a society of its own you’re a community. You have your interactions with the local community and you move on."

That childhood – looks like a perfectly creative childhood – how did it feel?

"I feel really lucky – to have experienced so many different people and ways of living. You really get to see how people live. A lot of people don’t see that. See their little family units. Actually, to be able to get a look into lives it makes you realise 'Ah there's more than one way. There's many ways to live. To raise a family."

We get to look into lots of lives with social media though?

"Yeah but with social you’re constructing a personality and you’re constructing a perfect life.

People rarely put their child having a massive strop in Tescos on social media."

"Social media shows a very cultivated version of reality and it’s not like that and it can make us feel rubbish."

"Circus is really hard work. Outdoors a lot. tethering the tent. Pitching the tent. The show must go on. Working hard physically. It’s work. Not all this wonderful fantasy playful life. But it's working as a team. Something magical about that. And it's grounded. We’re a lot like farmers – circus people – out there every day regardless of how you feel."

Tell me about clowning as a way to connect - the subject of your Ted talk?

"I believe I can see the clown within people whether or not they intend to be clowns."

My process – I provide a space people can embrace those quirky crazy parts of themselves they ordinarily hide away because it's not always socially appropriate to have these quirks and oddities."

"I hold these spaces – take off their socially appropriate masks and really show what they’re like in side, it's so refreshing and relieving to be around people just as they are, with out the affectations."

"We’ve been conditioned to do that [put on masks]. Certain parts of us are not welcome or appropriate. They are the parts that don’t get praise and approval, so we begin to hide those parts of ourselves and as we get older these part are still there loitering around in the shadows of our psyches these are the things that fuel jealously."

"We exile these parts to the shadows but they remain there. This is what clowning is about; re-embracing and reclaiming these parts of the self, embodying and expressing them, and through this process you get to claim back their power. You get to feel more whole. A sense of wholeness."

"Inner clown is your most playful innocent self. Play without any reverence or fear about breaking taboos. Robust playful character."

"From Holly's website on fooling:

"Fooling is a solo form of improvisation, where you walk into the empty space and discover various parts of yourself (known as 'masks'), waiting to come out and be seen. Some of your cast of internal characters may have important things to say, some may want to dance, some may want to sing, some may want to lie around doing absolutely nothing. The Fools' task is to step out of the way of themselves and let the masks come out to play. The Fool's cast can include the Clown, but Fooling is not always funny. Sometimes Fooling is hilarious, sometimes it's tragic, sometimes it's simple, sometimes it's complex; the Fool's mission is to speak the truth, which means you can take whatever form is required to say what must be said, so that the audience can hear it. The Fooling Summer School week is designed to help you tune into your internal voices and discover ways to give them physical form and voice, whilst building up the courage to be seen as you are; a unique pick and mix of dark and light tasty treats. Both can be used as either professional development or self development (or a bit of both!)."

"You take on their body and their voice and you become them. They can dialogue with each other, dance, sing, spout poetry..."

"Everyone has an inner clown – first step making acquantance with your inner clown is through curiosity – dropping into natural curiosity – nothing you have to make up, or be any good at... use the state of bafflement" [See Holly's Youtube video on Bafflement]

"When you encounter life in this way, in hhis soft alien like way of bafflement, games start to emerge... play just begins to present itself with no effort not needing to know anything."

"A clown is childlike – takes some of the qualities of a child but also it’s you with all your experiences not anything outside of you. So it’s not a child. It’s childlike quality of discovery and curiosity. Can explore very adult concepts."

"The concept of play can feel so big and ooohhh – when we have a fixed idea of what play is it can become really big and imposing but it’s about the quality, the curiosity I bring to this situation. Bring curiosity and compassion to a situation and it is automatically play."

"Everything can be construed as play if you come at it with a light heart and a big open eyes then everything is play. That’s one of things I do in my workshops. It'ss about mirroring and taking your lead from the other. Maybe from the audience, or from another clown. Watching and amplifying, being interested, asking questions..."

"Take a little time each day to fuel your joy. To fill up your well. It makes more space in your life when you’re nourished. You are less tight and fixated and tense and situations have an opportunity to play out in another way."

"Even if this wasn’t Coronavirus time xmas can be very stressful time. We can go into it with a lot to of expectations and assumptions and carrying the family story from generatinos back about how Christmas is supposed to be... and we are never ever going to live up to that and do this 'perfect xmas' – something that the clown brings is this presence: what if we just let go of all these ides about with perfect xmas and just be with our family with presence and go 'how are we? and how can we connect from this place we are, instead of having to force each other into this jovial jolly come on let’s all have fun? Instead

what if we just go 'I feel a bit shit today let's have a mass family moan meet each other where we are?' and That’s where connection happens, that’s where play happens."

"Teeter on the verge of flop with joy, like a clown, this Christmas. In clowning the flop is not the end. When you flop or fail, that is an invitation for connection. When there is a flop you can look up and have eye contact 'ah I’ve fucked it'. They go 'oh yeah you have… I’ve fucked it before…' in those moments of vulnerability, where the real connection really happens, we can see each other and understand each other’s humanity on such a deep level, as humans we are very faulty."

"Beauty of clowning is that you can let your guard down – I’m really flawed and audience says hurrah we are too. It’s a celebration"

"A lot of my personal therapy has not been a bundle of laughs. It’s been necessary. Been to some super dark places, and it's been useful gone in with a guide."

"I need the both I need the lightness in order to travel deeper into the darkness. It’s like the lightness builds my resilience it is my resource. It is what allows me to travel really deep and very dark. Just the dark – that’s relentless. It can get very heavy and we can get stuck there."

"They need to keep the arts on the curriculum. The weirdo kids need space to express themselves."

"If I had my way kids and adults would be prescribed art drama classes."

"Embody a character and find out something about yourself"

"The arts are so necessary and quite absurd how easily they are getting squashed out the curriculum"

"More is caught than taught"

"Ego is the sense of self. You are this. These are your limits. Policing that - that's ego’s job. Keep you same as always been. Ego keeps everything in order. If you start to expand or express or explore – ego says 'hang on a second, no, no, don’t, it’s dangerous'. Ego says just do what you’ve always done. Clown is the opposite of ego"

"You clown is impulsive, connected, in the moment and it's following its creative playful impulses – but when people let go of ego for a while, they can see - 'what else can I be if I’m not fixed? If I’m not limited by my ego’s version of who I am?' The clown shimmies out from under the ego and takes up space and expresses in ways the ego never would have imagined."

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