Newfoundland-based performer talks masks, improvisation techniques
While giant red shoes and tiny cars are not in the lesson plan, Sara Tilley hopes to give Mount Allison students insight into the art of clown performance.
Tilley, a Newfoundland-based clown and performer, will team up with the drama studies society to present “A Crash Course in Clown.” Over two days, she will lead students through exercises drawn from the Pochinko clown technique.
“What I’m hoping is that we come up with a basic clown character for everybody through a series of physical exercises,” said Tilley, “[and] to do a fast and really intense little burst of learning how to make a clown character.”
The Pochinko technique, developed by Richard Pochinko in the 1960s, focuses on the process of continuously developing a character over time based on a mask. To accommodate the time constraints of the workshop, Tilley will forgo the full masks, instead providing a simple red clown nose for each student.
“The clown nose in this training is the smallest mask in the world,” said Tilley. “It’s meant to transform the person entirely into a new being.”
The workshop will have an emphasis on physical and emotional expression as well as character work, rather than preparing students for the circus. Tilley noted the importance of improvisation and freedom in clown work.
“It doesn’t come from the brain,” said Tilley. “This is work that comes from the body and the emotions, and lets that stuff take over while the brain is in the background, making sure you don’t fall down and break your leg or hurt somebody. […] It’s really immediate and it’s a powerful communication of energy, I think.”
Tilley encourages anyone who is interested, regardless of past theatre experience, to sign up for the workshop.
“I’ve taught nurses and pastors for churches, and just random people, and everyone gets something different out of the process,” said Tilley.
“I’m hoping to have a nice mix of people come,” said Tilley. “I think often it’s a really amazing opportunity to overcome some serious fears in a way you’ll remember forever. And you’ll have a clown nose later to pop on and surprise people.”
When she is not clowning, Tilley is a writer, editor, director, dramaturge and designer of masks, puppets, props and costumes. In 2002, she founded She Said Yes! Theatre, a St. John’s-based feminist theatre company where she continues to work as artistic director.
A “Crash Course in Clown” will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 28 and 29.