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No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Clown class at work. Photo by Mark Bocek.

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Clown class at work. Photo by Mark Bocek.

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Clown class at work. Photo by Mark Bocek.

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Clown class at work. Photo by Mark Bocek.

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Clown class at work. Photo by Mark Bocek.

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Clown class at work. Photo by Mark Bocek.

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Clown class at work. Photo by Mark Bocek.

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Clown class at work. Photo by Mark Bocek.

No, It’s Not Just Clowning Around

: Cornish professor David Taft heads for cover as clowns converge. Photo by Mark Bocek.

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It’s summer, time to catch up on stories that got away during a busy term: everything you need to know about playing Hamlet, you can learn in clown class.

Every year, it’s a packed house in Raisbeck Hall. Word has gotten around: the one show you absolutely don’t want to miss is the culminating performance of the theater department’s clown class. Want to be part of an audience that’s screaming with laughter? This one’s for you. On April 25, let’s face it, Cornish theater students were killing it. The energy of the performers was maniacal; the skits they put before the audience were sharp, well defined.

But like many courses that might seem to the outside world as art college students fooling around, the intent of this one is dead serious. For all its chaotic appearance, what theater students learn in the year-long course leading up to the performance involves an extreme amount of discipline, according to the class’ creator, professor David Taft. Students create their character and develop it over an entire year of improvisation within scenarios, working against other clown characters, and meshing with an audience.

“Running a year-long class in clown … there’s no other acting class like it, in that the class focuses on one character only,” says Taft. “Which is the character that these students create. So they get to investigate it pretty much the entire year. About five weeks before the end of term, we violently shift gears, and then they devise pieces that reveal the essential nature of these clown characters that they’ve been investigating.”

Is the theater department interested in developing professional clowns? Not really — though a few have gone on into that line. This innovative part of the theater curriculum teaches actors to dedicate themselves to a character, to be thorough in preparation, to live in the moment and shape it, to be fearless, and to engage an audience. All these things are central to the understanding of the actor’s work. The class is more likely to prepare you for playing Hamlet than appearing for the Ringling Brothers Circus.

“It’s a lot more nuanced than you imagine when you say, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m taking a clown class,’ says Taft. There’s a lot of things people think about when they think about clown that aren’t necessarily true about this particular style of clown. Which is why students call it one of the more interesting acting classes that they take.”

Jerick Hoffer (TH ‘10) who in his persona as Jinkx Monsoon was the Season 5 winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race and a hit off-Broadway in The Vaudevillians, credits the clown class at Cornish with his development as America’s top drag diva. “I made a conscious decision to treat my drag personas as clown forms,” he said in a recent interview in Cornish’s Insight magazine. “The more we examined clown forms, the more I saw the parallels with drag.”

Next year, more of us may get a chance to see this amazing and energetic work. Because of the popularity, Theater Department Chair Richard E. T. White says he is considering adding performances.


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