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#15 The Clown Diaries - How to Stay Sane

It's Sunday. The weather is blissful. And my flat is empty. Due to a three hour cleaning session I am now removed of almost any bacteria I once owned. A girl's best friend in a house full of men? Bleach. Due to what I've done to our bathroom in the last hour I can conclude that if comedy doesn't go well I can get a job similar to Winston Wolf's in Pulp Fiction.

Part of the reason I am doing manic cleaning is because I am turning insane. Why? I am trying to cut down on coffee. From 10 cups a day to 1. This foolish decision has resulted in headaches equivalent to Johnny Smith's in Stephen King's The Dead Zone and means my temper sways to and fro like Jack Torrence's in The Shining.

I have started developing lots of mini ways to keep myself from killing someone. I've gotten a Spiralizer - so when I'm stressed I now attack every vegetable in sight - cackling manically. I've found a secret spot on the hill behind the castle of Etampes, where, when I'm feeling particularly melancholy I go and sit and read solidly for several hours - undisturbed and happily. I've downloaded Tinder, which means I'm making lots of exciting new friends, so my french is improving. And I've started going running. The running is the best. However, the moment I am in the deepest part of the park my mind naturally starts to think of every Stephen King novel I've read on the hill, then I panic I am getting chased, work myself into a frenzy and nearly cause myself to have a heart attack as I sprint away from the hoard of zombies I've imagined. At least it helps me run faster, but my throat does hurt from all the screaming.


Outside of Etampes Paris in the summer is the perfect cure for a short temper. I spent all of yesterday reading in Bautes Chaumont by the river, feeding the ducks and eating icecreams, people watching. Then, to celebrate fellow classmate Patterned Tom's 20th birthday, a gang of us drank on the Seine as the sun set. The sky was the colour of a melted Mister Blobby and the river looked like a shimmering golden cobra. The bank was flooded with parisians - either in groups or on more romantic endeavours drinking boxes of wine from plastic cups and eating baguettes and cheese. Every two minutes a huge boat filled with tourists or a wedding party would bobble buy - everyone both on boat and bank waving and cheering at one another.

Would you believe it, there aren't that many gay bars in Etampes, so in the evening if you want a dance, the Marais in Paris is the best place to go. Last Saturday we discovered Les Souffleurs which is an incredible gay bar if you ever visit Paris. It is filled with the most gorgeous, friendly men you've ever seen. It's a slender rectangular space with a small bar at the back staffed by a very polite barman in a netted vest. The walls are covered in lovely black and white canvas prints of men holding their erect penises - and the drinkers are a mixture of Abecrombie & Fitch models, hipsters and drag queens.

There is always a great late night bar to find in Paris, however the city does start to lose it's beauty in the early hours. After dancing late I walked across the Rue Faubourg St Denis in order to return home. During the day this particular street is like a carnival with families buying baguettes, children on scooters, couples sitting outdoors on round tables smoking cigarettes and loud queues of people waiting for a rotisserie chicken. However, at 4am it is a very different sight. No longer beautiful and bubbling with bohemian families and artists, it's haunting, derelict and scary. As I walked through the street, now littered, I spotted homeless bodies curled up in the corners, their bodies camouflaged by cardboard, only given away by the sudden stir of a foot. Every few yards you'd jump a little as you'd spot the almost invisible silhouette of a prostitute standing in a doorway, leaning exhausted in leather boots and winter parkas for their next client. Soliciting is illegal in Paris. About 10 ft away from each women you could spot the shadow of a man loitering, hood up, face concealed - either a pimp or a shy customer, waiting for you to pass.



Outside of the world of Paris it's happier times - we at L'Ecole Philippe Gaulier finished Characters last Friday and now we are all in the process of deliberating over which Shakespeare and Chekhov scenes to learn in time for tomorrow. For many this is a case of re going over what one remembers from GCSE English, but for many it is also the opportunity to discover Shakespeare for the first time.

Ryan Lane and I spent the weekend pretty elated. In the first Autocour Philippe told us "Not bad" and asked us to develop our scene to 15 minutes. The following week we performed 15 minutes and he said "Very Very Good. I could watch you two for an hour and a half". Both Ryan and I nearly cried. He then gave us the task of developing HALF AN HOUR for the final Autocour. Despite the fact we were experiencing a complete rush of happiness, the same as finding out a boy you love fancies you, we were bricking it. HALF AN HOUR? What can we do in HALF AN HOUR?

(This is one of the little tricks of Philippe's teaching... you never know if he is purposefully setting you up for a fall. With greater trust comes greater risk of failure - the fear of letting Philippe down is a horrid one - and increases every time you have a tiny inch of success.)

Luckily Ryan and I have worked together often enough to trust each other and to possess a good confidence in one another to be honest. Philippe's encourages you to be really honest with your classmates. "A Good Friend should tell you when you are horrible" he says. And he's right. You don't want to be lied to by your comedy partner - you want to and NEED to be told if you push too much.

SInce working together in October Ryan and I have developed a good way of writing and developing a scene - inspired by Philippe's exercises in class and his Autocour challenges. First we improvise - then we write down all the good lines - we come up with possible narratives - improvise around them - and once we feel confident with our ideas I go home and script it up into something solid which we can then learn and continue to play with. We are free, but we have something to hold onto if we panic. Similar to the way you'd start writing a stand-up set - a one line joke can be the stimulus for a five minute bit, inspiring a 20 minute set, and perhaps even leading towards a one hour show.

"You work well together . It would be foolish to not work together for the final week" Philippe told us. One of Philippe's major lessons to his students is that 'You can't find complicite with everyone and you can't force it'- even if they are one of your best friends. Philippe encourages that once you do find complicite with someone, stick with it, nurture it and don't be afraid to keep working with each other to develop and create new work. Also, don't be afraid to tell someone when you DON'T have complicite. This is how theatre companies and comedy duos are created after all. Philippe made the point that he and his comedy partner never really hung out in social circles or got on that well outside of work, but when it came to creating clown numbers together they were great together.

So... after several fun rehearsals in the park with our characters Mr Smith and Hilda - with both of us constantly panicking, questioning, improvising, and then rewriting, we performed, shaky and terrified, our half an hour scene on Friday's autocour. We were on first, in front of all the second and first years. Behind the wings we high-fived eachother - "REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN!" we both whispered, alongside both wishing "PLEASE DON'T THINK IT IS SHIT". Then we did it. Once we'd come to the end, and the drum had been banged, we came out in front of everyone, waiting for the judgement. I could feel the sweat coming down my back - hand reaching out for Ryan's nervously.


"Ten out of Ten" said Philippe.




I was elated. But as I walked back to my seat, heart pumping, all I could think was "Don't be cocky now though. You'll probably suck next week".

That's one thing you can't deny - Philippe's training certainly keeps you level headed.

Until next week.


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