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How does a person begin to develop a clown character? How does an individual develop his own personal performance style? How does a person excel in a specific genre of art? One of the keys to development is imitation.Often, experienced clowns chaff at First of Mays (those in their first year of clowning) whose only routines are store bought canned replicas of others. But, where are beginners supposed to begin? If a new clown is imitating someone else, or using material that someone else has developed, give him credit. At least he is out there doing it! Most people would never dare to put on the greasepaint. This person has a desire to make a difference in people’s lives and is making a sincere effort to do it well.
How did each one of us begin? Where did we get the idea to put make-up on our faces? We saw someone somewhere…in a book, on TV, in person…and determined that we would imitate that clown. Where do people learn slapstick? Watching Abbott & Costello, Charlie Chaplin, Chevy Chase or an instructor at a clown conference. Imitating someone who knows what he is doing is wise.

What about prop construction? To learn from an instructor, whether in person or in book form, saves a lot of time, effort and money!

A while ago I was a part of Advanced Studies on the Performance Art of Clown with Frosty Little and Leon McBride. One of the most impacting experiences of my clown career occurred during the mime sessions with Jose’ Rivera. As he led through the mime exercises, we imitated him, and words cannot do justice to what was experienced and learned in those mime sessions.

Imitation is what apprenticeship was all about. How does one learn to drive a car? bake a cake? play an instrument? By imitating someone else who does it well. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.

A word about performance material: Standard dealers items and routines in book form, etc., are open to all for use. Other performer’s original material is not open for duplicating. They worked hard to hone their material to bring it to the point of excellence they’ve achieved. They’ve invested much. Don’t simply take their material and act like it’s yours! It’s fine to imitate another’s style, but please don’t take their material.

Realize, a smart person learns from his own mistakes. But, a wise person learns from the mistakes of others. Listen to others. Learn from others. Be a student. Copy a master to learn the techniques you may combine with the talents and insights God has gifted you with.

Each one of us, at the beginning would be wise to find someone we may imitate. The style of performer that you think is very funny is probably the style of humor you will present best. If you think puns are funny, look for comedians that use puns and study their work. If you think circus slapstick humor is funny, learn how to do it. Imitate those who do it well and you will be well on the way to doing it well.

Sometimes you may find that clown by contacting a local college, a party supply store, or the yellow pages in the telephone book. You may find mime-style training through a local dance studio. (Few know this, but jazz dance class exercises and many mime exercises are often the same. They both help one learn balance and physical control.) Three or four workshops or conferences are usually held in each region of the United States on a yearly basis. These are fantastic places to meet other clowns who are doing it well.

I have produced some videos to hopefully help others. Some of my videos are specifically training oriented. Another is entirely performances for others to simply observe. I watch circus videos, silent screen movies, comedians, and other live performances whenever possible. A mime mimics the authentic. To become a great mime, one must become a great observer.

Christians should take this same advice to heart. Paul said that he tried to provide an example for the believers to follow (2 Thes. 3:9, Philip. 3:17). Jesus said, Follow me (Matt. 4:19). Ephesians 5:1 instructs us to ..be imitators of God…. We don’t have to try to figure this whole spiritual thing out on our own. Jesus came to give us the example. He’s the Master Teacher. Read about him. Talk with him. Spend time with him. Imitate him in all you do!

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:2). You will be well on your way, in clowning and Christianity, if you will become an imitator.

© by Rev. Randy Christensen
Children’s Pastor

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