The Significance of Clowning in Theatre

Clowning in theatre has historically been incredibly popular. From Shakespeare to modern stand-up, clowning is a technique that has long been practised and celebrated. In this blog, we explore the significance of clowning in theatre and the role it plays in the industry today.

What is Clowning in Theatre?

Clowning is a state of playfulness. In theatre, it usually takes on a physical form and ranges from a court jester to a circus performer. However, it is more than a character or convention, clowning in theatre can also be a vehicle for freedom of expression and imagination. 

Clowning in theatre can take the more physical form of slap-stick or dance. This may require a higher level of strength and stamina on stage. A clown is an actor as much as anyone else is. They still have lines to learn and rehearsals to attend. The heightened emotions and energy often maintained by the actor when clowning is impressive. It requires physical and mental dedication.

Clowns will also be more likely to improvise when in front of an audience. This spontaneity is what makes their performances so entertaining. For many actors, it is refreshing to be as ridiculous and creative as you want to be in a performance setting. Clowning always has comedy as its basis. The audience can usually relate to the clown on stage or on screen. This is what makes the clown such a popular cast member.  

What is the Purpose of Clowning?

Clowning has the potential to handle delicate subject matters in a light-hearted manner. It gives the playwright the opportunity to confront social issues or debate with the audience through a character and not words. This is often used as a technique in plays that handle topics that are not usually explored. 

Clowning is needed to make people smile and laugh. It plays a vital role in entertaining audiences and has historically been used in plays of all genres, not just comedies. 

There are many benefits to clowning and teaching clowning in theatre classes or workshops. It can emotionally, mentally and physically benefit the actor. As well as this, it can broaden their imagination, help them grow in confidence and explore their potential. Acting has many 

clowning theatre

Shakespeare and Clowning 

Also known as Gravediggers, jesters or fools, the Shakespearean clown is a recurring character type in Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare mainly portrayed two different types of clowns in theatre, those who are intelligent commoners who outwit characters of higher social standing in the play, and those who are ‘natural fools’ simply there for light entertainment. The latter is the more recognised type of clowning in the present day. 

In Shakespeare’s plays, clowning took a more theatrical form. Fools would regularly sing or dance on stage and even get other characters to join in. They would also interact with the audience and make witty comments or asides between scenes, something that is still popular today. 

Famous Clowns 

Pennywise from IT has understandably changed many people’s perception of clowns and clowning in film and theatre. However, the clown has only recently been portrayed in this frightening way. Clowning has been and always will be a light-hearted form of entertainment. 

Some of the most famous clowns were written by Shakespeare and performed in his plays at The Globe. You may recognise Touchstone from As You Like It (this was Shakespeare’s first-ever use of a fool), Feste from Twelfth Night, Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Dogberry from Much Ado About Nothing

Clowning and Comedy 

Clowning and comedy go hand in hand. It is hard work to create successful comedy on stage but the results should seem effortless. Just like the traditional, theatrical clown, modern-day comedy performers often draw on lived experiences to create a truly authentic performance. 

There are many different styles and combinations of comedy performers. Not all clowns are stereotypically dressed with bright red noses and wigs. Some are more subtle in their role and play an understated character that most audience members are surprised by. 

clowning theatre

Clowning, Comedy and Stand-Up Courses

Improvisation and stand-up play a big role in clowning. The two go hand in hand. There are countless elements of clowning in modern-day stand-up comedy performances, from audience interaction to risk-taking and the ability to swiftly recover from it.

Clowning and comedy are parts of performance that are vital for aspiring actors and actresses to master. The art of clowning is often taught and practised in drama schools since it is an essential part of physical performance training. As a continuously evolving and freeing art form, clowning demands a high level of risk and play from the performer. This is something that is often hard to get used to. 

At iampro, we have a clowning, comedy and stand-up on-demand course to suit a range of abilities and ages. We put emphasis on our classes being places of no judgement. Our clowning classes are the perfect form of self-expression and can provide an excellent release of any pent-up energy. They are great for getting you involved in areas of theatre and performance that you may not be so acquainted with. Why not try something new! 

If you would like to find out more about our clowning, comedy and stand-up course, sign up for a membership or speak to a friendly member of our team.