Reactions – Juggling the Physical and the Emotional

Photo: Patty Gallagher, professor of Theater Arts at UCSC, actor, clown and the subject of the first ‘spotlight’ in The Secret Life of Clowns.

In rehearsal last week, I worked with a brilliant clown on a seemingly simple move – getting her hand ‘stuck’ on a set piece when she tried to step away. “Make sure you do the reaction after the action, not before.” Duh, of course. But it is amazing how many times a clown trip or slap or other moment is ruined because the performer reacts before s/he acts.

In clowning, there are two different kinds of reactions: the physical reaction and the emotional reaction. One of the best ways to get a laugh is to have the physical reaction follow the action in the most natural way possible and then pause before the emotional reaction – your foot trips, then your upper body reacts (pause) and then you look back in anger at whatever tripped you.

Outside of the circus ring, a lot of us react before something happens: fretting about a difficult conversation, getting tense before a high stakes meeting, dreading an upcoming challenge. Or, in the positive, getting excited about a vacation or longing to seeing an old friend.

In day-to-day life, try borrowing a clown technique and pause before your emotional reaction. You could get a laugh or you might just give yourself a little distance from the action.