DOGS AND CLOWNS… a match made in heaven

By Ira Seidenstein

May 12, 2022


What do dogs have to do with clown and creativity?

As you may recall from the previous newsletter, I’ve been on a 2 month journey into the inner nature of creativity. The map has been the solo portion of The Four Articulations. In Clown Secret in the beginning is explained that this method utilizes several Dualities. Yin/Yang of Taoism is one of the systems which teach us about the Universal Principle of Dualities. My method, Quantum Theatre: Slapstick to Shakespeare and its introduction template provide its set of dualities as – practical insights into your own creative journey. In English there is a saying “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. Like water, the method takes the form of the container. The tools of my method are nourishing for any actor, performer, clown, teacher of performing arts, director, or writer. The – if, when, how, you use them is up to you.  I’ve been experimenting now for two months to see what happens if I re-start using The Four Articulations again?

The Four Articulations are a warmup for one’s creativity as well as ensemble creativity.

The solo section is the basis for a team, show, company, or training institution’s projects.

Dogs? As part of my research, and pleasure, towards my 3rd book I needed to return to my Culture in some basic practical way. Thus, 2 years ago I decided to attend the 6am morning service at the Shule (synagogue) on Monday’s and Thursday’s when there is a small group gathering. When that’s over, at 7am, and after a few minutes of chat I gather my bicycle and head to either swim laps or cycle. But, when I leave the shul I cross the street to stand at the dog park for about 10 minutes to watch the 2 or 3 regulars: a whippet; an Italian greyhound; a golden retriever. They play non-stop. They tease and taunt each other endlessly. It is a total trio of clowns. I get totally inspired from watching their complete earnestness in everything they do. They cannot stand it for 5 seconds if the other dogs don’t chase them. Of course the golden retriever can’t out run the other two so they have to drop the toy to say “come on try again, I’ll really let you get it this time”. There is a daily drama of improvisation. So, yes, it is true… watching them inspired me to go back to my secret universe that I created for any and all performance artists – a map to one’s own quantum world of creativity.

How to trigger the same enthusiasm and joy which dogs possess?

It seems that I may have found the ‘holy grail’ of creative play?  The dogs reminded me of my notorious playfulness I had as a young actor that pushed me to create a new way.  That is a creative, simple system that triggers authentic play. There is no aesthetic promoted. The only rules are particular and practical to the ultra-simple exercises. Stanislavsky led us all. He asked the key question. He noted that musicians, dancers, painters each have a technique and daily discipline but the actor whose art form requires an audience needs a new system. He created his inspired and amazing system in his way. Strasberg said the only thing he added to the Stanislavsky System was “spontaneity” which the Americans had alive in their very culture. (Reference – The Lee Strasberg Notes). Our I.S.A.A.C. Associate from Belgium, Heleen Van den Bosch, wrote that she studied Stanislavsky’s unpublished final journals in Russian. She said that my method starts where his and most methods leave off. That end or beginning point is the actor’s autonomy beyond the grip of any teacher, director, or method.

I created exercises and a template which have clear yet simple structures. Most of the creative exercises have an arbitrary time ‘limit’ but that is just for the purpose of containing ones focus. Containing ones focus is the single most important discipline for an artist. They have to self-impose a form of ‘myopia’ or what I call one-sightedness. Yet, especially for a stage performer in acting and clown one must also have multi-sided awareness of the whole space and everyone in it. That Duality is: One-Sightedness, AND, Multi-Sided Awareness.

The Four Articulations solo sections move from The 3 Loosenings > Core Mechanics > Quantum Vocal Warmup including Cultural Singing > and finally the main purpose The Seven Solos. Those and more are explained in Clown Secret chapter 2. The Core Mechanics teach and prepare the actor and clown and performer to sensitise their instrument which is NOT just the body, NOT just physical but is: The Mind in The Body. Like Yoga’s basic standing pose Tadasana, the deceivingly simple Mountain Pose (Tadasana) looks like one is ‘just’ standing still. In fact in this pose one is to learn to scan the body while in action, i.e. while in the action of stillness. Core Mechanics is a tool of applied Yoga, to learn to scan the body for the purpose of ones artistic creativity. That awareness challenge is for ten minutes while doing the ten specific movements which include 100s of counts. For a physical warmup for acting one can do anything that raises the heart rate. My method uses the physical to attune and attain your daily potential no matter what you are doing in space and time. So The Four Articulations is a warmup for your physically embodied psychic and intellectual creativity.

One way I define “The Essence of Clowning” is to say that “a clown clowns with whatever they are doing”. Exactly what those three clown dogs in the park are doing every morning when they are let loose to play in their own natural way …..with each other. They are nothing but 100% the living example of One-Sightedness AND Multi-Sided Awareness. In reflection in my research, I could playfully say my Culture is ‘nothing more or less’ than the duality of One-Sightedness AND Multi-Sided Awareness. Honestly.

In these 2 months is the first time I realised how many characters one creates during The Seven Solos. I counted them. There are 30 characters one creates via The Seven Solos within about 15 minutes. There is no need for them to be defined officially as “Characters”. They can be feelings, emotions, evocations, expressions, movements. Each of which with a minor adjustment in one second can become a character.

I also discovered that in the split second of choosing or inventing a character, ideally, one emphasises the Strasberg trick to do the creation spontaneously. If you have an idea, don’t do it. Or do the opposite. The body or body-mind is drastically more unlimited than ones intellect. There is no reason one cannot use an intellectual idea. Occasionally. But if you have an idea, let the body do it and the creativity will be perfect and freeing. The intellect tends to freeze one’s spontaneity.  Spontaneity is quite different than improvisation, generally speaking.  When you are improvising based on whatever you started doing, if you also allow for spontaneity you will find you are unlimited.

Coming back to dogs and clowns. Coincidently when I was hired this past week to drive out to observe and catch up with The Crackup Sisters. I was to observe their three 30-minutes shows. They perform primarily at rural Agricultural Fairs throughout Queensland, and several of the great Outback events. On this day it was the first time I got to see each of The Crackup Sisters doing their comedy dog acts!!!! In the second show “Struth” (Amanda-Lyn Pearson white hat in foto) works with Tilla Belle and in the third show “Rowdy” (Bianca Mackail black hat in foto ) works with Dee Dee Diamantina.

Each artist and dogist  duet has a notable bit of spontaneity. That was particularly an added treat to see within their fine acts. Their dogs are: Tilla Belle an Australian Kelpie; and, Dee Dee Diamantina a Kelpie-Collie Cross. They are working breeds. They LOVE to work. The breeds are exceedingly intelligent. When I go to see The Crackup Sisters at the Agricultural Shows… during a break I always seek out the working dog demonstrations. There are competitions of such dogs mustering cattle; or mustering sheep. But this weekend I got to see a fellow demonstrate and work his dog to muster a gaggle of geese. The alertness of the dog was awe inspiring for any performer. Plus the sensitive intimacy between the trainer and the dog is a perfect relationship of a stage partnership. Additionally both the trainer and the dog have to work and respond in real time and incredible spontaneity as geese wander about having a gander.

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Ira Seidenstein