"Every time a man starts to get a swelled head, he ought to stop and think about all the great men who have died and how well the world has gotten along without them." -- Bert Williams, ICHOF Inductee
"If we are trying to use our props, talents, and show opportunities to minister to our own egos... whether we be clowns or magicians... we are pathetic. If we are trying to use our props, talents, and show opportunities to deliver great experiences to others... whether we be magicians or clowns... we are powerful." - Duane Laflin
I was invited to perform a show during the awards banquet at the 2010 South East Clown Association Convention. I could have attempted to impress others with my abilities as a performer. However, I wanted to inspire the participants with what they could do through clowning. The banquet was on September 11, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in America. I knew that some of the convention participants wanted to commemorate that event in some manner. I decided to incorporate part of a tribute that I had performed on October 5, 2001 at the North West Festival of Clowns. (That tribute is described in Creativity for Entertainers Volume Three.) I talked about being at a clown festival in Bolton, England at the time of the attacks, and how people then told me they needed the clowns more than ever to help cope with their shock and grief. As part of the tribute I talked about clowns using their humor to break through barriers. I performed some routines associated with Bert Williams, a black entertainer, because his talent as a clown allowed him to break through racial barriers in heavily segregated early-twentieth century America. I talked about caring clowns who had broken through walls patients had built around themselves when nobody else had been able to reach them. I concluded that segment of my show at SECA by saying, "Clowning is fun, but it isn't trivial. Clowns before us have made important contributions to their society. I challenge you to take what you have learned here this week and use it to make a difference in your community."
In recent years my parents told me that they almost couldn't stand me when I returned home after my first season touring with a circus. They said I was very impressed with myself and thought that I was better than the local clowns who didn't have any circus experience. In retrospect I know that my attitude wasn't true. There were plenty of local clowns who were better than I was even though they didn't have circus experience. Some of them had much more experience than I did due to their many years of local performances in a variety of venues. It took me a while to understand and appreciate their knowledge and abilities. The tragedy is that my ego cut me off from being able to enjoy their friendship and being able to learn from them until I was once more grounded in reality.
It is easy to be impressed by your accomplishments and awards. However, when you do that you become like a balloon that has become untied. You can easily be blown off course. You can leave behind the things that had made you successful. For example, when somebody begins to take themselves too seriously I notice that they often loose their joy of performance and their audience rapport.
Studying the history of clowning is one thing that helps me keep my ego in check. When I see the accomplishments of those who came before me I realize that my own accomplishments aren't very important. When I study video of performances by the great clowns of the past, I realize how much room I still have for improvement.
Who do you try to minister to using your skills, talents, and opportunities? What can you do to keep your focus on your audience? What type of experience do you provide to them? What kind of experience would you like them to have? How do you want them to feel when your performance concludes? What can you do to create that feeling? Where can you learn more about the accomplishments and talents of the great clowns who have come before us?