Charlie's Creative Comedy presents

Thought For The Week

Issue #395
January 31, 2011

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson


I am interested in your questions and comments because I want to be the best possible resource to you. 
In my role as World Clown Association Historian I answer questions from clowns and members of the general public.  I recently answered questions from two different people working on their masters degree who are incorporating some aspect of clowning into their masters thesis.  I have answered questions from people working on book projects.  I have been contacted by entertainers wanting to know if an idea that they have seen was the performer's original idea so it shouldn't be copied or if it was in the public domain and available for everyone to use.  (I believe in respecting the intellectual property of others.)  I was contacted by the education director of a local clown alley (as clowns call their clubs) looking for a source of images depicting famous clowns for use in a PowerPoint presentation on clown history.

In some cases I had the information that they were looking for.  In some cases I didn't know, but was able to suggest other resources that did prove useful.  The person asking the question later contacted me to say that they had been successful in finding the information, and I learned things from them that I hadn't known previously.  Fortunately in only a few instances was I unable to provide any assistance.

I welcome your questions and comments, but ask for your patience in waiting for a reply.  I don't check my email everyday due to other demands upon my time.  (I have a lovely wife and seven grandchildren.  I am also active in my community.)  Sometimes I take a 24 hour vacation from technology just to recharge my batteries.  When I travel I usually don't check email until I return home.  Some requests require research before I am able to respond with an answer.   I try to respond within a few days or at most with in a week, but one recent request took me six weeks to research and write a reply because it turned out to be a complicated question.

I am scheduled to lecture at the 2011 Clowns of America International Convention in Anaheim, CA.  (You will find more information on this under the educational opportunities column.)  This convention is being held in a hotel that is part of the Disneyland Resort.  One advantage of attending this convention is the excellent live entertainment at the resort.  Some of it is within the gated parks that require purchasing admission.  For example, the Alladin show in the California Adventure park is a great show.  The Geni character is a wonderful example of improvised topical humor being integrated into a scripted show.  Some of the live entertainment is available in the hotels and restaraunts that are part of the resort.  In this week's main article you will read about Jamie Shaheen who performs Friday afternoons at one of the hotels.  (She may perform there additional times.  The times that I have seen her have been on Fridays.)  If you attend this convention, I encourage you to seek out some of this other entertainment.  I believe that we can learn from other types of entertainment if we are humble enough to pay attention and open to new ideas.


Have a great week,


In This Issue
Thought For The Week
Artists Toolbox
Educational Opportunities

Thought For The Week 

January 31, 2011

By Bruce "Charlie" Johnson



"She needs to learn to look up more.  Looking down like that shows that she is concentrating on her technique."  -- Tracy Wilson, commenting on a performance at the 2011 Canadian Figure Skating Championship.


I took a movement for theater class in college.  I did not have much dance experience and had to concentrate on remembering the steps when we crossed the floor in the studio.  I can remember my instructor telling me, "Bruce, look up, the choreography is not written on the floor."


Why do people tend to look down when concentrating?  I think in part it is to block out distractions.  Whatever the reason, it tells people that you have withdrawn mentally.  (There are other physical traits that people do when concentrating.)  The audience may not be conscious of it, but it prevents them from feeling connected to you.  Also, if you have to think about your technique, you can't be thinking of other things.  You have to master the technique, becoming comfortable with it and confident in your ability, before you can move to the next level of being artistic and connecting with your audience.


Jamie Shaheen is a pianist who performs in the lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel at the Disney Resort in Anaheim, CA.  Watching her is amazing because she has mastered what she does so well that she does not have to look at sheet music or the keyboard while she plays.  That frees her to look at people and interact with them.  I have seen her recognize somebody approaching and surprise them by switching to a song she remembered they had requested earlier in the day.  She can carry on conversations while playing a song flawlessly.  She is particularly adept at establishing a rapport with young children by talking with them about what she is doing and asking questions about their day.  Because she does not have to look at the piano keyboard, she can make eye contact with them.


Eye contact is an important part of communicating with others.  At a minimum, it lets them know that you are aware of them.  At its best, it forms a connection.  You can see this in action while watching figure skaters working with a partner, either in pairs or dance competitions.  Those who are concentrating on their technique don't look at each other.  They concentrate on their timing, but they fail to achieve true synchronization.  Their skating together seems mechanical.  Those who have confidence in their technique make eye contact frequently.  They are concentrating on their relationship which is what transforms their performance from the mechanical to the artistic.  The relationship is what endears them to the audience.  Kurt Browning commented that technique is just one way to win over the audience.  He said your personality is another way to get the audience rooting for you.  Your relationship with those you work with is an expression of your personality.


I believe that your most important partner in a performance is the audience.  You can form a connection to them by making eye contact.  "Working high" is a circus term meaning that you include those people sitting in the highest seats by looking at them and making eye contact.  If you watch a figure skating competition, observe how the performers use their eyes.  Many skaters will start by striking a pose looking directly into the TV camera to form a connection with the viewers at home.  Just before starting a footwork sequence, skaters will often pose briefly at the end of the rink and look up at the audience.  That eye connection to the audience combined with technical skill often brings sustained applause that lasts for the duration of the sequence.  Audience response to a spiral sequence is stronger if the skater looks up and makes eye contact with the audience while gliding along the ice.  That is why Michelle Kwan got much better response than other skaters who hit the same position during the spiral.  She became famous for her spiral because of the way she connected with the audience through eye contact and emotion, not because she did anything physically different.  She was so secure in her technique that she was able to feel the joy of skating, and that emotion spread to the audience.


What do you tend to do when concentrating?  How can you guard against doing that during a performance?  Do you know your technique well enough that you don't have to think about it?  Where do you look during a performance?  If you work with a partner or assistant, do you make eye contact?  How can you express your relationship to your partner so the audience understands it?  How can you see your audience more clearly and react to them?  Are there moments in your performance when you can consciously make eye contact with the audience?  How can you make sure that you work high and not exclude any section of your audience?


Artists Toolbox

 A very interesting series has just debuted on the American Public Broadcasting System.  It is called the Artists Toolbox.  Each hour long episode is an interview with somebody considered by their peers to be an outstanding artist.  The interview focuses on their development as an artist, their advice for others pursuing artistic achievement, and their understanding of the creative process.  Each artist works in a different medium.  Some of the artists are entertainers.  The first episode that I saw featured violinist David Garrett.  The American Public Broadcasting System is made up of independant stations.  They each plan their own schedule and don't carry every PBS program.  In the Seattle area this program is broadcast at 11:30 PM.  Check with your local PBS station to see when this program is being aired.

Thank you for being a subscriber.  I am always interested in your questions and comments.

Remember if you have missed an issue, you can read it by using the archive link in the right column.  If you want to change the address where you are receiving this newsletter, use the update profile link below.  If this newsletter no longer meets your needs, you can use the SafeUnsubscribe link to be permanently removed from my mailing list.  If you want to spread the word about this newsletter, you can use the forward email link below to send copies to others that you think might be interested.

I hope to see you down the road.


Bruce Johnson
Charlie's Creative Comedy
Copyright 2011 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson.
All rights reserved. 
Educational Opportunities

I believe in promoting any event I will be lecturing at.  If you schedule me for an educational event that you are hosting, I will list it here.  My goal is to do what I can to best meet the needs of you and your group.

World Clown Association Convention
March 14-18, 2011
New York, NY
The History of American Clowning,
Trick Cartoons


Clowns Of America
International Convention
April 13-17, 2011

Anaheim, CA


Topics to be announced


California Clown Campin'

August 1-6, 2011

San Bernardino, CA

Topics to be announced

CCC Information

For information on additional services that I can provide for an educational event 

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