This blog is a resource for those who dream about clowning. We’ve listed some of the top clown schools in the U.S. If you’ve been considering seeking formal training we hope that these schools might inspire you. We receive many inquiries from talented, aspiring volunteers who don’t have a background in circus or clown, but are eager to get involved. It’s wonderful to hear from so many passionate people interested in learning more about the art of clown. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and we’re not experts about all of the wonderful physical theatre schools in the U.S. If you attended or know of a first-class program that you’d like us to share, leave us a comment on this blog.
Located in rural Blue Lake, California is Dell’Arte International, a school for theatre training, research, and performance of the actor-creator. Its School of Physical Theater teaches actors to develop their use of physical spaces, gestures, and movements and approach stage performance as poetic expression. Students are guided by instruction while continuously exploring and producing creative works. Physical theatre education is the core of Dell’Arte academic programming. It offers a professional training program, Master of Fine Arts advanced ensemble program, a summer intensive, and a study abroad to Bali.
Dell’Arte was founded in 1971 by Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Jane Hill who wanted to share the European traditions of physical theater training with North American artists and performers. The school is an internationally recognized institution. It is replete with studios, gymnastics/acro classrooms, mask construction area, costume shop, theatre, amphitheater, sound and video systems, as well as outdoor wilderness space along the Northern Coast of California. Of course, a school such as this would not be complete without a Big Top Tent.
Whether you are a clown or performer who wants to take her skills to the next level, or if a three-year Masters of Fine Arts program is more your style, we recommend you consider Dell’Arte International. Tuition and scholarship opportunities are on their website. Many Dell’Arte graduates populate the Clowns Without Borders volunteer roster, and we are proud to work with all of them. http://dellarte.com
Center for Movement Theatre with Dody Disanto
Situated in Washington D.C. is The Center for Movement Theatre taught by Dody Disanto. The Center is a gorgeous and large building that is a work space for practitioners, teachers, and trainers who are independent consultants operating from the facility. Dody Disanto teaches Movement Theatre classes. The classes offered are well balanced among 6-day summer intensives, clown weekends, and 12-session comprehensives.
The Center is complete with gym, natural light-filled studio, and treatment rooms. Dody Disanto instructs students in her physical approach to acting based on the work of the late Jacques Lecoq. Ms. Disanto was a protege of Jacques Lecoq and trained under him in Paris. At the core of this style of theatre is the use of Neutral Masks.
To best understand Neutral Mask work, we recommend you sign up for a course. However, for the sake of this blog we offer a cursory explanation. The stage is a space for actors to move within. Physical theatre training compels a student to learn the space – how use it and her body gestures to communicate with maximum clarity and intention for the audience. There is no “right” way to move, according to Lecoq. Rather, the student creatively expands her expressions and dynamic actions, progressively evolving her skills.
Students wear the Neutral Mask during training. As soon as a pupil dons the mask, they must be at the “ready” in the words of Dody Disanto. Ready to play, create, and broaden the physical senses. Jacques Lecoq’s Neutral Masks gradually become smaller in size, the more refined one’s theatre skills become. Eventually, the actor wears only a clown nose. Check out The Center for Movement Theatre’s website for more details.
Celebration Barn Theater
The immersive theater is the playhouse style of The Celebration Barn located in rural Maine. Here students arrive to create original works and set inside a beautifully restored horse barn. Come here and come prepared to play! Participants receive quality instruction from talented teachers and exposure to other exceptional actors. Workshops and residencies focus on collaboration and pushing the artist’s creative exploration to the edge.
The nature of the workshops vary. Polish your performance at a retreat with Robert Post; try something new with Intro to Eccentric Performing; dive deep into Buffon and the Ecstasy of Mocking; trigger your imagination with Spymonkey’s Creating Clown Material. The Celebration Barn also hold shows on its grounds and features a traveling comedy play.
Is the setting important to theater training? If you are inclined to say, ‘yes’ to that question, you may want to investigate the Celebration Barn. It’s located not too far from several primary east coast cities and sits in idyllic western Maine. www.celebrationbarn.com
“Founded in 1995 as an interdisciplinary ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Company is dedicated to the creation of new and exuberant performance works that defy easy categorization.” The previous sentence, borrowed straight from the Pig Iron website, is the perfect summation of who they are and what they do. Pig Iron is an award-winning Philadelphia-based theatre company which is best known for its experimental theater. The company has been touring with their unconventional in-house productions since 2004.
Pig Iron education focuses on performance acting with full-impact creativity. Their programs consist of a three-week summer session, workshops, and residencies, as well as leadership programs catering to the business professional. Where exactly does the clown fit into all of this? The June summer intensive is where students explore play and how to initiate an immediate connection with the audience, with the red clown nose to guide them.
The fall of 2015 marked the beginning of Pig Iron’s new MFA and Certificate programs in Devised Performance, offered in partnership with the University of the Arts, Ira Brind School of Theater Arts. Learn more about how this partnership creates new theatrical innovations while perusing the unique photography displayed at the Pig Iron website. https://www.pigiron.org
The physical aspect of clowning sometimes relies on technical skills, such as those based in the circus arts. Circus Center is a renowned school offering courses in flying trapeze, aerials, acrobatics, stretching and conditioning, trampoline, and juggling. These are the Center’s primary programs. Find and read more about their extensive list of classes – level and age specific – by visiting Circus Center’s website.
The heritage of Circus Center is rooted in the Pickle Family Circus of San Francisco, whose work some have credited as a key factor in the renewal of the American circus. The Pickle Family Circus took a new approach to the circus. They moved the ring outdoors; the focus of their acts was positive in nature, with character-based clowns who created humorous moments by their supposed inability to complete the simplest actions. The rest of the story for you to discover, because this article is about clown schools in the U.S., not the history of the American circus.
Circus Center welcomes all skill levels and trains to match each person’s needs. We appreciate their extensive selection of youth programs. Children as little as five-years-old can begin playing and learning useful and beneficial circus skills.
For those seeking specialized clown cultivation, Circus Center also runs the Clown Conservatory. It is a 24-week full-time program complete with stage work, humanities-based readings, and master classes in a variety of disciplines. Additionally, Clown Conservatory has a professional performing company and outreach program. http://circuscenter.org
Think another program should be on the ‘top clown schools’ list? Leave a comment and let us know!