Climbing into the Mind of a Comic Genius…
And seeing how the clock ticks.
A Bo Dino Scholarship Recipient Reports on Avner the Eccentric & The Celebration Barn Experience By Norm Barnhart
Avner the eccentric is a hilarious comedy performer who worked our W.C.A. convention in Winnipeg a few years back. He was a hit, bringing lots of laughs to the audience. He also presented some very good workshops too.
I had heard and seen Avner at work before and always admired his comic genius. I felt he was in many ways a successor to Red Skelton as far as working silently and with props in a unique way. When I discovered the W.C.A. offers scholarships to attend educational workshops I jumped at the chance to study with Avner in Maine for a week in June of 2015. I came as a blank slate desiring to see what Avner was up to, how he did what he did and absorb all I could from his teaching.
Most clown training is done with the style of here is what I do, copy me. Here is how I juggle or do a magic trick – you copy now and add it to your show. Avner has nothing to do with that method and instead is trying to help us bring the clown out from our own heart and personality. It is not about the prop, stunt or trick. It is going to the very “why” of what is funny. The classes were designed to push you as a performer and to get you to think and re-think (and re-discover) the way you approached the art of comedy. (More on that in a moment)
The Celebration Barn
This workshop was unique in many ways. It is held at the Celebration Barn in rural Maine – a place that hosts a variety of performers teaching many different acting classes in week long intensives. There are rooms right in the barn that act as a dorm and wonderful meals prepared by two neighbors. Each meal had fresh spinach or mixed greens salad and many choices of toppings to go along with it. There were also many nice main courses that kept us running at full power. Nothing was fancy and we took turns washing dishes, etc.
Each day began with a long walk with Avner down the hilly and winding country roads of Maine. This invigorating breath of fresh air got us ready for the day’s studies. The first class of the day followed the walk. This class would have a short talk by Avner and then we were up to experiment with the concept he discussed. There was little sitting around. He would stop us and then make some comments and then we would continue with the creative play.
It was playful and yet challenging. Many times I had to break with the way I had done it and explore a new way of doing something. This type of class really makes you think. Yet, if one thought too much the naturalness of the movement or activity would be crushed. So I found myself rejecting the part of my mind that analyzes and instead went with the flow thus absorbing the content.
However I really liked Avner’s way of approaching comedy and his style of one thing leads to the next in a clown’s logic system. So analyze I did. It seemed at times that all the students felt they did not understand anything, yet it all sort of made sense. This was a real opportunity to climb into the mind of a comedy genius and see how the clockwork moved.
One big take away for me was Avner’s encouraging me to deeply consider the word “Interesting”. Avner made me explore how my clown reacts to items or situations. Looking at something that happens during the show as “Interesting” is a different approach that has had me thinking all summer.
Another word for it is “Fascinating”. So when something happens to the clown – instead of reacting with surprise or shock (or fear) I instead am learning to simply look at the “problem” as being fascinating. Then, now what will I do with the prop or problem this prop has presented.
In clowning, this approach to seeing an item (or prop, or situation) through the clown’s eyes is valuable indeed. The workshops had us up and moving and doing. This was very helpful as we explored the various ways to react to other performers and to the props or situations we found ourselves in.
The afternoons involved another class by Avner and then a second class taught by his long time partner Julie. She is a wonderful eccentric clown who took her show to many theaters around the world, then a few years ago she sadly contracted a debilitating muscular disease that has slowed her way down and now she is in a wheelchair a good part of each day. She did however teach some wonderful and fascinating classes during this week that got us up and moving and thinking in the comic clown mindset while we did the exercises and activities.
The evenings were performance times when we presented things we were working on. Wow, there were some talented and funny people in this workshop and it was very fun to explore along with them. One participant was; Marty “Smarty Pants” – a W.C.A. member who many of you met in Chicago at our convention there.
This was a fascinating week where I learned much more than I could realize. I know that because my mind keeps wandering back to that Barn and thinking about concepts and approaches to comedy that were discussed.
I have been a successful comic performer for over 30 years making my sole living from that and I realize that I need to study. I love to go to World Clown conventions and other workshops and push myself to continuing education and growth.
Avner and Julie’s workshops pushed me indeed and in many directions. I mostly perform as a talking act – as you can recall if you ever caught me do a M.C. at the W.C.A. I can go on for hours and do improvisations and play to fill the time at the contests. However, I really wanted to grow as a silent performer. Avner’s classes helped me a lot, but in many ways it showed me that I have soooooo much more to learn.
I really want to thank the World Clown Association for offering this scholarship that covered the fees for classes at this workshop with Avner. I really could not have gone to the Celebration Barn without the help of World Clowns so thank you very much. Also a big thank you goes Jane Swiggum and the W.C.A. committee who looks over the applications and their work on helping performers to learn and grow.
The World Clown Association was built on the desire to help people grow and learn. I admire that and that is why I joined all those years ago. That is why I also have taught at 9 of the W.C.A. conventions. I want to share what I have discovered with others. I really hope you consider applying for one of the W.C.A. scholarships. This organization wants you to learn. If you are like me – a bit old in years – then go for it! Apply for a scholarship! Take a class or workshop! Don’t let your age stop you from growing and learning and trying something new. You will have fun!
More at: ComedyNorm.wordpress.com