CLOWN NOSE – session organised as part of the Intercultural Encounter in Reykjavik, Iceland, June 2012

Coaches: Björg Árnadóttir and Halldór Reynisson (the leaders of the workshops in Iceland)

A clown isn't a fool. He's like a child – honest and open.

At the beginning of the workshop all the participants are given props – everyone gets a fake red nose to attach to their face. This immediately causes many spontaneous reactions such as laughing, relaxation, and posing for pictures. The leader presents a short introduction to the tradition of Commedia dell'Arte and suggests playing a game; there are three rules that every clown has to obey: 1) Always count to three before you say or do anything. 2) When you make a mistake – during talking or acting – repeat it three times and then forget about it. 3) Always look people in the eye when you're talking with them, never turn your back on them. Afterwards the leader with help from one of the participants demonstrates how these rules work in practice, and then she initiates the ritual of a clown's birth; all the participants are sitting in a circle and taking part in this event. “Lower your heads and close your eyes. Are you ready? Now take three deep breaths, I'll be counting out loud. When I say 'three', raise your heads and let out a scream. OK! Now you are clowns.” The whole group, being new-born clowns, experiment with various ways of talking and gesticulation, looking for their own original forms of expression, coming into contact with their neighbours. Most people are having fun, but some participants are visibly reserved. The next workshop exercise is a conversation of clowns, in groups of four, on the subject of their brothers and sisters, and then a discussion summarising the shared experiences. “A transformation has occurred in me, something new has emerged, spontaneously, beyond my conscious decision, beyond rational thinking. Being clowns, we say or do things that would be impossible in different situations. In our group, when we were talking about our siblings, we got really close with each other, and a mutual, almost childlike trust appeared.” All the described activities account for the introduction to the bibliodramatic staging of the parable of the Prodigal Son (carried out without the fake noses, seriously) after which we'd go back to the clowning. This time in groups of three, the participants recreate the family system from the story, playing the roles of the father and the two sons. The discussion over the activities brings many valuable remarks and observations. “Impersonating a clown demands openness, breaking our personal barriers.”

A clown nose is one of the simplest masks, which unambiguously determines the played character, and helps the participants to find themselves in an unusual role. This uncomplicated procedure automatically creates a new context for common activities and inspires us to change our behaviour, way of speaking, and interpersonal relationships. Acting in a mask gives us an opportunity to become someone else, experience the feeling of strangeness towards our new embodiment and the world which is so different to what we know from our lives. The clowning, which seems to be only a game or a foolery, turns out to have a deeper meaning and can be surprisingly useful in intercultural education. Its greatest benefit is drawing our attention to dissimilarity, accustoming us with strangeness, and provoking us to change our fixed and apparent attitudes and behaviours.