New Victory Arts Break – Clowning Week

It’s Week 7 of New Victory Arts Break! Guided by New Victory Teaching Artists, Arts Break is a curriculum designed for the millions of families stuck at home to incorporate the performing arts into their learning. Show or no show, our nonprofit is committed to bringing the performing arts to the widest possible audience, and inspiring you to make art, and make memories, together!

Last week you practiced putting your thoughts and feelings into verse with songwriting. Well, keep those hearts on your sleeves and hold on to your silly hats—this week is all about clowning.

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The Big Take

15 – 20 minutes, Ages 5 – 10

Clowns aren’t afraid to show you how they feel, and they do that using one of the fundamental skills of clowning—the take! A take is the moment when a clown looks at their audience to share the emotion that they’re feeling, usually in a big (and sometimes silly) way. This week, you might hear a take referred to as a “mask take” or a “check-in chicken,” but all of these terms mean the same thing: when your inner clown has a big feeling, look straight at your audience and share it!

Let’s practice taking to the audience with New Victory Teaching Artist Marisol Rosa-Shapiro as she and her friend Ziggy instruct us in a clowning routine as simple as 1-2-3—er… A-B-C.

Now grab a partner (or a mythical creature) and practice shifting your attention from them to the audience, just like Marisol and Ziggy did. What song did you choose to clown around to? Share your takes with us on Instagram—just tag us @newvictorytheater and we’ll feature you in our story!

Did You Know?

Clowning has been around for thousands of years! Check out this video from Mocomi Kids for some interesting bits of clown history.

Silly Face Freeze Dance

When clowns take to the audience, it’s usually with big emotion. Practice some big emotions and silly faces in this “take” on a freeze dance!

Step One: Pick a playlist full of silly songs and find some folks to dance with! Here’s playlist of silly songs that we love:

Step Two: Choose someone to be in charge of turning the music on and off for the first round, and keep rotating so that everyone gets a chance to dance! Once the roles are chosen, make sure you have enough space to move around.

Step Three: When the music is on, dance your silliest dance, your slowest dance, your fastest dance—whatever the music is calling you to do. When the music stops, everyone has to freeze while making the silliest face ever!

Step Four: For an added challenge, the person in charge can call out specific silly faces for the participants to make when they freeze. For instance, “The next time the music stops, I want your silly face to be as if…”

  • You smelled a rotten banana!
  • You saw a flying elephant outside your window!
  • You are celebrating a parade passing by!
  • A dinosaur just joined your dance party!
  • You found out you’re able to fly!

How specific can you make your silly face? And how silly can you dance to match it? Keep clownin’ around and explore!

Modification for younger kids: Need more silly wiggles for the youngest clowns? Move around and be silly by following our Air Dancers, Ron and Yvonne!


Becoming a Clown

25 – 35 minutes, Ages 5 – 12

Calling all clowns! Oversized or tight clothes, bold makeup or bare, one of the most important aspects of clowning is the look, and it’s all up to you! In today’s activities, find your very own clown look and, in the process, your inner clown persona.

You may remember from yesterday’s video on the history of clowning that there are three classical categories of clowns.

Whiteface Clown, Auguste Clown, Tramp Clown

  1. Whiteface Clown: The clown you probably recognize most. They cover their faces in mostly white and wear oversized clothes, like those big ole clown shoes.
  2. Auguste Clown: Also known as the slapstick clown, they usually portray themselves as clumsy. Their makeup is similar to the Whiteface Clown, but the white is focused on big, bold eyes and mouth rather than the full face.
  3. Tramp Clown: An American style of clown that dates to the early twentieth century. The look is that of a sad, down-on-their-luck type—painted stubble on their face, a suit with a few holes and fingerless or torn gloves.

Can you think of other clowns you’ve seen sporting different looks? Here are some clowns that have appeared on the New Victory stage. How would you categorize them?

Clowns with different looks
Circus Oz: From The Ground Up Tour (New Victory 2012), Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams (New Victory 2018), SNAP (New Victory 2019), Pss Pss (New Victory 2018)
Photos: Rob Blackburn, Che Chorley, Taewon Kim, Pierre Colletti

Now it’s time to design your own clown look. Use the templates below to sketch, paint or collage your outfit, hair and makeup ideas.

Becoming a Clown Template

We can’t wait to see your clown get-ups! Snap a photo of your look or share a sketch with us on Instagram @newvictorytheater. Artist and third-year usher Leilani Serrano is already getting in on the fun with these amazing clown transformations!

The look of a clown is about more than just makeup. Signature hairdos and recognizable outfits will also help you fully embody your clown persona! Take Bello Nock from Bello Mania (New Victory 2012, 2016)—he’s known for his high-flying acts, yes, but also his even higher-flying hair! And the Acrobuffos from Air Play (New Victory 2018) wear bright red and yellow costumes and dye their hair blue and purple. These clowns’ makeup might not be exaggerated, but other elements of their styles definitely are!

Bello and Acrobuffos
Photos: John Powers, Florence Montmare

Ready to complete your clown persona? In this activity, transform yourself and your family into a gaggle of giggling clowns.

Step One: Being a clown is all about exaggeration. Raid the closets in your house to find attire that is either two sizes too big or too small. Try to find the zaniest combinations of patterns and colors to complete your clown look. Remember that plaid jacket that was a total mistake, or those purple pants you swore you’d never wear again?

Step Two: It’s all about the hair. Get out the gel, spray or pomade along with some ribbons, clips and bands. Then let your hair down (literally) and challenge each other to create the craziest hairstyles. Bello’s got nothing on you!

Step Three: Complete your clown persona by creating your very own clown name. Try combining your favorite color with your favorite flavor or spice. You could be Magenta Bergamot or Paprika Black!

Step Four: The way your clown walks is an important part of your persona. The choices that you make with your walk can really heighten your character. Watch this classic Monty Python sketch to get inspired.

Now it’s time to try out your own silly walks! Can you…

  • Walk with your knees touching?
  • Walk as low to the ground as possible?
  • Walk like you are light as air?
  • Walk while shaking your whole body?

How else can you make your walk as silly as possible? Try to find the walk that best matches your clown persona!

Modification for older kids: Interested in how the professionals do it? Check out this video from BuzzFeed that follows a few professional clowns as they get ready for work. We recommend this video for kids 11 and up because there is a brief reference to Stephen King’s IT.


A Simple Clown Routine

20 – 25 minutes, Age Rec 5 – 14

On Monday, Marisol and Ziggy helped you practice taking by switching the focus between a partner and the audience. Today, you’ll build a clown routine full of takes that don’t rely on a partner at all. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Lauren Sharpe as she and her daughters build their own flowery routines replete with… chicken?

The “check-in chicken” is the same thing as a take! Lauren demonstrates using a check-in chicken everytime she makes a choice in her routine. Think about that as you build your own clown routine!

Clowning in Silence

Let’s get some professional inspiration! You may remember Simone and Camilla of Compagnia Baccalá, who delighted New Victory audiences with their show Pss Pss (New Victory 2018). Take a look.

In this activity, inspired by the silent hilarity of Pss Pss, play with different ways to express your thoughts and feelings to a partner without using a single word.

Materials: A random household item that can fit in your hand (maybe a ball!), card template

Step One: Sit or stand, facing your partner. Start a practice round with what you already know—your face! Decide who is partner A and who is partner B. With only their face, Partner A will convey the emotions listed below in any order they’d like for 30 seconds. Partner B must try their best to keep up and mirror Partner A’s face. Once the 30 seconds are up, switch roles!

  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Scared

Step Two: Pick up a random object in your home. Make sure it’s something you can pass back and forth, for a game similar to hot potato! Some objects that could work are a potato, a small ball, a rolled up sock, balled up paper or your favorite toy that fits perfectly in the palm of your hand!

Practice passing the object to your partner and have your partner instantly pass it back.

Once you get a rhythm, try passing the object based on the following prompts. Don’t forget to react with your face.

  • The item is as light as a feather. Pass it!
  • The item weighs 1,000 pounds. Pass it!
  • The item is really smelly. Pass it!
  • Can you think of other things this item could be? Pass it!

Step Three: Print and cut out the card template below. Pick who is going to be partner A and who is going to be partner B.

Card Template

Partner A picks a card and keeps it a secret, then holds the same household object as if it took on the identity of the object on the card you chose.

For example, if they picked up an apple card, they would think about an apple’s weight and how they would hold it in real life. Maybe they could mime taking fake bites of the object! Partner B must try to guess the identity of the object based on how partner A handles it.

BONUS: Create your very own cards with this blank template!


The Rule of Three

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 5 – 13

Now that you’ve spent time honing your clown persona and practicing some basic routines, it’s time to add in some classic clown structure! Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Ben Johnson and his giggly assistant to learn another short partner clowning routine that uses the famous Rule of Three.

The Rule of Three is used in clowning all the time. In Ben’s example, he established the pattern of following his assistant after she’d told him to stay put, and then she would catch him and drag him back to the start. The third time, though, they broke the pattern—Ben dragged himself back to the start!

You can create your own clowning routine using the Rule of Three! To learn the routine that Ben used, follow the steps below. Notice (and practice!) the specific timing and movements that both clowns must coordinate for the routine to work.

Step One: Grab a partner and decide who will be Clown A and who will be Clown B.

Step Two: Stand next to your partner and take to the audience. Clown A will then turn to Clown B and say, “You stay right here!” and Clown B will respond, “Okay!

Step Three: Both clowns turn in the direction where they want to walk, with Clown A in front, and take an exaggerated breath together (this way Clown B knows when Clown A is about to start walking). Beginning with the right foot, both clowns take three steps and then take to the audience. Clown A catches Clown B behind them, grabs them by the sleeve of their shirt (gently!) and wiggles back to the starting position.

Step Four: Repeat step three a second time.

Step Five: Repeat step three a third time, except this time when both clowns take to the audience, make a change! Break the pattern! You can try what Ben and his partner did, which was for Clown B to drag themself away and then be chased by Clown A, or you and your partner can make up a new ending.

Modification for younger clowns: Try practicing the Rule of Three while entering and exiting a room!

Miss Hannigan from Annie

Step One: In any doorway in your house, enter into the room where your audience is and take to them, perhaps like you’re posing for a picture. Then, exit.

Step Two: Repeat that same entrance and exit a second time.

Step Three: On the third time, enter the room the same way, but offer a surprise on your take! Perhaps you have a funny prop that you put on your head, or you suddenly start to dance uproariously. Keep doing whatever silly surprise you choose as you exit.

Offer a surprise!


Oops, I’m a Clown!

20 – 25 minutes, Age Rec: 6 – 13

Listen up, you clowns! Let’s end our week of clowning on the silliest and slapstickiest of notes—mistakes that aren’t mistakes at all! Check out this video from Jamie Adkins’ Circus Incognitus (New Victory 2010), and keep an eye out for moments when Jamie appears to mess up.

What look like blunders are actually carefully constructed moments of clowning! Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Sarah Petersiel (of Ridiculous Magic fame) as she demonstrates a few ways to make hilarious mistakes.

Follow the structure that Sarah suggested to plan out your own flub-filled routine!

  1. Pick a simple task that you’re trying to accomplish. For Sarah, that task was saying her name on camera!
  2. Mess up the task by:
    • Getting the timing wrong
    • Taking something too literally
    • Getting distracted
    • Making up a mistake of your own
  3. Experiment with repeating the mistake you chose. Try following the Rule of Three by changing the ending the third time. Experiment to find the funniest ending!

Show us your brilliant mistakes! Post a video of your routine to Instagram and tag us @newvictorytheater—we’ll share it on our story.

Even the greats mess up sometimes. Let’s celebrate our week of successful clowning with this reel of bloopers from the original Tramp, Charlie Chaplin. Can you use what you’ve learned to turn his slip-ups into purposeful mistakes?

We hope you enjoyed this seventh week of New Victory Arts Break. Check out past Arts Breaks here, and keep coming back for more arts-based fun in the weeks ahead.

You are a part of the New Victory community. We want to see you, and hear from you! Show us how you’re using New Victory Arts Break at home and share your creative work with us—tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.

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