A person with a red nose makes a clown like facial expression and holds a crocheted blanket up behind them.

Clown & Bouffant Lab


John Wright in partnership with Ramshackalicious

Fri 31st Jan – Sun 2nd Feb, 101 Outdoor Arts Creation Space

Award winning teacher and theatre maker John Wright led this intensive residential, exploring the shifting dynamics created when players combine the opposing techniques of clown and bouffant.

Clown and bouffant are two techniques that are often seen as opposite ends of play – the clown loves the audience and wants to be loved by them, whereas bouffants are social outcasts who hate the audience and love to satirise them, seeing society as frivolous and wrong in its ways. They tread a fine line between insulting and entertaining their audience.

This two and a half day workshop was aimed at participants with some experience of clown, but gave participants the chance to explore clown and bouffant as if from scratch. The group was made up of performers from the fields of circus and outdoor arts with varying levels of experience, with just one non-performing producer in the mix.

The first day of the residential was spent entirely looking at clown, a great technique for building connection within a team. Clowns are happy and open. They like everyone and want to be loved by the audience. The second day looked at bouffant for a half day, and then for the remainder of the residential the group explored ways of combining the two techniques.

For the whole of this intensive residential, participants were either improvising, or watching improvisations, expected to judge the improvisers with the raise of a hand whenever they stopped being interesting.

When it came to exploring bouffant, there was always a chorus of four to six people, because bouffants traditionally play together for their own survival, acting as a group, drawing support from one another and protecting one another from the audience, and pushing each other further.

“There was one moment there were about five of us just lying on each other in one blob of bouffant insulting the audience, or complementing the audience in ways that are actually insults. Just seeing how you can say something and how that can escalate and build and build in a group. A lot of bouffant involves building a really strong dynamic within a group and you can push each other further and further.”

Sascha Goslin, Participant

Combining the two techniques provided strong contrast, a sense of sudden twist, and unsettling moments for the audience.

“People think of them as opposites but they combine really well, as long as you know why you’re doing it the way that you’re doing it. It’s a contrast. You’ve got one character who is really playful, who suddenly becomes darker and more sly - really different - a bit mean,” said Sascha. “The way you move is different – you physicalise bouffant very differently from how you do clown. The contrast is so strong and unsettling that the audience has to re-evaluate what they’re thinking.”

John Wright is an award-winning international teacher and theatre-maker. He co-founded Trestle Theatre in 1980 and founded Told by and Idiot in 1993. He has worked on a string of productions and projects extending over three decades in Europe, Scandanavia, Asia and the UK, where his work has been seen at the National Theatre, the RSC, the Royal Court, the Almeida and the Royal Opera House.

The Wright School

John Wright is an award-winning international teacher and theatre-maker. He co-founded Trestle Theatre Company in 1980 and Told by an Idiot in 1993.

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Ramshacklicious Theatre Company makes collaboratively devised theatre with the audiences' experience at the centre of their process.

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