Fools, Clowns & Outcasts

Swimming in the Ridiculous:

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he clown, the fool, and the outcast weave in and out of our everyday world. Unruly characters, members of the comic genus, they fart in the middle of our most serious discourse, upset our apple carts and, making us laugh, worm their way into our hearts. Their presence offers us two invaluable gifts: an understanding of realities beyond common sense; and a tolerance of chance, catastrophe, and flux




Flag of the Mad Mother, 15th Century, Dijon

or more than 25 years I have explored Shakespeare’s use of Clown and Fool and the popular traditions he drew from, including medieval folk figures and itinerant entertainers. Inspired by studies in Clown and Buffoon with Jane Gibson in London and Jacques Lecoq in Paris in the early 1970s, I returned to the U.S. to develop my own work. I have performed in a variety of venues since then: theatres, streets, and a one-ringed circus. I have created performance and installation work out of New York City, for many years with Conway & Pratt Projects. I have taught at Shakespeare & Company, in universities and many independent workshops.











served as Clownmaster at Shakespeare & Company, and received an NEA Directing Fellowship to work for a year with group of actors; our collaboration resulted in a piece called In Praise of Folly (1984).


In Praise of Folly (1984) with Jason Brown, Bob Biggs, Karen Beaumont, Cathy Combs, Hall Hunsinger, Andre Ignatius, Lisa Wolpe.








Circus Flora, (with Bert, the goat), 1995; Jest Bananas, (with Pamela Rand) 1977; Relentless Comedy: The Noah Show (with Jay Geary), 1981.

Albert Ratcliffe and Cathy Combs in As a Dream that Vanishes, Conway & Pratt Projects, Inc. (1991)

Male Trickster in Towards Trickster, (1986) and Female Trickster (Noni Pratt) in the graveyard, Elements of Rare Earth, (1985)

Trickster (Hall Hunsinger), encounters Beauty (Susan Dibble), and changes her, in Towards Trickster (1986).

"What is not looked upon faints with longing." Insists Lapis Lazurus, a female humpedbacked gargoyle/sheela na gig. Merry in Eye of the Beholder (1988) the first project of Conway & Pratt Projects.

Merry as Y’eddie the Simpleton, in Eye of the Beholder.
Merry as the coyote/woman in Eye of the Beholder











Merry discussing puns, neologisms and portmanteaux during Wit and Wordplay Workshop, 2010. She is showing a picture of imaginary hybrid animals from the book Imagine, by Norman Messenger.

hese last few years, I have begun to delveinto the shapes and figures used in comedic language with the same attention I have given to the physical shapes of comedic characters. Quintilian, the classical rhetorician, after all, refers to the figures of speech as the “gestures of language”. During workshops in wit, wordplay, and other sources of life-giving joy, we explore puns, rhyming, alliteration, limericks, broken proverbs, quibbles, laughter itself, and other nonsense. For the actor, playing with words develops an appreciation of language and a facility with all kinds of texts. I continue to mess around with clown and fool and comedic elements in Shakespeare’s work. The Elizabethans were enthralled with the new additions of Romance and Latinate words to their Anglo-Saxon base, and were dizzy with pronunciations still in flux. Shakespeare in particular ran rampant with puns and wordplay; his joy must be matched by the performer’s agility and thrill in acting his texts.

© Merry Conway, 2011. All rights reserved

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