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Unit information: Clowning Through History in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Clowning Through History
Unit code THTR20014
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Wozniak
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Theatre
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Through a series of seminars and workshops, students on this unit will encounter a range of historical theatrical performance texts which include clown roles, in order to explore the changing emphases of clowning in relation to performance practice and specific socio-historic contexts. The unit will draw on a range of acting and clowning theories and practice, both historical and contemporary, which will be explored through critical discussion and critically reflective performance. Students will develop an understanding of how changing conditions and performance practices have affected the role of the clown in theatrical performance through studying specific clowning roles and sequences from commedia dell’arte, through early modern clown roles, to the development of separate performance spaces for clowns in the nineteenth century and subsequently to clown roles in absurdist tragedies and in contemporary performance. Students will develop an understanding of the changing historical relationship between different performance spaces, between author, director and performer and between clown and form. Students will study the role of the clown through exploring a range of historical and contemporary theatrical clowning techniques and by developing a short clowning sequence from a textual source. They will develop a thorough understanding of how historical and contemporary clowning techniques and approaches might be used in performance to entertain and challenge an audience. In doing so they will explore the performance of the following issues and how they might interact both in the original and subsequent performances: performing the self and celebrity; authority in performance; performing the popular; performing the topical; and performing adaptation.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

1) demonstrate knowledge and critical understanding of a range of performance contexts and the ways in which clowns performed within them

2) demonstrate an understanding of the key theoretical and theatrical concerns in both current and contemporaneous criticism of clown roles

3) apply a range of approaches to reading and interpreting performance texts, and explored their practical implications in performance

4) demonstrate knowledge of a range of performance techniques and understanding of their practical application

5) demonstrated the ability to analyse and evaluate a range of performance texts, both in terms of their own practice and the practice of others

6) demonstrate the ability to conceptualise and perform a project based on a clown role from an appropriate performance text and developed their skills in acting and/or dramaturgy and/or directing

Teaching details

9 X 2-hour seminars; 9 x 3-hour workshops; a 15 hour intensive production period culminating in an individual or group performance; reading; screenings and trips to shows.

Assessment Details

One 2500 word essay (40%) ILO 1, 2, 3

One individual or small group performance of no longer than 20 minutes (40%) ILO 3, 4, 6

A 1500 word critical reflection on this performance (20%) ILO 3 – 6

Reading and References

Jacky Bratton and Ann Featherstone (2006) The Victorian Clown

Ribert Hornback (2009) The English Clown Tradition from the Middle Ages to Shakespeare

John Wright (2006) Why is that so Funny?

Franc Chamberlain and Ralph Yarrow (2002) Jacques Lecoq and the British Theatre

Jon Davison (2015) Clown Training: A Practical Guide

Louise Peacock (2009) Serious play: modern clown performance