Mar 19, 2017
DON COLLIVER was working as a non-fiction TV producer when he decided to make a highly unconventional career change and became a professional clown. This episode was recorded three days before Don flew to New York to join the award-winning performance art company Blue Man Group. (44:36) EXPLICIT
Several of my TV producer friends and colleagues have exited the business, but nobody’s exit strategy has been nearly as unconventional as the switch DON COLLIVER made by becoming a professional clown. Now, if you’re imagining Don wearing big floppy shoes and making balloon animals at children’s birthday parties, stop right there.
As Don explains in his PIERSON TO PERSON episode DOWN TO CLOWN, his style of clowning is a theatrical art form that allows him to explore a wide-range of human emotions and express himself in a way that is cathartic for the audience: “When I feel an emotion I share it with the audience completely, right into their eyes. Not to be angry at the audience, but to show I’m angry and I know you’ve been angry, too.”
The purpose of this expression, Don says, is to make people feel less alone in the world. “People are relating to it, so we’re kind of all in it together. We’re all lonely together, or we’re all sad together, or we’re all transcending together. It’s very personal up there, and the fact that it works is just a miracle.”
But clown shows like the ones Don performs in don’t work for everybody: “Some people are really uncomfortable with someone sharing emotion because we spend a lot of time not acknowledging what we’re feeling.” Don remembers one friend who came to see him perform and told him afterwards it really wasn’t her thing: “She was like, ‘I didn’t like your show. My family doesn’t like to feel emotions.’”
This is not to say that feeling emotions comes easier or more naturally for Don than it does for anyone else. “In this work, the things that block you are the things that block humans period. What am I not dealing with? What’s my childhood baggage that I’m lugging around? It just comes right into your face the moment you start doing this work, and you are forced to deal with it. Like uncomfortableness with fear. How do I handle fear? How do I handle intimacy? All these things that everybody wrestles with in their own way. And the goal with this is to be completely vulnerable."
The vulnerability and intimate truths that Don conveys on stage aren’t limited to his performing self. He now makes a conscious effort to be as open and present as he can be in his everyday life: “I really can’t deal with sarcasm anymore. I don’t want to be sarcastic. I don’t want to be around people who are sarcastic. I just want to be in relationships where I can be honest, and they can be honest. And it’s painful a lot. But it’s more true. Just the ability to feel sad or feel joy and be in it, and ride it through to the other end of it, without making a snarky remark to kind of push it down. And it’s taken some work to develop a piece of myself that is okay no matter what’s going on.”
Many thanks to the composers of the music featured in this episode royalty free through Creative Commons licensing:
1. "Saunter" by Poddington Bear - soundofpicture.com
2. "Curiosity" by Lee Rosevere - leerosevere.bandcamp.com
3. "Second" by Paolo Pavan - paolopavan.info/_s_news/