I have just returned from Mooseburger Clown Camp. Before I left, many people asked me “What goes on at Clown Camp?” I replied that since I had not been to Mooseburger Clown Camp before I did not know. (For the record, I had done my research before paying my tuition AND I was on staff for a church clown camp in the 90’s, so I wasn’t clueless!) Now that I have returned, I can share what happened.
What I did not know before I went is that this clown camp is perceived to be the successor to Ringling Clown College. Many of the faculty are Clown College alumni. The emphasis, then, is on traditional circus clowning.
Given that, the drive of the camp is toward a circus-type show. For many attendees, this is the closest they get to performing in a professional circus venue. Every camper is assigned to a traditional gag: arm wrestler, clown car, washer women. I see a two-fold value of learning these traditional gags: since they are so well known, it is easy to slip into these skits with other clowns, and since the material is common it is an opportunity to put one’s own character-stamp onto the material. (There’s probably a third related to the necessary predictability of pop culture, but more reflection is needed before venturing too far along that route.)
There’s a morning and an afternoon rehearsal slots for these gags. Before that rehearsal, each morning campers attended their primary class – something like clowning 101, Gospel clowning, comedy magic. I was in Material Development (more on that in a minute). Afternoons were devoted to “one-shot” workshops like magic, puppetry, developing message shows, European clowning.
The big exception is the Material Development Class. These participants write & develop completely new gags (skits), meaning they come up with the situation, write the through line, develop the bits, insert their characters, rehearse the presentation, build the props. At the end of the week our instructor said we created three gags in 11 ½ hours – gags that Ringling typically allowed a month for development. Sometimes having a tight deadline focuses the creative energy!
There were other program elements: evenings with featured clowns, whole-camp instruction on caring for caring clowns (a lot like self-care for pastors), who to do meet & greet walk-arounds. There were morning juggling sessions, an all-camp pie fight, and evening jams around specific skills (balloons, puppetry, magic …) Mixed in (walking to and from classes, sitting at meals, meeting in the dealers’ room) were many conversations about clowning, developing new skills and material, and the meaning of life.
One of the very encouraging aspects of this camp were the number of young people. I’m guessing 20% were under the age of 25. One of my passions is to share clowning with people younger than myself. I was introduced to clowning when I was 12, helped lead a troupe in high school, led a troupe in college, performed (as part of mission trips) in Belize, Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, and toured for a summer in between college semesters with The Circus Kingdom – all before I was 21. Having these skills, experiences, and way to look at the world gave me a unique way of engaging the world as an adult. Providing and sustaining communities of support for this sort of creative living for people of all ages – but especially youth and young adults – benefits the world greatly.