A Commonplace

What is a commonplace?



More Stuff from Clown School - Sitting on a Chair

So this Sunday was the last session of this particular course and clown school, and like other three weeks, we did a series of very simple exercises that were much more thought provoking than they looked like they should be.

One exercise we did was sitting on a chair. OK, it was a bit more complicated than that. But not much.

Two clowns (wearing noses - that's all the costume that we used for the whole course) went to the back of the stage. In the middle of the stage is a chair. The aim of the "game" is to try to sit on the chair. So that the whole thing doesn't devolve into a brawl, there's one rule - no touching.

Once one clown is sitting on the chair, there's absolutely no earthly reason why he or she should ever get up out of it. This means that all the direct attempts to get the clown out of the chair - threats, shouting near the seated clowns ears (you need to be careful that you don't actually do that) don't really work. And ideas for this "direct" approach can be quite unpleasant - even though it's just a game.

From the point of view of an audience, they don't work either, they're not interesting. For maybe ten seconds it might be amusing for somebody to be really obvious and yell "get out of the chair."

In fact - talking about the chair doesn't work really at all. What does working is talking about other stuff. What it seems like you have to do is "charm" the person out of the chair, get them so involved in something else that you're doing that they forget that they're wanting to stay in the chair and forget that you're wanting to jump into the chair - then you can jump into the chair. Of course, that's not really possible, but the mechanics of trying are eye-opening. It makes you think - mainly about what's involved in selling things.

Every advert that you ever see is really just somebody wanting your money - and on one level, we all know that - but on another level, we still respond to adverts and we still buy stuff. We're charmed out of our chairs all the time.

I have this awful feeling that in so many aspects of my life, for its entirety up to now, I've spent most of the time talking about the chair. So long talking about that chair that I'm not sure, even now that I've noticed, that I can't talk about the chair. And this reminds me of two things, the first is this quote:

When magicians are good at their jobs it is because they anticipate the way an audience thinks. They are able to suggest a series of clues that guide the audience to the deception. Great magicians don't leave audience thought patterns to chance; they depend on the audience to bring something to the table - preconceptions or assumptions that can be naturally exploited. That's why, despite what people think, children are often bad audiences for magic. They have little experience and make few assumptions. They might not take for granted that holding your hand in a certain way indicates that it's empty, or that walking around a table in a certain manner indicates that it's just a normal piece of furniture. A magic show is built on these tiny allowances - children may not grant them.

Alteratively, anyone with a firm system of beliefs, anyone who has been forced to categorise or analyse information, is ripe for skillful deception. This is why there are famous examples of learned men of science being badly fooled by the simple tricks of fake physics. (From "Hiding the Elephant by Jim Steinmeyer")

The second is the notion of "Second Circle" presence that I was writing about a couple of nights ago. When you're trying to coax a clown out of a chair, when you're trying to sell somebody something, you have to be in "second circle" presence with them - that's the "anticipate the way the audience things" aspect of what a magician does. But at the same time you need to be manipulating another actual agenda: get the chair; hide the elephant in a way that isn't magic or get them to pay you for something that they don't necessarily want. It's tough to be figuring this kind of stuff out at 46. Hopefully better late than never.