Anna-Sophie works in the fields of Popular Entertainment Studies and Science in Fiction Studies. She seeks to gain a better understanding of how popular arts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were, and are, formative for our present. She is interested in the cultural and aesthetic capital of violent and cannibal clowns, epileptic dancers, freak performers, and mad scientists. In her current research project she explores the interplay and relationship between comic performance and technology in culture. At the moment she lives in Berlin, but soon in Australia again, and spends a lot of time in archives and libraries studying historical clown robots. For more info see here.
Hats off to Ira
For over eight years, I have been studying performance histories and aesthetics of the delicious art of clowning – of violent clowns in particular – in different media such as literature and film. Collaborating with Ira miraculously enriched my understanding of these phenomena.
I have known Ira since 2017 and was privileged to collaborate with him on several academic occasions since 2018. He gave an outstanding presentation on “The Nature of the Mind-Body in Performance” at a conference I organised on “Imagineers in Circus & Science” at the Australian National University; he gave an invigorating “Introduction to Clowning” in the form of a workshop within the context of a MA intensive university course on “Circus in Fiction” that I developed and taught at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany; and he taught another motivational workshop on “Embodied Humour via I.S.A.A.C. Performance Exercises” at the 30th conference of the International Society for Humour Studies at Tallinn University, Estonia. On all occasions, I was struck by how well Ira adapted his explanation and content to the respective participants, whether they were students or professors or a heterogeneous academic audience from all over the world. This included people who had previously never been close to a clown in their whole life, on the one hand, and internationally touring professional stand-up comedians, on the other. One scientist also participated in a longer workshop that Ira gave in Australia to hear more about what Ira has so say about the power and intricacies of performance.
Embedded in knowledgeable explanations and accounts of his own impressive stage experience, Ira masterfully guided our academics through an array of creative bodily, clown exercises – which was definitely something different for the academic auditorium that had never been asked to do these sorts of activities before – in order to show the creative potential a clown taps in their work. Similarly, when working with my German students in a 90min workshop, Ira not only shared his joy of performing and insights into the thinking and bodily expressions of clowns (over time), but also created a sort of magically safe space that empowered all participants. Even clown-skeptic students felt inspired and were transformed. One student told me that she wants to become like Ira – fit and active beyond convention and reason, and open-minded like no one else she has met before. What better endorsement can be provided beyond this student’s comment?
What Ira contributed to our academic clown explorations was a sense of how meaning is generated from movement. And even more so, he created a space where we were able to not only witness and discuss, but to experience bodily creativity as method and result of our workshop adventure. It is not an exaggeration to say that through his careful guidance, Ira helped us grow as clown/popular entertainment scholars and humans.
I am grateful and delighted that Ira also shared his experience in two interviews (to be) published online: in a journal dedicated to the intersections between science and arts, and in an academic journal exploring humour and violence in relation to clowning (see below resources to read about Ira’s point of view in these interviews). I hope this is just the beginning of a fruitful collaborative partnership – and our discovery trip to the inner worlds of the clown.
For further reading
“Ira Seidenstein: Clowning and Academia – A conversation with Anna-Sophie Jürgens Part 1”, w/k – Zwischen Wissenschaft und Kunst (2019), https://www3.hhu.de/wuk/en/ira-seidenstein-clowning-and-academia-part-i/
“Ira Seidenstein: Clowning and Academia – A conversation with Anna-Sophie Jürgens Part 2”, w/k – Zwischen Wissenschaft und Kunst (2019), https://www3.hhu.de/wuk/en/ira-seidenstein-clowning-and-academia-part-ii/
“Violence in the Clownlight: Ira Seidenstein on the inner world of the clown, slapstick and dynamite – A conversation with Anna-Sophie Jürgens”, Comedy Studies 11/1 (2019, forthcoming).