Clowning in China, by Joan Mankin PART 2

I am learning so much about clowning by being in a place where I understand no one, and no one understands me. When I say I understand no one, I am referring to words, of course, verbal interactions (which for me are limited to “hello” and “thanks”). But when I have no hope of conversing with someone in the usual, more facile manner, I must look into their eyes and read their body language, and respond in ways that touch different chords in my body energies. And Chinese people have the most truthful smiles. Either their faces are composed and distant, or they smile completely–there is no half-smile, they don’t do it unless they mean it. And that makes me be more truthful in what I say and do. I feel like I am revisiting the core of what clowning means.

Last night Jonah (a student from the SF Circus center) and I were walking home along Stinky Tofu Alley (our name, not the official name) and we started singing “Country Roads” (“country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain mama, take me home, country roads”) and when we got to the “West Virginia” part someone started singing along with us. It was a Chinese man, who somehow knew the words (although I’m sure he had no idea what they were about) and loved the song. So all three us walked down this alley in the heart of downtown Nanjing, singing about West Virginia at the top of our lungs–we even did harmony! And when we finished, he went to get into his car, and he held out his hand to shake mine, to thank us for letting him sing with us. And I couldn’t help bursting into “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”–and I sang to him and his friends with all my heart and soul as they drove away, leaving me and Jonah in the smoggy, dark Nanjing night.

(Pictured above: Joan with Arthur Keng in SF Playhouse’s 2008 production of
Mrs. Bob Cratchit’s Wild Christmas Binge.)

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