The Clown and the Institution

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis analyses my own clown practices in a range of projects between 1978 and 2010, placing them in relationship to the practices of a number of other clown practitioners. It contextualises the ways in which the figure of the contemporary clown is enmeshed within the practices of various institutions in which clowns find themselves. Thus it is my contention that both the clown and the institution are best analysed through the analysis of their actual practices. The core argument of this thesis is that the clown plays with and subverts the rules and indices of the institution through parody and burlesque. However the clown does this from a position of marginality and may be subject to disciplining by the institution.

I recognise, however, that the destructured nature of clown practice, does not sit easily in a structured, linear thesis. To mirror the failures, flops and play of the clown, a clown voice, who by extension is Richard, is dialogically intertwined with the so-called academic voice in number of ways – a short story, notes for a performance, anecdotes, and asides (as footnotes), plus the occasional playful comment in the text itself.

This thesis draws upon recent and current debates concerning practice based research, developing Melissa Trimingham’s ‘hermeneutic – interpretative’ method (2002), as a focus for my own creative practice. Tracing the threads of my own practice constitutes a ‘genealogy’ (Foucault 1979) of the contemporary clown, which divides into roughly two parts - from 1978 – 2000 when I worked professionally as a clown, and from 2000-2010 when I became a lecturer in an institution, the University of Winchester. The threads of my practice are loosely knotted together (but always liable to unravel), when I analyse a recent and developing clown role, which I call the ‘dramaturg clown’.

The thesis contributes to the field of studies of popular forms in performance, specifically developing the range of studies of the clown, and the different arenas in which the clown works. It also engages with the ways and contributes to debates around the ways in which clown practices are merging with other contemporary performance disciplines, including site-based performance, walking as a performance practice, and live art practices.
Date of Award11 Feb 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorTim Prentki (Supervisor) & Rob Conkie (Supervisor)

Cite this

The Clown and the Institution
Cuming, R. (Author). 11 Feb 2011

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis