Stephen is now proud to play a clown
So who's laughing now?
By Reuben Abraham
Young people with learning difficulties are learning the art of clowning as part of an unusual project in Gateshead.
Ask any person with learning disabilities if he or she has ever been laughed at and the answer is generally in the affirmative.
Being laughed at, either at school or on the street, becomes so much part of their psyche that they have to learn how to protect themselves.
Now in Gateshead, in an experiment akin to reverse engineering, a group of individuals with learning disabilities are being taught how to make people laugh at them.
Paddy and Stephen peform as clowns
Well-known comedian Paddy O'Connor has been instrumental in setting up the Fools Ensemble with the group, and has been teaching them the art and skill of clowning on stage.
By teaching them how to build stories, take on characters and evince mighty guffaws from a crowd, Paddy has shown them how to take the sting out of laughter. And, in fact, even control it to their own advantage.
"I think they are so used to being laughed at," explains Paddy, "that they have fewer barriers to learn how to make people laugh. You may call someone a clown for being clumsy, but these very mistakes are a delight in the art of clowning."
The group has been so successful that they have been getting offers from several theatre companies to perform across the country.
Stephen Nichols is one of the youngest participants in this project. To be a trained clown is a matter of great pride for him.
"I used to get laughed at on the street, but now when people see me perform on stage, they laugh for all the right reasons," he says. His new-found stage talent has shocked everybody, including his family.
last updated: 01/09/2008 at 16:57