Singing, Clowning and Freddie Mercury

Last week’s rehearsal was cancelled due to a series of really tedious viruses decimating The Pop-Up members – we’re back on for the summer term next Tuesday, and in the meantime everyone is having a much-deserved break. 

Natasha Bergg, one of our glamorous Alto 1s, went to a Clowning For Musicians workshop last week and has written up a lovely report about it. Over to you Natasha!

Freddie: supercharged energy (Picture courtesy of Queen Productions)
Freddie: supercharged energy (Picture courtesy of Queen Productions)

You’re on stage with your rock band in front of thousands of people, about to sing yet another song in a gruellingly long set. Do you:

a) have a little rest

b) smash something up

c) engage the crowd in a vocally challenging, operatic-style call and response exercise

Well c), obviously, if you’re Freddie Mercury.

I think I’m safe in saying that this is fairly unusual though.

Last weekend, Rebecca and I, both Alto 1s in The Pop-Up Choir, took part in a ‘Clowning for Musicians’ workshop with the excellent All In Theatre, who run regular clowning-themed workshops, musical and otherwise, across London and beyond.

If juggling and red noses immediately come to mind, I’m not surprised, but this was something different. A very simple form of clowning, as workshopped by All In and heavily influenced by directors such as Philippe Gaulier and John Wright, is sometimes about being funny – but also about getting your body and brain into a certain state to connect playfully, openly and honestly with an audience.

I’ve already found clowning useful in the drama-led workshops I run with young people – in terms of quickly building up a rapport and connection with participants – and I was interested to see how I could transpose that into singing with a choir or as a solo singer. For me, performing as a singer, violinist and pianist has always been about adopting a persona and, as a result, I’m not as relaxed, natural or confident as I could be.

After warm-ups to release tension and work around building trust within the group, helping us to feel able to be vulnerable in front of everyone else (and, shock horror, enjoy it) and establishing and maintaining a connection with an audience without ‘trying to be funny’ or adopting a character, the final exercise of the day saw Rebecca and me running into a space in front of our audience, wordlessly deciding who would sing first and then each performing a song in short bursts, going from frantic whispering to singing.

Yes, it was a bit weird. But here’s the magic behind it: Stephen Sobal, All In’s Founder and workshop director, wanted us to use the same supercharged, playful energy in our singing that we had built up during exercises we’d worked on during the day and that we had brought to running on to the stage. I think my favourite moment of the workshop came when Rebecca and I ran into the space and stood, looking at each other, smiling and playing in the space that had been created by no-one knowing what would happen next. Simple, but magic.

So the question for me is, can I bring that fresh energy, brought about by a ‘no-one knows what’s going to happen next’ feeling, to songs I’ve sung with the same people many times before and deliver a supercharged performance?

I think I know what Freddie would say…

Published by Kat


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