clowning around Dartmouth

I had a delightful visit with Dr. Laura Edmondson’s Theatre History class in late February to demonstrate mask work and how the tools of commedia dell’arte can serve us as theatre makers today.  I was joined in the masks by a couple of Laura’s fearless students, Holden and Ellie. Enjoy!



masked again, at last!

Leslie Pasternack demonstrates mask technique with her character Stupino.

In August I was honored to give a workshop to theatre KAPOW, a superb company of NH theatre artists who bring both classic and new plays to life, and also generate original material through communal devising.  Each summer they have a retreat in which they bring in specialists to explore particular performance techniques, and this year I was asked to lead a workshop in mask.  Company founders Matt and Carey Cahoon, along with company member and Board President Peter Josephson and others donned hats, scarves and half-masks of my own construction to improvise solo and duo turns in the beautiful converted barn that serves as their retreat studio. We had a marvelous two hours together creating new characters and exploring the technical challenges and surprising freedoms that come when you work in mask.

tKAPOW has worked in mask in the past and plans to incorporate masks in several ways throughout this year’s season.  Check out their 2017-18 lineup here.  And scroll down for pictures of the tKAPOW players (plus Peter’s dog, Henry) in mask:

Peter Josephson and Matt Cahoon

Rachael Longo and Henry the Dog

Carey Cahoon

Matt Cahoon

Cranky Peter!

Amy Agostino




new workshop to debut May 21!


Last fall I shared with you my work exploring the connections between Yoga and Clown. I was working with Giving Tree Wellness in Haverhill to bring a workshop there. Well, it didn’t quite pan out due to Holiday Madness! But I have found a home for the debut of Finding Mindfulness Through Clown at my dear friend Nancy Garnhart’s studio, Yoga in ME.

The workshop will happen on May 21 from 1-4 and all proceeds will benefit HAVEN. To learn more or sign up, click here. And I have great hope that I will bring the workshop to Giving Tree at some point in the near future.

Here’s a video Nancy shot after our “preview” of the workshop of me discussing Clown. That’s probably enough hyperlinks for one post, so I’ll wish you happy springtime for now.


Rock, Paper, Scissors in 2016!

Happy New Year, everyone! 2015 was a time of sadness for my family, as we lost my mother Elaine in June after her long struggle with lung cancer. I am glad to say that I am picking up the threads of various projects I had put aside while I was caring for her and I hope to report on big doings in the coming year.

To start off, I will mention that Mindfulness Through Clown, which I announced in December, was postponed due to holiday madness. But I am actively developing this workshop with my colleague Nancy Garnhart of Yoga in ME and will let you know when it is ready to roll out.

In the meantime, my prison playwright mentee Keith has had a ten-minute play accepted to the Santa Cruz Actors’ Theatre’s 8 Tens Festival, which opened last weekend! I will be heading there next week to see Keith’s play myself, but the director has already sent me some pictures. Here are some production photos of Rock, Paper, Scissors, written by Keith Sanders, directed by Evan Hunt, produced by Wilma Chandler, and photographed by Jana Marcus:

rock1 rock2 rock3


the yoga of clown

stupbw2-lowOne of my friendships that grew out of the MAKE SURE IT’S ME project is with Whitney Willman, whose professional work has focused lately on yoga instruction for veterans with various forms of trauma, including physical injury, TBI, and PTSD. Our discussions about using various complementary approaches to heal trauma let me to share with her my passion for European-style clowning. Unlike the Barnum & Bailey style which often focuses on the payoff of a funny gag, the clowning I pursue is about seeing the world freshly through the eyes of a pre-socialized creature. The clowns I unleash in classes and workshops have more in common with young dogs, toddlers, and people on the autism spectrum than with birthday party entertainers (or serial killers driving ice cream trucks in our paranoid fantasies).

Studying clown requires the performer to slow down their mind and look at or listen to or feel or smell one thing at a time. I mentioned autism because autistic people often feel sensory overload due to inability to prioritize which stimuli to attend to and which to ignore. A clown is similar: everything is fascinating and new to them and they may value a small piece of debris and a new person onstage in the same degree. They may also need to back off of a stimulus if things become too numerous or intense in their environment. These qualities help us to see the value of people and things in new ways and they also give clown its unique rhythm of notice/examine/share discovery with audience/then react. This is the same rhythm you often see with dogs or small children who might like the box a toy came in better than the toy, and who will also check in with their audience frequently for input on how to react. In clown performances, the audience has the rare delight of being included every few seconds, something that does not happen in fourth wall realism, which has dominated American and European stages (and screens) for the last hundred years or so. And the novelty with which a clown approaches things usually leads to marvelous discoveries: a metal flashlight can be deliciously cold against your cheek; the sounds of the street through the wall are like music and can be listened to for minutes at a time in rapt stillness; a potato masher and a laundry basket can play hide and seek together and the rules of this found game can become surprisingly complex yet completely legible to onlookers. (When teaching I usually leave off the list of sensory interactions “to taste,” not because clowns don’t want to taste things but because it’s wise to discourage students from putting random objects or people in their mouths in the studio, as elsewhere.)

After I described some of this to her, Whitney decided she wanted the chance to learn clown from me. So I’m creating a workshop called Mindfulness through Clown which will emphasize the clown qualities of presence in the moment, curiosity, lack of judgment, and access to joy. I’ll be rolling this out for the first time at Giving Tree Wellness and Yoga in Haverhill, MA, where Suzanne Borgioli will host us.  I’m handling registration, so you may email me at if you’d like to participate. Huge thanks to Suzanne and Whitney for this opportunity! I will report back after the workshop to share what happens.

Hello, 2014!

Phew, where did the end of 2013 go? Like many folks, I spent the holiday season rushing about between blizzards, visiting with family while dodging second and third helpings of dessert. Also, there’s the issue of a new, boisterous voice in the house:

But, in addition to such chaotic fun, I do have a few exciting theatre accomplishments and upcoming events to report.

My trip to the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts in Concord, MA reunited me with my former student Brian Boruta, who is now doing a marvelous job directing the Performing Arts department of this impressive organization. I performed CLEAN ROOM in the new “Downstage” space, and I also gave a three-hour workshop on Clowning to high schoolers. The workshop was a blast–what an intelligent and courageous group of young performers they were! I warmed them up with a few minutes of Brighina and Stupino, who laid out some basic concepts and got them talking and laughing. Then I just set the exercises in motion and watched the kids unfold. I love this work. . . you see brand new characters with physical mannerisms, postures, walks, and burbling sound tracks emerge in just minutes and then grow and refine themselves over the course of an hour or two as they interact with other creatures. It’s extremely empowering for actors of any age to discover that they don’t always need to be picked by a director to play a role written by a playwright in order to make theatre. All you need is your own self, no matter what physical shape you are in or how fluently you speak. And it allows us to let go of the pressure to look pretty or confident or sexy as we explore the more truthful realms of goofy and even grotesque. Love it! The kids seemed to really enjoy it, too, and they were courteous to me and each other. Kudos to Emerson Umbrella for inspiring such professional, joyful creativity in these young people.

So, that revived my love of workshop teaching and I hope 2014 will bring more of that! Stay tuned.

I rounded out 2013’s CLEAN ROOM work with a surprise invitation from Bill Humphreys to be interviewed by him for airing on Portsmouth Public Media TV, the local cable station for Portsmouth, NH. I brought my masks along and we had a fun and finely detailed conversation about acting, mask technique, and the process of devising CLEAN ROOM. That segment will air sometime soon, so again–stay tuned!

Lastly, MAKE SURE IT’S ME marches on in March, up to Concord, NH! The Brain Injury Association of NH is bringing ACT ONE’s traveling team to do a beefed-up version of our library presentation at the Red River Theatre on Wednesay, March 19th from 5-7 pm. The event will include a pre-show reception and talkback. Admission is free, but please register by visiting:

I have another MSIM opportunity in the works, and Steph Nugent and I have been hard at work crafting Festival 2014. So I look forward to sharing more news with you soon. Be well and stay cozy!



CLEAN ROOM moves to Mass!

Hello, friends! I hope you are keeping cozy as the cool weather sets in. Thanks again for all your support during my recent run of CLEAN ROOM at WEST in Portsmouth. Now I am preparing to bring the show a little bit south, to the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts in Concord, MA.

The Emerson Umbrella presents a wide variety of programming in the performing and visual arts. For theatre, they boast a lovely old-fashioned proscenium space where their performing arts director (a former student of mine, Brian Boruta) uses both traditional and on-stage seating configurations to mount everything from huge musicals to domestic dramas. But Brian decided he needed an additional venue to present quirky, edgy work that would benefit from a non-traditional, deeply intimate setting. So he rehabbed part of the basement of the Umbrella building into a venue he calls “Downstage.” It is perfect territory for the edgy–yet lovable–tales of Stupino and Brighina, so he’s asked them to help inaugurate this new venture.

So! If you missed CLEAN ROOM in Portsmouth and would like to see it . . .

Or if you’ve seen CLEAN ROOM but know someone who just MUST see it . . .

. . . Brighina and Stupino and I invite you to join us Downstage at the Emerson Umbrella on November 16th at 8 pm! Tickets are $15 and you can reserve yours by calling 978-371-0820 or visiting Seating is extremely limited, so do reserve your ticket if you plan to attend!

I will also be teaching a Clown workshop for teens on Saturday, November 16th from 2-5; call or visit the website to register your teen for this playful afternoon. See you in Massachusetts!

clown uproar at Gould Academy!

Today I write with the smells of Axe Body Spray and assorted fruity/floral concoctions still lingering in my mind and in my luggage. Last week, I spent five days at Gould Academy, in Bethel, Maine, teaching as part of their Sophomore Four Point program. This is an intensive mid-term week during which the sophomores work with professional artists, learning about their crafts, watching presentations, and building their own original art pieces. (The other classes at Gould do equally cool things off-campus during the Four Point program: the freshman go to China; the juniors go winter camping–heavy duty that far north!; and the seniors pursue individual internship experiences.)

When the Sophomore Four Point program was started, all the artists involved were painters or sculptors of some sort. But they have since added theatre and cooking to the schedule. New Hampshire Theatre Project sends one of their teaching artists to Gould every year, and this time around I was honored to represent NHTP. There were seven artists in residence for the week, and each student worked with two of them, for two days each. From my perspective, I spent two days with a group of seven kids, and then two days with a group of six. On the third evening, I presented my Mask work to the students, faculty, and staff. (Which was followed by a demonstration from the visiting chef on how to bone a chicken. A fitting combination of wackiness, I thought!) And on the final evening, at a banquet where the art work was displayed all around the dining hall, the acting students and I presented a show that featured improv games, clowns and mask characters. I was incredibly proud of the students’ work–they each spent nine hours over two days with a huge array of new ideas I had thrown at them. And they came up with some great characters! They were extremely nervous about sharing their “weird” work with their peers, teachers, and parents, but once the spotlight was on them, they hammed it up in fine style. Two particular standouts were a boy named Reed, who had turned a droopy-faced mask into a version of Henry Fonda’s character from On Golden Pond; and Ke, a Chinese basketball player whose clown character used the words “Whoa!” and “Oh, yeah,” to hold an entire conversation with two girls. He managed to win the hearts of both girl characters by the end of the scene, with the whole audience cheering him on.

So! My work at Gould is done! Back to the director’s chair–and I’m also beginning work as a Red Cross volunteer in the Services to the Armed Forces program this week. Stay tuned!

Brighina, Stupino, and Punch rocked Fayetteville!

Had a great weekend in Fayetteville, NC, where I went to visit my friend Dr. Michael Martin, the director of Choral Activities and Music Education at Methodist University. I had met him a few years back through my work as a presentation coach and choreographer for barbershop choirs (thanks to Dr. Bill Adams and the Austin Chord Rangers for bringing me into the barbershop world!). (If you want a nice mental picture, think of me in Austin, TX in the late 90s developing a dance routine for fifty men, aged 16-90, to spice up their rousing rendition of “Rubber Ducky.”)

Well, Michael liked my teaching style, and he was intrigued by the idea of my mask work. But he’d never seen it. He took a leap of faith and secured funding to bring me to Methodist to give a lecture/demonstration for the public on commedia dell’arte and mask performance. Then he asked arranged a workshop for the Music and Theatre majors on physical theatre. So, that’s what I did! Friday night was the lecture/demo, during which I brought out my masks to illustrate the history of commedia, as well as where I’m going with it in my present work. I can confidently say that Brighina, Stupino, and Punch rocked the house! On Saturday morning, we had about 30 majors all strutting and slouching around, creating original characters from the ground up. Enormous fun–plus, I got to visit with Michael and his family, and learn a little bit about Fayetteville. Next up: Gould Academy in Bethel, ME in two weeks!