Ha! Ha! Said the Clown

Lynne Booker July 2013

Personal development comes in many guises but arguably one of the most challenging for any individual is to learn to be a clown. To volunteer to participate in a three month course in clowning is one of the bravest things we may imagine. At first sight, our volunteer clown Jan van der Stoep appears to be one of life´s more serious people, and he explained that a clown puts his vulnerability on the line all the time. The funniest clowns are those who share their own personal weaknesses and clumsiness and can respond immediately to the audience´s reactions and so a clown fails for the second time when and if his audience does not laugh. No wonder clowns are often depressives.

Jan van der Stoep
Jan van der Stoep

Jan was one of 18 people of 11 nationalities who participated over three months in the clowning workshop on the island of Ibiza. We could learn to understand ourselves through our failures or successes at clowning, said Jan. Our course leader used a psychological approach to assess our personal weaknesses and our potential to create laughter.

Jan was born in Middelharnis near Rotterdam in The Netherlands. He studied spatial economy at Rotterdam´s Erasmus University under Professor Peter R Odell (a Manx geographer). Having taken his Master´s degree, Jan worked in Rotterdam as Regional Development Officer for three provinces. Determined to work for himself, in 2001 he set up his own business as Adviser to Regional Government on spatial development and environmental planning, only to find that running his own business left little time for his main leisure pursuits.

In 2009 life took a different turn when Jan and new partner Dorine left the Netherlands in a campervan with the dream of living in Spain. From having a business, a beautiful home and his children and grandchildren living nearby, Jan together with his new partner set out to build a new and different life together. They took with them only what they could fit in their superannuated campervan. Together they learned Spanish as they dreamed of their own Spanish finca where Dorine could hold art courses and run a project in sustainable tourism. Never having considered Portugal as a place to live, all their plans were focussed on Spain where they house sat for friends here and there. Fate took a hand when they accepted the opportunity to look after a house here in the Algarve.

Jan with his partner Dorine
Jan with his partner Dorine

Finding in the hills above Tavira the peace he needed to write, Jan fell in love with a small village in the valley of the Ribeira do Alportel. In order to give themselves time to make a firm and Portuguese decision, Jan and Dorine travelled further in Iberia and then for a whole summer in Scandinavia: Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Norway, right up to the North Cape and the Russian border. They had time to think and concluded that they wanted to be in the Algarve, and in May 2012 found a home to rent in the Sotovento.

When considering their life together, Jan had confessed to Dorine that his greatest wishes for the future were to sculpt and to write. And he had now discovered the peace in the Algarve where he could achieve his aims and move on to the next stage of his life. His technique with sculpting is to work the stone not knowing beforehand what he is about to create until something evolves. It is amazing to touch something in my subconscious that I could relate to and then transpose the idea into something material. It is the same with my writing because when I sit down I don´t know what I am going to write about. Jan does not write on a computer. When the mood comes upon him, he sits at a table with old fashioned pen and ink because they help him to achieve his flow. He starts with the first sentence and the storylines and characters evolve. It is a great adventure because even I don´t know what is going to happen. Although Jan does not know the themes of his books before he begins to write, we can disclose that his stories describe the vicissitudes of life, the people you might meet and the difference between who you imagine they are and who they are in reality.

He has now written a number of short stories and two books. The first book was called Wilde Rozen (Wild Roses) and the second is Het Beeld (The Image) published earlier this year. Jan and Dorine were in Holland for the launch and she admits to a few tears of pride at his success.

When I first performed as a clown, no one laughed and I learned that I was trying too hard. I learned that I could not expect to control everything in my life and there was no need to be ashamed of failure. The key is to show your real self, your weaknesses and failures. This is how the clown raises his laughs, but he must also respond instantly to the mood of the audience. He must welcome each surprise and take it in his stride and build on it. Over the past five years, Jan´s life has taken a completely new twist. Inside he is a clown who can make people laugh and who can laugh at himself. He has nothing to fear from what life has in store.

Related to these ideas, Het Beeld tells the story of Margo and Bas. Margo is a talented sculptress who produces a masterpiece, a sculpture of herself. Feeling that she can never produce any better work, she decides to finish with sculpture for good. Bas buys the sculpture, and when Margo delivers the piece to him, he falls head over heels for her, and after a night of love, she disappears. He searches desperately for her and after three months, she agrees to meet him only to inform him that she is pregnant. He reacts angrily at being manipulated, and in his anger he is involved in a fatal accident. Incarcerated for two years he hears in prison that his child is a daughter. Seeking to forget, he wanders through France and Iberia doing voluntary work and by chance in Bilbao eighteen years later, he sees advertised an exhibition of Margo´s work in the Guggenheim Museum, and his old longings to see Margo and to meet his daughter are reborn ....

For more information about Jan´s books (in Dutch) see www.JanvdStoep.nl


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