Clowning for Storytellers – A Masterclass with Fred Versonnen

Posted: June 14th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

Coming up on the 14th July, Beeston Tales is bringing you the next in its program of masterclasses for storytellers. Internationally acclaimed performer Fred Versonnen is stopping off with us as he travels from Belgium to The Festival at the Edge.

Clowning is a beautiful way of making connections. Connections with your audience, connections with parts of yourself you don’t always talk to. Fred has a lively and colourful background as a street performer, jester, stilt walker, fire crasher, clown, juggler and storyteller. He currently teaches at Circus School and spent many years working in Children’s Hospitals. In this workshop he’ll introduce storytellers to some useful clowning techniques and games. Learn to be fully present. Learn to embrace judgement and vulnerability. And who knows, maybe you’ll learn how to make someone laugh!

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This workshop is taking place upstairs at The White Lion Bar and Kitchen. Turn up at 10:30 for an 11.00 start. Wear loose clothing. Expected end time is 16:30. This workshop will cost £35 and includes lunch provided by The White Lion. Please let us know of any dietary requirements when you book. Book by sending a cheque to Mike, by emailing us to confirm details or via the paypal link below that says Book Now.





Perhaps you’re not convinced of the link between clowning and storytelling? Read this personal account by Simon Sylvester who attended one of Fred’s workshops several years ago in Brigsteer.

“Last month, at Dreamfired, I saw storyteller Fred Versonnen perform the amazing Elephant Story. The next morning, I attended his clowning workshop in Arnside. This had almost nothing to do with the stereotypical idea of clowning – no silly noses, no silly shoes – and was essentially a 101 on delivery, performance and body language.

Fred warned us at the start of the session that it might take us to some uncomfortable places. I didn’t believe him, but he was right. It’s taken me this entire month to process some of the things that happened in that class. I’m not sure I’ll ever totally get to grips with it, but at the same time, I no longer think I need to. I just wanted to record a few thoughts on what clowning means to me.

I’m not going to talk about the specific activities Fred led us through. They were plentiful, varied, invigorating, intense and brilliantly useful, but they will mean different things to each person who attended, and I don’t feel the need to dissect the actual workshop. I want to talk about what I learned.

I learned that I’m frightened of embarrassment. Most of us are, probably. During the workshop, we performed tasks specifically designed to undermine dignity and strip away the topmost layers of self-respect. I found myself trying to rationalise the embarrassment by imposing a narrative upon it, but every time, Fred forced me to confront it.

‘For a clown, embarrassment is a gift,’ he said.

In this way, I learned that clowns are truly fearless.

I also learned to wait.

In a world consumed with noise and signals, the clown is silent. She waits, absorbing everything, and then she waits some more, until the wait itself becomes excruciating – until the pause itself becomes the embarrassment – and then she responds. In that pause, the clown is naked. Every part of her is laid open for the world to see. The clown waits long enough for the audience to connect, to project their own feelings onto the situation, to drown in empathy, to cringe in anticipation. Every part of them is laid wide open. This is the tragedy of the clown, and the triumph. It has nothing to do with face paint or comedy trousers. Laurel and Hardy are clowns, and Pennywise is not.

I couldn’t live that way, but I’m trying to bring some of it into in my own readings. At the Flashtag story slam, I made myself pause, and wait, then wait some more. I took a stupid hat onstage for my final story, and I forced myself to wear it. I tried to share anticipation of what was coming next with the audience. It was, without a doubt, the happiest I’ve ever been with my performance – the best I’ve ever read my stories. For everything I learned, I’m not sure I’ll ever know how to apply it properly. But I think I understand, now, that not knowing is itself part of clowning. It is Zen – pure action, without thought. I think too much.

At the start of this post, I said that the workshop had nothing to do with silly noses. That isn’t entirely true. At the very start of the session, as people were still arriving, we gathered in the kitchen to wait. Fred began to ransack the drawers, looking for props to use in the workshop. He found an orange ping pong ball. In a single, fluid motion, he spun to face me, bringing the ball to his nose, and he grinned. Just as quickly, he replaced the ball and closed the drawer. But in that second, or half a second, he’d become a clown. His face changed, his body changed – with the sheer, magnificent, wondrous joy of finding a ping pong ball in a kitchen drawer.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to articulate what happened in that workshop. I don’t need to articulate it, of course, but I want to; and that is why I will never be a true clown. A clown wouldn’t need to analyse it, because they wouldn’t be scared of it. A clown would simply shrug, smile, and turn to embrace the vastness of this mad, sad, glorious thing that we call life.”

£35. The White Lion Bar, Beeston. 10:30 until 16:30. 14 July 2016. What more do you need to know? Confirm your place below:






Reflections on Autumn, LeftLion reviews and Day of the Dead

Posted: December 24th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Hi there! A quick update on some of the things that have been happening this past Autumn.

My new storytelling club, Beeston Tales, is thriving. Matt Turpin came along to check out a recent show and has written a wonderful review for LeftLion.

“simple tales… ..are told luxuriantly, the beat and cadence of the teller’s lines giving prose poetry. There is a hypnotic feel to the tales: you’re back round that prehistoric campfire again, rapt.”

Read the full review here.

Mike Payton and I were involved in the British Museum’s “Day of the Dead” exhibition. It was a fantastic day in a remarkable venue.

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Click in for a larger image. Big thanks to Benedict Johnson for the pictures.

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Lastly, I realise how long it’s been since I’ve managed to get out my podcast. That’s a big shame, and I suspect that The Room Behind the Bookcase will feature in a New Year’s resolution for 2016!

Solstice Blessings and all the best as we close 2015 and start the new year.


The Room Behind the Bookcase ~ Episode 6 ~ Out of the Silence

Posted: June 29th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Podcast | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

Click here to listen!

Or subscribe with Feedburner.

In this podcast I interview Simon Heywood about the stories of World War 1 conscientious objectors and his show Out of The Silence.

The intro music was from Hymir’s Maidens used you as a trough by Prometheus Project. Outro music was sung by Shonaleigh.


Beeston Tales

Posted: April 9th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Blog | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

Hi there! This is a little post about Beeston Tales, a monthly storytelling night that meets in the upstairs room of The White Lion. It is a club dedicated to the vibrant and ancient art of storytelling. Hosted by Tim Ralphs and Mike Payton the club features themed nights, showcases up and coming local tellers, invites renowned guests from around the world, includes musical spots and much more.

There is a hypnotic feel to the tales: you’re back round that prehistoric campfire again, rapt.
– Matt Turpin, LeftLion. (Read full review.)

Your hosts Tim and Mike

You can get cheap advance tickets here or from The White itself. You can also contact The White Lion about a special “tapas and tales” ticket which gets you a meal with your evening of storytelling. The “Tales and Tapas” ticket is only available directly from The White Lion. Note that there’s free parking at The White Lion as long as you’re a customer, but it can be in short supply!

Our storytelling events start at 7.30pm. You can buy tickets on the door for £6, or get them here now for only £5. Here’s what’s coming up soon:

14th June ~ “Enid and Geraint” ~ Cath Little

Resonant story, beautifully and simply told. Cambridge Storytelling Club

The sublime Cath Little brings you an enchanting retelling of this old British wonder tale from the Court of Arthur and Gwenhwyfar at Caerleon.