A WEEK IN THE LIFE... AT CELEBRATION BARN (MAINE)



MONDAY 7th AUGUST

I’ve arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine and there are a lot of old people and people in full colour matching outfits. Accidentally called “fries” “hot chips” but the lady told me it was okay, I was from a completely different world. It kinda feels like it here!

Jim picks me up, he’s a lovely man from South Paris who grew up on a farm and has a wife and adult children who you can tell he loves very much, and via a trip to the bus stop to pick up fellow student Suzen, (who I have since googled and um sorry what Suzen?! You didn’t tell me you were in A CHORUS LINE ON BROADWAY!!!!!!) we drove 60 or so minutes to Celebration Barn.

My name is still incredibly difficult to pronounce apparently. In LA they thought I was saying “jizz” and here they think it’s “Jase.”

Have had one minor freak out in my cabin when I realised I am in the middle of nowhere, I don’t know anyone, and there are animals that want to kill me here. Not even kidding. Ticks, raccoons, skunks, bears, coyotes...

Dangerous human eating animals aside, over dinner and throughout the orientation of The Barn you can immediately tell everyone is going to end up loving each other.

TUESDAY 8th AUGUST


The Barn has a very good vibe. It is 100% not haunted. Thank god! It had the potential to be very, very bad. But it’s been around for about 45 years as a space for idiots to play and create. If walls could talk, huh.

“PS This is fucking amazing here.” - A message to my Mum

“Good try. But this is not very good. Sit down.” - A mild Aitor in his natural environment

We played a lot of games with hidden meanings. Aitor is good at that. You play a game, thinking you’re just playing a game, and then BAM. Hidden meaning about clown technique. For example, when you fuck up in the game, look at your laughs! Don’t get all embarrassed and look to the floor or cover your face. You need these laughs. These laughs will fuel you. And as it turns out, all clowns ever do on stage is play games. I know right! This guy…! Aitor’s not just a pretty face.

Lunch was really good. I got to make a gluten free sandwich. A very rare occasion that deserves to be celebrated!!!

In my notes I wrote, “Toby said “I’m not funny” and now he’s found it!” ... I don’t know who Toby is, or was, or what Toby does, or how Toby came up in conversation but how wonderful that he has found his funny!

Basically, the overall message during this workshop is that you need to risk being bad. You will flop, but you gotta own the shit outta that flop. Say sorry. Get more laughs. Move on. You need to reevaluate your relationship with being bad.

Dinner happens and a group is already going to present a number after dinner. (So soon!!!!! But, like, yeah, okay, I guess that is exactly why we came here. I can’t expect to be babied my whole life haha) Aitor suggests we bring a whiskey to the evening class/showings... I like him. I’ve swapped kitchen duties so Richie’s group has a bit more time to prepare something to show. When I say a bit more time though I mean like 30 minutes. Time is something we seriously lack around the Barn.

I’ve found a group to be in though! The old self esteem issues were creeping into my brain and I was low key stressed no one would want to perform with me. But luckily, while mopping the kitchen floor, Shoshana and Ilyssa decided to let me into their clown group, and the messy clown trio was born.

We don’t know what we’re going to present yet but all we know and have agreed on is that we want to make a mess.

WE NEED MORE COFFEE HERE AT THE BARN! There is not enough to keep us awake and alive! AND ALSO THE TWINS NEED MORE MILK. So Richie and I drive 15 minutes to the closest supermarket after the evening class to find that Hannaford’s is closed. We were one minute late and even though we did our best ignorant sad faces at the door noone cared and noones let us buy coffee or milk for the twins.

I’ll leave you with today’s wee gem of a quote...

“You can do anything you fucking want as long as you make us laugh.” - Aitor

WEDNESDAY 9th AUGUST


I got really cocky in my flat messenger group chat yesterday afternoon that some people had cried on Day One and I didn’t and so today I cried. Karma baby!

Personal notes for me were, “trust that people like you. You think people don’t like you. They do. It is enough to just be you up there. You have so much pleasure. Just be you.”

Those good old self esteem troubles seem to have found their way into my clowning! Disgusting! GTFO!

It’s our turn to present a number this evening. We eat dinner in record time of 10 minutes and drive to the supermarket to get our props. We create the clown number in the Hannaford Supermarket in South Paris amongst weird looks and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’re going to be 3 clowns making a birthday cake for someone in the audience. What could possibly go wrong for them?

The laughter you receive from your peers during a clown workshop in my opinion is so much more special than any general public audience member ever. These people have been living and breathing funny things for a long time. They know the techniques and they’re looking at the work with a much more critical eye. So when everyone laughed tonight I felt on top of the world. That’s why I do what I do. Those laughs outweigh all of the flops.

We have a lot of work to do, but our number has legs and we can’t wait to do it and actually make a real mess next time!!

Today was the first day we realised we had been working and clowning and being idiots for 13 hours. And Shoshana and Ilyssa have to learn New Zealand accents tonight!

THURSDAY 10th AUGUST


Up even earlier this morning to rush to the supermarket at 7.45AM to get more eggs for a bit in our number. We end up with 52 eggs or something and the plan is to continue passing them to each other one by one until it’s not funny anymore. I also need more coffee so it’s a good morning to go. Shoshana and Ilyssa bring me so much joy. I love being around them!

I got into a routine really quickly here. Wake up, shower, eat breakfast, do yoga, 9:30am morning class, pee pee break, eat some sugar, more clowning, 12:30pm lunch, 2pm more clowning, 4pm have some coffee, 6pm dinner, 20 minutes to stress, 8pm presentation of numbers with a cider, 10pm finish, 2 hours to wind down and work on your stuff for tomorrow, in bed hopefully before 1am.

Doing yoga every morning, even if it was only for 10 minutes, has been the only thing keeping me sane I think!

Yesterday as I was blasting Dear Evan Hansen through my earphones while chanting in my head “you can DO THIS Jess. You can fucking DO THIS!” I thought I really just need a good old fashioned dance party to shake all this excessive energy out of my body. And wtf you guys, I’m seriously I’m a freaking pyscic! The afternoon consists of a game called “Aitor! Stop the music!” where we dance and play and when we feel like it we stop the music to create a big scene. When it gets boring we start a new song and carry on.

(I’m actually still in a bit of shock that Anne Fay had never heard “Let It Go” to be honest…..!)

We have costumes today! I was up until 1:30AM last night searching for the perfect costume only to realise that absolutely nothing was funny anymore and I had a mini existential crisis.

Almost imeeeeeediately I go back to old shitty habits and play the costume rather than just be my clown in a funny costume in the morning’s class. There’s probably a physcological reason behind this like 3 years at drama school or my overactive 6th chakra, but I don’t have time to analyse, I just gotta stop doing it!

After dinner I am so incredibly jealous of Chris getting to work with Aitor for an hour in the evening on his solo number. I’m jealous and inspired and very motivated to create a solo to present tomorrow. Maybe it’s the two ciders I’ve had and the whiskey Aitor has had but we both think me doing a song clown number is an excellent idea and I’m left with 3 hours to create something before going completely loopy and passing out.

There’s a good crew of night owls here at the Barn though so there’s always a cheerleader and a brain to throw ideas around with til at least 12:30AM.

FRIDAY 11th AUGUST


THE DREADED DAY FOUR. Aitor has talked up the Infamous Dreaded Day Four for four days now and it’s finally here. If you’re gonna be shit and flop like you’ve never flopped before it’s gonna be today. It’s a beautiful tactic to get you to strap in and give it your all today because if you flop you can just blame it on the nasty day four syndrome! You really have nothing to lose.

I’m trying really hard to put myself out there and throw myself head first into the games and exercises today. I’ve been taking it pretty easy when it comes to getting up on the floor and last night I had this realisation and was like NO! THAT IS NOT OKAY JESS! So I’m trying hard to just get up and play all the time today.

And then I go full diva at lunch. I’m in the worst mood ever. I’m stomping around the place and sulking like the only child I am. I’m in one of those moods though where I want everyone to know I’m in a bad mood and ask me what’s up. Finally Aitor notices and I have a big rant about how I’m just so tired and had to do kitchen duty today and it was lobster for lunch and it smells disgusting and I had to clean it all up and there’s no time to do anything anymore and I am so happy but so grumpy and I really miss potatoes like I just want to eat potatoes I don’t even care what kind of potatoes as long as they are potatoes.

It’s like the Universe took pity on me and answered my prayers. Tonight for dinner was vegetarian Shephard’s Pie and I think I died of happiness and came back to life to then do another 2 hours of clowning in the evening.

Overall the Dreaded Day Four wasn’t all that bad and I had a moment of huge personal relfection this afternoon. Mainly with how far I have come physically, mentally and emotionally in the past few years, and how proud I am of this journey and how wonderful it feels to be finally doing something that brings me the most joy I’ve ever felt. I feel like a real clown today.

Oh and my solo went great! Had no time to work on it so presented it in the must raw state imaginable but came away with greats notes and ideas and am looking forward to making it into a proper thing.

SATURDAY 12th AUGUST


It’s the last day of the workshop. I’m gonna miss this place and these people. There’s a real sense of whanau around here. I feel incredibly supported.

We present our trio number again in the morning and actually make a full blown mess this time. We lick whipped cream of each other’s faces. We have sprinkles and flour and raw egg all over our hands and faces. There are 52 eggs on the floor. It’s so much fun and I have the bestest time ever and I hope we get to do it again. Ilyssa cries of happiness. It’s one of those kind of days.

And... It’s all over. I’m so exhausted and so happy and my heart is filled with so much joy.

There are stuffed peppers for dinner tonight. Hahaha…. Alex…..

We have to drink all of our alcohol before the liquor licencing laws change as The Barn because a functioning theater. (Lol, when in Rome and all that, spell like the Romans do) so that’s a lot of fun. Everyone has gona a little bit mad.

We get to watch Rob Torres’ solo clown show during the public performance tonight.

Jarrod makes a fire.

People say nice things to me.

I’m a bit drunk on cider and whiskey.

There’s a big spider in the toilet (at least it waited until the last day to show it’s face. That was very kind of it.)

I drunk pack.

I get two hours and 16 minutes sleep.

Goodbye Celebration Barn.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.



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© 2017 by Jess Brien