Holly Stoppit’s Autumn Workshops 2017

Aug 14 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Paul Blakemore

We're delighted to announce our Autumn Workshop programme for your delectation!!!

This term we're offering:

4 x Introduction To Clowning Weekends

2  x Inner Critic Inquiries

1 x 10 week Clown to Performance course

And a partridge in a pear tree.

We hope we've got something for you. Have a read below to find out more. 


1.) Introduction to Clowning Weekends

This is a 2-day foundation, which gently immerses you into Holly Stoppit’s world. If you like it there, there’s plenty more training to be had afterwards in the form of summer schools and weekly courses.

Read all about Introduction To Clowning here.

Holly will be offering an Introduction To Clowning Weekend every month this autumn:

 9 & 10 September Facebook page 

28 & 29 October. Facebook page

11 & 12 November. Facebook page

2 & 3 December. Facebook page 


2.) 8-week Inner Critic Inquiry, daytimes or evenings

Are you plagued by self-doubt, riddled with self-consciousness, fearful of putting yourself  / your work out there? Do you feel like your choices and your potential are limited? Would you like to feel braver and able to take more risks in creativity, work, love and life? Then this is the course for you!

This popular course will help you release the grip of your inner critic, through drama, writing and art. 

Read more about The Inner Critic Inquiry here.

Courses start Thursday 18 October.

Thursday daytimes, 2.30-5pm.

See the Facebook page or go straight to the application form.

Thursday evenings, 7-9.30pm.

See the Facebook page or go straight to the application form.


3.) 10-week Clown to Performance course

This 10-week course builds on Holly’s Introduction to Clowning Weekend. ***You need to have completed Holly's Introduction To Clowning to get onto this one***

We'll playfully bring the group together in a full weekend workshop, before launching into 10 weeks of play and learning. Each week, we'll drop deeper into the state of clown, exploring ever riskier realms of authentic interactive improvisation. The course culminates in a clown show at The Wardrobe Theatre and a guided reflection session to extract your learning.

Read more about this course here.

• Primer weekend: Saturday 16 & Sunday 17 September, 10am-6pm

•10 week course: Tuesdays, 7-9.30pm, starting 19 September

• Performance at the Wardrobe Theatre: Sunday 19 November

• Final reflection & debriefing: Tuesday 21 November, 7-9.30pm

Further info on Facebook

or go direct to Application Form.


What actually happens in a fooling workshop?

Aug 03 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Paul Blakemore

People often ask me this question and it’s a bit hard to answer in a sentence, so I gave myself the task of writing about it, in no more than 5 points. Here's some of the things that happen at my 5 day Fools School.

1.) Building Trust Together Through Play And Sharing

I’ve recently discovered Brene Brown’s useful trust-building acronym, BRAVING (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-judgment, Generosity). This simple list of trust-building prompts could also describe the underlying group process that happens throughout my workshops. 

Boundaries- We establish and maintain healthy boundaries so that everyone feels safe enough to let themselves be seen and heard.

Reliability- We show up for ourselves and each other. We stay. We accompany each other through joy, sorrow and discomfort whilst also taking care of ourselves.

Accountability- Using non-violent communication techniques, we are able to discus when we’ve made mistakes, to own our mistakes and acknowledge the impact we have on each other.

Vault- We agree to hold each others stories in confidentiality, so that we are all free to explore and express.

Integrity- We can feel free to speak our truth within the boundaries that protect us all from harm.

Non-judgement- We use mindful language techniques to keep the space free of judgement. For instance, we use a positive feedback model to make sure that we are feeding each other as opposed to criticising each other throughout the week. 

Generosity- Lovingkindness (Metta) is woven in throughout the course, the metta bhavna meditation inspires kindness and compassion towards ourselves and each other. 

All these factors help to maintain a safe space where we can take risks to be seen and heard.

You can look up Brene Brown's TED talk here.

2.) Invoking The Archetype Of The Fool

“In the tarot the Fool is portrayed wandering in the sunshine with a knapsack and his little dog, seemingly without  a care in the world and with no particular place to go. And he is about to step off a cliff! Perhaps the Fools knows he will go over the cliff but continues to smile because he also knows he will never hit bottom. Maybe the Fool understands that he, the cliff and the bottom are all illusions.” Wes "Scoop" Nisker, Crazy Wisdom.

The Fool carries the value of 0 in the tarot deck, putting him outside order and hierarchy, this is what gives him his power. You’ll find the Fool in the modern card deck, you’ll know him as the joker. Jokers are used in some card games taking on whichever value you choose, this is the power of the Fool. He can appear as a King or a peasant, choosing the form (or mask) that most enables his truth to be heard.

We invoke the archetype of The Fool by embodying our masks.

3.) Embodying Our Masks

“By giving each figure its voice, we let the soul speak and show itself as it as, not as we wish it would be.” Thomas Moore, Care Of The Soul

During the course, we explore many different ways of finding and embodying our masks. ‘Masks’ can mean roles we play in life e.g mother, teacher, singer. ’Masks’ can also mean ways in which we relate to certain people / in certain situations e.g shy one, party host, the judge, the cheerleader. ‘Masks’ can also mean archetypal characters that everyone recognises e.g The Innocent, The Hero, The Sage. These are the masks that Carl Jung described as belonging to the collective unconscious, which everyone, everywhere in the world can access through dreams, myths and stories. 

We find all these masks by noticing our natural impulses and turning them up. We might start with a physical gesture, a feeling or a thought and by giving it our full attention, we allow it to become a living, breathing, full body mask.

Through embodying our familiar masks, we gain a sense of playfulness and freedom around the masks we play in life. It’s easy to feel stuck with a particular range of masks, but this work allows people to discover that they have choice. Through playing, they can discover nuances within their familiar masks, or they can try out new masks for the first time in a supportive environment. Developing a lighter attitude to the masks we wear in life allows people to feel empowered to break out of negative patterns of relating. When we know we have choice, we are free to grow, to develop, or to stay the same, but it’s our choice and not something being forced on us from the world or our past.

4.) Exploring What It Means To See And Be Seen

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Throughout the course, we do many exercises that allow us to explore how it feels to witness and be witnessed by another. These exercises help us to notice the masks that pop up automatically when we come into connection with other humans. Do we guard ourselves? Do we push the world away? Or do we give away too much too soon? Do we judge other people or do we put the mask of the judge on the other so that we can judge ourselves? Who are we making the other? 

These insights allow us to play with what is and play makes space for growth, change or transformation. When we become aware of our automatic responses, we create choice. We can choose to continue to use the masks that have served us thus far, or we can choose to try something else. 

5.) Improvising Solos For Each Other

“Improvisation, writing, painting, theatre, invention, all creative acts are forms of play, the starting place of creativity in the human growth cycle, and one of the great primal life functions. Without play, learning and evolution are impossible.” Stephen Nachmanovich, Free Play

In these improvised solos, we enter into the empty space and find out what masks are around today. Each mask has their own spot on the ‘stage’ and the player hops between the masks, finding out what they’ve come to say. Sometimes the masks speak, sometimes they dance, sing, spout poetry or just lie down on the floor.  

There is an incredible magic that happens with this work, whereby if the players are able to relax on stage (which they learn to do through meditation and breathing exercises during the week) the masks that appear on stage are often relevant to many members of the audience. As the players slow down and the armour comes off, their play takes on a simple, full-hearted quality which deeply touches the audience, releasing laughter and tears in equal measure.

I facilitate the solos from the side of the stage, sometimes offering music to support the player’s exploration, sometimes chatting with the masks to help them express what they've come to express. At the end of each solo, the player receives facilitated feedback from the group.

How former participants describe this workshop:

"Transformative. A week of getting to know yourself, the little weirdo inside and the angry one and the scared one and the naughty one and the crazy one and letting them out to have their say. I came out feeling much more comfortable in my own skin."

"A week spent getting to know all the different people in your head and making friends with them. Holly creates a really safe and fun space in which to do that. Its really cathartic and done in a really embodied way."

"Allowing oneself to be vulnerable and seen by others. Being authentic, in the moment, playful and real. Entering a process of finding oneself and letting go of what isn't helpful. Creatively following an impulse and seeing where it takes you."

About Holly Stoppit

I originally learned the form of Fooling from the master of Fools, Franki Anderson back in 2002, in a three month course called The Fools Journey. I have since trained in clowning, improvisation, physical theatre, dance / movement, voice-work, playwork, non-violent communication, meditation and dramatherapy. My workshops mash all this together to provide deep exploratory process for performers and non-performers who wish to explore the nature of connection. I am also artistic director of Beyond The Ridiculous, a phenomenal company of fools. 

Fools Paradise

Jul 15 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Detail from Franki and Ray's Play Space

What a treat! I’ve just spent a week with my original Fooling teacher and mentor, Franki Anderson; playing, swimming, writing, laughing, eating, wondering and wandering in Franki’s Cornish Fools Paradise. I feel refreshed, revitalised and ready for my next round of summer schools. Bring on Advanced Fools School!

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: nature

Fools Paradise

Under Franki’s open, curious gaze,

I remembered 

To be kind

To myself.


Swimming in the still quarry lake,

I remembered

To let go

To what is.


Alone in my sweet little caravan,

I remembered

To keep coming home

To myself.


Watching irrepressible Kerstin play,

I remembered

The vitalness 

Of reckless abandon.


Listening to soulful Marianne sing,

I remembered

Our power

Is in our sensitivity.


Jumping in the raging Cornish waves,

I remembered

There are much stronger forces at play

Than me.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: nature

Find out more about Franki's work here.

My summer schools are all booked up this year, but my Autumn workshop programme is taking shape and nearly ready to be announced. Watch this space or sign up to my newsletter (at the bottom of each web page) if you're drawn to playing with me.

Pause, Re-Focus, Carry On

Jun 24 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Jenny Saunderson, Gloucester Road, Bristol

Ah the frantic, sexy thrust of mid-summer! Orgasmic flowers flirt with the randy bees, horny trees release their seeds to the rampant breeze and gagging-for-it humans shed their protective layers and drunkenly cavort for each other. I’m finding all a bit exhausting, to be honest.

This week I’ve stepped out of the crazy thrum and quietly turned my attention inwards. I’ve always found Solstice to be a powerful time for laying old bones to rest and bringing new things into the world, so I’ve taken this time to pause and refocus. It felt like it would be easy to surrender to the hedonistic summer whirlwind and see where it takes me, but I had a sense that there’s something quieter and softer that needs my attention. So I sat on the carpet with lots of paper and felt tip pens and coaxed it out with writing.

I’m now feeling grounded and clear about what I want in my life (and what I don't!) and ready to rejoin the human race. I want to share the process with anyone who’s feeling the urge to slow down and take stock. Let’s harness the potent mid-summer energy and let it catapult us into our newly designed, wisely chosen, soul nurturing, creatively fulfilling next eras of our lives! Ready? Let’s go!

You will need:

  • some big pieces of paper, or several little pieces of paper stuck together with sellotape
  • some little pieces of paper
  • many felt tip pens
  • a carpet to sit on
  • lovely music
  • delicious tea
  • a little bit of uninterrupted time

1.) Set up your space, clear the floor so that you can cover the whole carpet with pieces of paper. Put on your favourite music, make lovely tea, tell your loved ones that you’ll see them later. Close the door.

2.) In the centre of a huge piece of paper, write; “What have I been up to this year?” in a circle. Surround the circle with smaller circles containing the following categories: work, home, adventure, romance and community (plus any others that come to you as you’re writing).

3.) Surround each life-category with things you’ve done and what you learned in each area this year. i.e. What did you enjoy? What did you find challenging? What supported your artistic, spiritual, emotional growth and how? What new skills did you learn? Which established skills did you get to flex? What new insights did you have about yourself in this area? What new doors opened for you to have a peek through? What did you discover you never need to do again? What needs were getting met? What needs were not getting met? Be detailed, be specific, be honest and be gentle with yourself- this is not an exercise in beating yourself up, it’s about charting your learning and growth.

4.) On a new piece of paper, write the heading; “To live a happy life and to be of maximum benefit to the world, I need…” Look back at your brainstorm and make a list of the things that complete that sentence. Write in the present tense and if possible find a positive phrasing for each statement (you’re more likely to follow your own advice if it’s written in the positive i.e something like “…to work with people who share my values” as opposed to “…to never work with arseholes again” ).

5.) Next, using that list as inspiration, start a new big piece of paper brainstorm called “My Big Dreams.” You’ll need 3 different coloured pens for this one (I know, right?). This is the Hollywood, no-limits version of your future life. Take your first colour pen, lets call it RED and start by writing the categories; work, home, adventure, romance and community (plus any others that come to you). Now go wild, think big! Bigger! Take away any kind of limitation you have (i.e money, time, whether you're allowed etc) and brainstorm in as much detail as you can for each part. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe it will ever happen right now, it doesn’t matter if parts of the dream clash with other parts and it doesn’t need to be perfect, think of it as an opportunity to breathe space into your dreams.

6.) On the same brainstorm, choose another colour pen, lets call it BLUE and circle the parts of the previous brainstorm that you’re particularly drawn to. Brainstorm around these circles, in answer to the question; “What’s stopping me from living this right now?” Be honest, dig deep, be specific.

7.) On the same brainstorm, choose another colour pen, lets call it GREEN and in response to your BLUE writing (“What’s stopping me…?”), brainstorm “What small actions can I take to move me closer to my dreams?” Make sure these actions are small, simple, achievable and specific. i.e If the dream is to ‘be an opera singer and tour the world’, and one thing that’s stopping you is ‘I’m frightened,’ then achievable actions might look like; find a singing class where you get to perform for each other, go to some confidence building classes, get some councelling, or hold a private opera gig for your best friend in your living room, anything that gives you a flavour of the life you’re wishing for and directly addresses the block in a small way, will help your brain and the universe begin to find ways to move through the blocks.

8.) Take a new piece of paper and write out a clear list of actions, taken from the last brainstorm. Write this list in beautiful writing and in beautiful colours. Make it pretty so you'll want to look at it. Stick it up on the wall somewhere where you’ll see it often. 

In my experience, as someone who’s successfully changed life-course many times, manifesting change takes action, it doesn’t just magically happen. Well, it does, but you need to meet it half way. Now you’re clear about what you want. Your list of actions will help you move towards the life you long for, but you’ll need to actually do some of the things on your list! This way the universe can get an idea of what you’re after and it’ll give you a hand to get there. Keep your eyes peeled and your heart open and you’ll find what you’re looking for (maybe not in the places you expected). Good luck!


Holly Stoppit is a process facilitator, devising director, dramatherapist and performance skills teacher. Find out more about her here.

Exploring Grief Through Comedy

Apr 26 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Paul Blakemore

This brand new 2-day workshop with Holly Stoppit and Tess Cartwright invites you to explore grief through comedy.


“Hmm, grief and comedy, unlikely bedfellows,” you might think, but wait, read on to find out what we’ve discovered...

We are Holly Stoppit, dramatherapist, performance research facilitator and comedy teacher, and Tess Cartwright, performer and artistic director of Modest Genius Theatre Company. 

Last year, Holly facilitated Tess and her company through an intense period of R&D to create ‘Dying To Please You,’ a comedy show about death and dying based on Tess’s real life experiences of losing her partner to brain cancer. Comedy helped them both to cope and has continued to play a huge part in Tess’s grief journey.

The show is being further developed under the direction of John Wright and will be performed in Bristol April 27-30 at Jacobs Wells Baths, 8pm. More details here.

Holly has known grief a-plenty and is thrilled to use her dramatherapy skills to offer a safe space for people to be with their grief in gentle, creative and surprising ways. In both of our experiences, laughter has not negated grief, but has allowed us respite and perspective which has ultimately helped us to touch in deeper with our grief. We’d like to share some of the structures we’ve discovered with you, to find out what you make of them.

This workshop will be a carefully-led group journey through resilience, sharing, play, laughter and tears. There are only 8 places available to make sure every participant gets maximum support. There is an application process to make sure we’ve got a good mix of people in the room. If there are loads of applications, we’ll consider running the workshop again in the future.

Workshop details

Dates: Tuesday 6th and Wednesday 7th June
Times: 10-5.30 both days
Venue: Central Bristol TBC
Cost: £150 / £120 / £90
£150 is the sponsor rate for those earning enough money to fund another participant to attend a Holly Stoppit workshop at a supported rate.
£120 is the standard rate.
£90 is the concession rate for those on benefits or in full time education. There are limited concessionary places available.

Application deadline:12th May
Application form here 

Summer School Places Available

Apr 11 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Paul Blakemore

There are only a few places left for summer school 2017! Follow the links below for more info and booking forms.

“But what’s going to happen to me if I sign up?”

Good question! Well, lets see, there are 2 types of summer schools available; Fool’s school and Clown school. 

“What happens in fool’s school?”

If you choose fool’s school, you’ll be signing up for a week of deep exploration, discovering  / remembering different parts of yourself and inviting them all out to play. Some of your cast of internal characters may have important things to say, some may want to dance, some may want to sing, some may want to lie around doing absolutely nothing. Our job is to step out of the way and let the parts of the self come out to play. 

The Fool's mission is to speak the truth.

“Aha, I think I know what you mean! Is it solo improvisation where you dialogue with different aspects of yourself and everybody in the workshop realises we’re all as mad / complex / hilarious / cute as each other?”

That’s it! You’ve got it!

“Brilliant! So what happens in Clown School?”

Well clown school is an extension of what you would have learned in Holly’s 2 day Introduction To Clowning Weekend. There will be more playing, more laughing, more understanding the rhythms of comedy. After sprucing up your individual clown, we might focus on duos or bigger groups improvising together for an audience, or we might choose to focus on solo play. Holly will take her lead from the group. There will be lots of opportunities for personal reflection along the way, to capture the clown's wisdom in words and pictures. 

The clown's mission is to connect and play.

“OK, so it’s more about red nose clowning, going deeper into what we started in the weekend course?”

That’s it! You’ve got it!


"What are the dates and how do I apply?"

June Fooling Summer School

12-16 June

For people who have already completed Introduction to Clowning

info and booking form here.


July / August Advanced Summer School

24-28 July

7-11 August

For people who have already completed the 5 day fooling summer school

info and booking form here.


August Clowning Summer School

21-25 August

For people who have already completed Introduction to Clowning

info and booking form here.


"Great! See you in the summer!"

Reflections on 'Connection'

Apr 04 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: ?

Reflections on “Connection”

On the 2nd April, 2017, I presented one and 3/4 hours of improvised material, using the form of ‘fooling’ (multiple parts of the self embodied and in dialogue with each other), interspersed with original songs and a little theory on the subject of Connection to a full house at The Wardrobe Theare in Bristol. This show was the third of my three monthly work in progress showings, each one made with an entirely different team of collaborators.

A Brief Recap Of The Project 

The first show was about Stage Fright and until that performance, I hadn’t held the stage for 7 years, because of my own stage fright. This performance featured playfully delivered theory, personal stories, character work and a running commentary of my real life stage fright. You can find out more about the making of it here, here, here, here and here

The second show was about Vulnerability and was presented as a performance lecture, featuring various experiments that allowed me to explore my vulnerability, including poetry, very personal storytelling, accapela singing and doing nothing for short periods of time. You can read about the process of making this show here, here, here, here and here.

The theme of each show has emerged from the previous one, based on audience feedback, peer feedback and self reflection. 

Blurb for ‘Connection,’ the final part of the trilogy:

“This final show is about ‘Connection’; how connection enhances our lives, how easily it is to fall out of connection and how it takes courage, compassion and vulnerability to reestablish connection when it’s broken. Some of it may be funny, some of it may be moving, some of it may be informative, some of it may be rubbish, but all of it will be for you.”

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: a fool

The Creative Process for ‘Connection’

The creative process for this show was very different to the other two. I spent the first week on meditation retreat, recuperating from illness (likely to have been caused / exacerbated by the 2 months of sustained stage fright / stress I’d clocked up by this point). I remembered how to breathe and ground myself. After that I came back to Bristol and threw myself open to the flow, in a concerted effort to allow the show to work out what it wanted to be without force. 

I said yes instead of no to offers from friends I’d hardly seen throughout the whole work in progress project, to walk in nature, eat great food, drink wine and have juicy conversations. I attended a workshop on the theme of connection, culture and community and I created an online survey to collect personal stories about connection and disconnection. I wrote a little every day and I read interesting articles on connection.

Serendipity brought Franki Anderson back on the breeze between Berlin and Cornwall. Franki was my original fooling teacher, who I began studying with 16 years ago. Between her teaching commitments in Berlin and her home in Cornwall, we spent 2 days together in Bristol, reconnecting with the fundaments of the form. During this time I fleshed out 8 characters (or “masks” as they are known in fooling); The MC, Healthy Grounded, Unhealthy Ungrounded, Shame, Vulnerability, Grief, The Academic and The Comforter and each found their place on the stage.

In the evenings, I poured over the data collected in the connection survey with my friend, singer / songwriter Jess Langton, who happened to drop by to see if I needed any help. We took the words from the survey and turned them into songs. She wrote a lullaby called ‘I’ve made choices” and I wrote a ballad called “The Ballad of Disconnection.” We worked out harmonies for each others songs and were very pleased with what we’d made.

To keep my playing muscles warm, for the last week, I took every opportunity to improvise with my 8 characters for an audience. Clusters of the fools from Beyond the Ridiculous gathered to watch me on several days and the night before the show, I travelled all the way to Frome to play for 20 minutes in amongst a deck of experienced fools at A Night of The Fool (photo below). Through each of my mini performances, I learned more and more about my masks and their relationship with each other. I found The Academic’s vulnerability and Shame’s exhaustion and the incredible depth of Healthy Grounded’s roots. Each different audience seemed to bring out particular masks to the surface, my job was just to step out of the way and let it happen.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly / Picture of Simon Blakemore during A Night Of The Fool in Frome

The Day Leading Up To The Performance

On the day of the work in progress show, before leaving my flat, I had a meeting with all my masks to find out how they all were and what object they’d like to take to the Wardrobe later to put on an alter. The MC wanted her chimes, Healthy Grounded wanted a statue of Buddha, Unhealthy Ungrounded wanted a 1/2 drunk bottle of wine, Shame wanted the megaphone, Vulnerability wanted her onesie, Grief wanted a box of tissues, The Academic wanted her data and The Comforter wanted her uke.

I met with musicians Jess Langton and Simon Panrucker, to find our connection together as musicians. We started in Castle park, on the first proper jumper-off day of spring, lying under a blossoming tree, looking up at the sky. We set out a way of working for the day which would involve everyone bringing their feelings and needs into the space, to make sure we were working in a gentle, healthy, connected way, both with ourselves and each other.

Jess and I serenaded Simon with our songs, before heading back to the studio so that he could find the right instrument for The Ballad of Disconnection, after many different options (Tenor sax, toy trumpet, double bass, melodica, strange tiny clarinet), multi-instrumentalist Simon Panrucker settled for maracas and vocal harmonies.

The three of us explored the possibility of improvising another number, a vocal jam, using words from the connection survey on the theme of “what does connection mean to you?” We didn’t end up using this in the show, but I think it was a good exercise to connect us all in equal playful joyful expression. 

We shlepped over to The Wardrobe, pushing bikes loaded up with instruments and tat, to set up the theatre space. This is where it would have been good to have had a stage manager. For the last 2 shows, on show day, I’ve had my facilitators in the house, sorting out sound and lighting stuff, but this time I chose to not have a facilitator on show day as I wanted to try facilitating myself. BUT stage fright and naughty electrics don’t mix very well and I found myself getting pretty stressed over minor hiccups. Luckily I caught myself and took myself out of the drama and into my body for a mindful warm up and to set up the alter with all the objects my masks had chosen to bring. By the time the lights and sound had been magically set up by Aisha, Simon and Jess, I was warm and ready to play.

I introduced the team to my masks and together we found the best lit spot for each of them. The MC had the front edge of the stage, The Academic had a spotlight, front left, Healthy Grounded had the centre of the stage, with Grief close by her side, Vulnerability had the back corner and Unstable Unhealthy had the back wall to slide around on and Shame stood on the steps near the audience, off to the right hand side. Jess took over The Comforter mask, replacing it with soothing guitar music and her song, sung from the sidelines.

After seeing the masks, Simon and Jess brought in music, creating a sound pallet between them to use during the show. Each mask had its own particular quality of sound, allowing Simon and Jess a foundation to spring off from.

I set my intentions as:

1.) Make connecting with the audience my priority

2.) Drop back to nothing whenever I have the urge

3.) Trust the masks

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

The Show

Lets see what the audience thought of it first, quotes from the after-show feedback form, in answer to the question “How would you describe what you just saw to someone who wasn’t here?” 

“A whirlwind journey through the different aspects of self. Hilarious soulful art.” 

“Majestic! A beautifully musical adventure of the mind, body and mirror neurons.”

“Beautiful, brave, raw, humanity at its best”

“Silly, enchanting, moving, uplifting”

“Informative, inspiring and bonkers”

“Honest”

“Amazing in-tune collaborative improv”

“Safe space where Holly explored aspects of her personality + gave them freedom”

“Very engaging, funny at times, soulful exposure of the inner world that I guess we all share”

“Oh my god, you really missed something, it was like wild and crazy with hugs”

“It was amazing! I felt really connected, touched. Laughed lots. Holly is an amazing performer. I have even learned about neurons.”

“An intense portrait of how to exist as a human being who can accept all parts of themselves (thanks)”

“A wonderful amalgamation of learning and connecting through the many parts of a wonderful woman and her team.”

Now lets look at the show through my 3 intensions:

1.) Make connecting with the audience my priority

Yes, I think I did this in many different ways. Having less prepared theory / stories helped me stay more present with myself and the energy in the room. Remembering text is a particularly strong stage fright trigger for me and for the last 2 shows I’ve made myself do it to explore whether a change of attitude to the task could help me feel freer on stage. I think it’s a tough call for any performer to stay alive to the audience whilst also remembering text. For me, because I really struggle with remembering text, it pushes all my “NOT GOOD ENOUGH” shame buttons. When shame is around, I am no longer present to what’s around me, I’m playing out old stories. I’ll project judgement onto the faces of my audience and give myself a really hard time.

So losing all set text made me available to do whatever I felt like doing, making sure I was making my choices in consultation with the audience, this could be a moment of eye contact, a feeling I was receiving or actual verbal contracting. This contracting happened many times throughout the show, I stopped what I was doing and asked the audience “Is this is what you want to see?” Especially when the masks were entering extreme / weird zones. Generally it did seem to be what they wanted to see. Weirdoes.

In my after-show feedback form, there was one section where I asked the audience when they felt connected during the show (to themselves, to me, to the other audience members). Here’s what they wrote:

5 people simply answered “yes”

5 people wrote about connecting with the audience through laughing, crying, ooohing, ahhing and shouting “yep” a lot (can’t remember how that game got started, but I have a feeling they started it)

9 people connected with my grief

3 people felt a connection with the material around shame

2 people felt connected with vulnerability

2 people identified with the The Academic

4 people felt connected to unspecified masks

2 people felt connected to the songs / music

Individuals wrote about feeling connected with the themes of “no-one can do it on their own” “feeling shit and disconnected” “Feeling the need for connection with connection” and 2 people wrote about feeling more connected to me through hearing my stories

One person wrote this;


“I cried when you cried

I felt awkward when you felt awkward

I smiled when you were joyful”


I received a lot of comments on the forms and via email since the show that chime with these:

“It’s comforting to know we are not alone with these struggles”

“Really refreshing to be like “Oh other people have that too””


Thinking about it, the answers to the feedback form’s earlier question “what did you enjoy” also have relevance here, as to have enjoyment must also mean to have connection, no? 

3 people enjoyed "all of it"

4 people enjoyed the songs

4 people enjoyed the music

3 people enjoyed the interplay between me and the musicians

4 people enjoyed all the masks

4 liked the play between the masks / jumping form mask to mask

10 people enjoyed The Academic

2 people commented on The Academic’s development

2 people enjoyed the mask of grief

2 people enjoyed the mask of Healthy Grounded

2 people enjoyed the mask of Unstable Unhealthy

3 people enjoyed my vulnerability

3 people enjoyed the honesty

2 people enjoyed my physicality

Individuals enjoyed it when things went wrong and seeing how I recovered, less theory, material about empathy, the “you’re shit” song + enactment of how shame effects everyday life, eye contact with my boyfriend's mum whilst rubbing my nipples and not seeing my bum (Unhealthy Unstable threatened to get it out a few times).

I think including a range of masks perhaps allowed more people to find their own connection with the work. It’s interesting how even the spread is (apart from The Academic, who was the surprise hit of the night). During my 2 days with Franki, she helped me to take a step back from each of the masks, so that I could find more freedom to play, shifting them from MY masks to THE masks, belonging to the archetypal realm. This gave the masks more flexibility to play for the specific audience gathered, which is perhaps why The Academic (named as Patricia), who was usually a stuffy, tweedy university lecturer accidentally let slip the sexual pleasure she has with her data. Perhaps that’s what this audience wanted to see? Weirdoes.

I enjoyed bringing in some academic research in a lighter, more throw-away fashion than the last 2 shows, Patricia had her slide show about connection but she knew that she might not necessarily get to use all her slides, as I wanted connecting with the audience to be my main priority. She used about 2/3 of her material, on the themes of compassion, empathy, mirror neurons and Rat Park (an experiment which suggests the opposite of addiction is connection) which felt enough to ground the show in legitimate theory, which does seem to be important to me. In all three shows, not many people have said, “I really liked the theory,” on the feedback forms, but I think without it, the shows would have missed a layer. I am an academic and I do really enjoy sharing research with people, so it was fun to let go a bit with this show and find a different relationship with the theory. I hope it was enough to give the audience a ‘connection lens’ with which to view all the nonsense and make sense of it.

I think the music and songs also helped the audience to stay connected. Simon and Jess captured my changing moods and surrounded them with sound to help me commit to and deepen into each state which I think allowed the audience a fuller experience of each mask. Having worked with Simon a lot through Beyond The Ridiculous, we have developed a kind of short-hand that allows us to communicate complex thoughts through a moment’s eye contact. This connection allowed Simon to intuitively feel the moments to record my vocals and build up loops so that I could sing / shout over the top. This mechanism allowed whole scenes to spontaneously emerge, i.e Shame shouting “you’re shit” into a megaphone became a soundtrack to a demonstration of some of the ways shame can effect us all in everyday life, using audience suggestions to show how difficult walking, making eggs and getting ready for a date can be when you are riddled with shame.

Jess’s song felt well placed, the dreamy guitar part was used every time I went to Vulnerability’s corner, so the audience already had a familiarity with it before Jess sang the song as a comfort to Vulnerability just at the right moment. Here’s the lyrics:


I’ve made choices

I’ve made choices

to find some common ground

not to beat myself up

I can’t live like that


I’ve made choices

to be slow and breathe

we’re all learning human beings

I’ve made choices


I was sick of complaining

on all that I’d missed out on

these wounds they run deep

but I don’t have to hide


I’m gonna go out dancing

I’m going for a nice walk

in the trees, rain and mountains

I’m gonna look into the eyes of another

gonna stay in bed all snuggly

I’m having peace and solitude

I’m going to yoga to cry cry cry

cry cry cry


I’m not quite there yet but…


I’ve made choices

From the core of myself

I’ve made choices

Just to be whatever I need


My song was not what I’d originally expected, I thought I was writing a sad ballad, but serendipity had other ideas. After carefully and respectfully arranging the lyrics from the connection survey, my ukulele gave me some fairly chirpy chords. Well OK, I thought, I’ll go with that. When I played the song to Jess and Simon, quirky backing vocals appeared, well OK, so be it, I thought. When Simon found the maracas, the swanny whistle and the kazoos in his studio, I just had to bow down to the fact that I had written a comedy song. You probably won’t be able to get that from reading the lyrics, imagine the three of us as a sort of mariachi band with 50’s surf backing vocals, getting everything wrong and “telling the audience off” for laughing and you’re half way there.


The ballad of disconnection

As a teenager, I had a group of friends 

out of nowhere stop talking to me

no-one would tell me why at the time

but the truth came eventually

It was about some boy

some teenaged boy

I tried to brave it out 

look like I didn't care 

My foundations were crumbling 

and the trust just wasn’t there


I felt utterly lost, 

ungrounded and afraid

I tried to work out what I’d done, 

convinced it was me who was to blame


I felt disconnected,

ashamed and isolated,

part of me died and I wanted to hide

I built walls to keep me protected


In my early 20s I was very disconnected 

from people cos I needed them 

to reassure me cos I couldn't cope alone

but this put too much pressure on my friends

it made it hard to connect 

so very hard to connect

it left me with this kind of chronic loneliness 

a lack of belonging that was so painful

I just couldn't do it by myself


I didn’t love myself

I didn’t have the skills to see

My expectations were impossible

my friends just couldn’t care for me.


I felt disconnected,

ashamed and isolated,

part of me died and I wanted to hide

I built walls to keep me protected


At work I witnessed bullying

I asked for help and nobody came,

I raised my hand, blew the whistle to the powers that be

and all they gave me was a heap of shame

I was singled out 

alone and singled out,

Cast as a troublemaker

who could I trust?

ashamed and disgusted for not coping

so I abandoned myself


I worked harder 

to prove I was enough,

I pleased people, 

got ill and very lost


I felt disconnected,

ashamed and isolated,

part of me died and I wanted to hide

I built walls to keep me protected


I've had a lot of counselling 

I’ve looked at many trees

I took up ballet dancing 

and piano and trapeze

I learned to let myself play

Let myself play

I gave myself the childhood i never had

this filled me with abundance 

made it easier to connect


I feel connected

Connected to the human race

invigorated

ready to receive the world’s embrace


I’ve found compassion

I’ve found forgiveness

I’ve learned how to breathe, how to love and how to play

and I’ve found a tribe of weirdoes


2.) Drop back to nothing whenever I have the urge

This is something I’ll have to wait and see, when I watch the footage. I have a recollection of wanting to pause a few times and not knowing where to be on the stage for that. Each mask had their place so maybe I should have made a space for zero.

2 audience members said they would have liked more silence and stillness in their feedback.

‘Vulnerability,’ my previous show, had focussed intensely on bringing moments of silence and stillness onto stage, so I hope I retained a bit of what I’d learned through that process. I’ll have to wait and see.


3.) Trust the masks

I feel I really did trust the masks. As discussed above, letting go of personal ownership of them allowed me to have more freedom to play within them. Franki had reminded me that although the masks emerge from my truth, they then have the capacity to grow to become archetypes, thereby belonging to everyone, telling everyone’s truth. This invitation for expansion allowed me to connect more with the room from within each mask, finding out how the audience wanted each mask to appear.

Thinking back to ‘Vulnerability,’ my masks were very close to me and perhaps too much personal exposure brought shame onto the stage, closing down the limits of my play and my connection with the audience. It’s possible to be a slave to authenticity. Wow. I never knew that. 

I had a revelation which I shared during the 'Connection' show, that it had not been possible to bring grief onto the stage during ‘Vulnerability’. A friend had died during the making of the show and I had not processed the grief enough to put it onto the stage. I spoke about my academic side (or Patricia as she’s now known) taking over in that show to protect me from exposing the grief. When I watched the footage for ‘Vulnerability,’ the unnamed grief seemed palpable. In ‘Connection,’ inspired by so many stories about grief that had come to me through the connection survey and feeling I’d done enough processing around the subject, I put grief on the stage as an archetype which actually allowed me to access my real grief and share it safely with the audience.

On top of my 8 masks, I found a few new ones in the moment, including a Bristolian who had just wondered in, but didn’t know much about theatre, one who joyfully ran in circles round the stage shouting “YAY!!!” and Patricia’s own personal version of Shame (a task-master who would not let her have fun, “What would your father think?”). It was great to have the freedom to find new masks and include them all in my cast.

Knowing and trusting the masks and having a designated space for each one gave me enough structure to fly off into entirely knew realms of improvisation, in connection with the audience.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

Lets now go back to the original research questions from ‘Stage Fright’

(1.) how’s the stage fright now, after all that therapy and the 7 year break?

(2.) do I enjoy performing more or less than I used to?

(3.) what would it be like to bring a high level of support into my process?


(1.) how’s the stage fright now, after all that therapy and the 7 year break?

It was interesting to observe myself in the week leading up to the show. Fear was manifesting as a huge need to read and get clear on all the theory around connection. Even though connection is my bread and butter, my inner academic (Patricia) was terrified at the prospect of me doing an entirely improvised show and wanted to help me out by making a slide show about connection. This internal battle got worse and worse each day as I had chosen to see friends and connect with people in the real world as part of my preparation. Patricia did not want to go out for lunch or walks with my friends, she wanted to endlessly sit on her own and sort through all the data from the connection survey so that she could present a robust argument. She particularly favoured the hours between 4-7 am. 

Physically, I felt OK until the day before the show, when I travelled to Frome to do 20 mins fooling. I felt the familiar shortening of breath, cold sweats and panic rising throughout the day, but I caught myself, lengthened my breath and gave myself gentle grounding nurturing each time.

On the day of the show, I was glad to be able to connect with musicians Simon and Jess and did all in my power to stay open, grounded and available to each moment as it unfolded. However, I felt many little twinges of panic and disconnect throughout the day, mostly fretting about the practicalities of time tabling, sound, lights, etc. If I was to tour with this sort of show, I would want a stage manager to look after all of that so that I could just focus on keeping myself calm and staying connected with my team. 

Everything ran over and I only had 3 minutes to sit in meditation before the audience came in (I usually take 15). So I used the audience’s entrance as my time to connect with myself and the energy of each mask before connecting with the audience. This helped me to feel calm, which I think helped me open the show in a connected, un-panicky way.

I have not watched the footage of the show yet, so I do not have absolutely clear recall of what happened and how I felt. However, I do have much more detail than the other two shows (both of which took about 5 days to come back). I think this has to do with finding the right structure/freedom balance, which allowed me to experience pleasure and connection in performance! I believe the memory loss for the other 2 shows was linked to triggering trauma through intense stage fright in the first show and emotional exposure / shame in the second. 

Having the vulnerability spot at the back of the stage felt useful and safe (last time, in ‘Vulnerability,’ we put it right at the front, which maybe felt too intense, this might explain why I didn’t use it very much). For 'Connection', I think I used the Vulnerability spot a lot when the stage fright came and it felt OK to stay there, supported by Jess’s soothing music, until I was ready to leave.

The day after the show I felt exhausted, tearful, but pleased / relieved. I had a bit of an unstable belly and achy muscles, but even less than last time (which was a lot less than the first time). So perhaps I’ve cracked a few things. I’m not sure it will ever go, bit I have discovered that I can manage my stage fright with the following factors:

  • awareness of what’s happening in my body
  • knowledge of how to calm myself down
  • asking for and receiving the support I need
  • getting the right balance of freedom / structure
  • accepting myself as I am and having the courage to share this with others
  • believing so strongly in the necessity and healing power of authentic connection that I am prepared to make the first move.


(2.) do I enjoy performing more or less than I used to?

Yes! I distinctly remember huge swathes of intense pleasure during this show. I will write in more detail when I’ve watched the footage, but I think I can safely say that I had a ball!


(3.) what would it be like to bring a high level of support into my process?

Amazing! Nourishing! Inspiring! The final section of this show was devoted to support. I shared how important support had been through this whole project. I urged the audience to reach out for support for their endeavours, explaining how it’s not possible to do it all alone. For this show, I’d like to thank:

  • Franki Anderson for introducing me to the form in the first place and coming back to spend 2 days reuniting me with my performer.
  • All the people who answered the connection survey
  • Jess Langton for helping me sort through the data, for your beautiful song and support with mine
  • Simon Panrucker for your brain, sounds, sensitivity and playfulness
  • Aisha Ali for your patience, lights, projections and sound set up
  • Steph Kempson for filming the show
  • Dominique, Chez and Megan for watching me fool and sharing your foolish selves with me.
  • Simon Blakeman for inviting me to play in Frome and all the foolish players for sharing your selves with me.
  • Martin Aylward for your teachings and all the staff for the supreme holding at Gaia House.
  • The Lightning Tree Collective for your workshop on Connection, Culture and Community
  • My friends Sarah, Paul, AJ, Finn, Sita, Tom, Claire and Amani, for giving good chat and sharing great food and views in the run up to the show.
  • All the people who organised and attended A Fond Farewell To Tails
  • My boyfriend, Joe for your endless support and care.
  • My supervisor and my therapist for keeping me on the right track
  • The Wardrobe Theatre for giving me the space to make all these discoveries
  • The audience for coming and giving your feedback

What next?

At this point, I really don't know. I'm going to let it all settle while I focus on picking up all the pieces of my life that I've dropped whilst I've been making myself insane and ill for three months. I'll enjoy finding clarity on what these new pieces are that I seem to have picked up along the way. Is my inner performer wanting more opportunities to perform? Is my inner academic wanting to publish something about this project? What new skills has my inner teacher / facilitator learned that she can share with others? What new collaborations have been created through this project? I will blog again when I have more clarity, but for now, I'm happy to not know. 

I made three solo shows in three months, with a little help from my friends and I'll never be the same again.

Thanks for reading these blogs. I hope they've been useful to you. 

Big love

Holly xxx

Connection- The Process 4

Mar 31 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

For this work in progress show, I created a survey to collect stories of connection and disconnection. Reading through the beautifully honest and insightful stories, it became clear to me that these were song lyrics.

Singer / songwriter Jess Langton turned up just at the right moment to share the process with me. We trawled through the data, highlighting phrases that resonated with us and grouped these phrases into natural clusters. Jess took hers away and wrote a lullaby and I arranged mine as a ballad. We shared our songs with each other on Wednesday evening and were very pleased with the results. We both found this to be an extremely liberating way of songwriting. The words seemed to have a natural order and then all we had to do was find chords to support the melody that wanted to be born.

As I'm wanting a stronger focus on improvisation for this show, part of my preparation has been improvising for small audiences. Luckily, three of the fools of Beyond The Ridiculous also needed to practice their 'fooling.' Unsurprisingly, there's always a lot of demand for our foolish services on April 1st. 

In case you're wondering what fooling is, it's a form of solo improvisation where you walk into the empty space and bring to life all the voices who usually live inside your head. Here we are, fooling for each other. 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Dominique or Chez
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Megan or Chez

I have 8 standard characters (or "masks" as they're known in fooling) that keep coming back; The MC, Healthy Grounded Me, Unhealthy Ungrounded Me, Shame, Vulnerability, Grief, The Academic and The Comforter. There are others who pop up, but these 8 seem to be my standard cast at the moment. They all feel complete, inhabiting their own distinct realities. After working with Franki Anderson last week, each now has their place on the stage. I feel pretty confident that between them, these guys can handle anything. 

As mentioned in my last blog, I have been battling with The Academic all week. She is very nervous about all this improvisation nonsense and has been looking for moments to sneak in a bit of research whenever she can. In order to sleep at night, I've needed to let her have an hour or two a day to sort through her data and compile her quotes. I am going to let her make a power point presentation this afternoon, she's really excited about that, but she doesn't yet know that she might not be allowed to use it in the show. The focus is 'Connection' and if her power point slides are creating disconnection with the audience, then she's going to need to let it go.

The same message coming at me from everywhere. In order to explore connection, I need to be available to connect. Look at the tarot card I pulled this morning! 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

I have a chance to warm up tomorrow night with a 20-30 minute solo slot at The Night of The Fool in Frome. Event info here.

Meanwhile, Dominique, Chez and Megan from Beyond The Ridiculous will be appearing at The Invisible Circus Feast Of Fools at The Loco Klub. Event info here.

Come and see how all this grows into a show on 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay What you Decide. Venue info here.

Facebook event here.

We were playing in Chez's yoga and play space in Easton in Bristol, which is perfect for small group / solo rehearsals. Contact Chez here with enquiries.

Connection- The Process 3

Mar 28 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

This creative process couldn't be more different from the last 2 shows. Instead of being sucked into the computer for the bulk of my research, I've opened up to explore my connection with the world, my friends, nature, my boyfriend, my body, my health, joy, play and grief.

Part of me (the academic) is getting antsy. There are 6 days to go and I haven't got a show yet. It's taking some explaining to get her on board with the plan. 

I have 9 masks (parts of myself / characters) who I workshopped last week with Franki Anderson. On Sunday night, I will ask them all to help me explore the theme of connection for and with the audience.

The academic has some time carved out this week to do some standard staring at the computer research so that she can have a little bit of theory to deliver on the night. She seems happy about this, but a little worried that I chose to have delicious lunch and chewy conversation with my friend Tom yesterday and spontaneous tea with Sita in the afternoon sun when it was supposed to be the academic's time. It's a little beyond her that this is, in fact, research. 

Come and see how all this grows into a show on 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay What you Decide. Venue info here.

Facebook event here.


Connection- The Process 2

Mar 23 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: The receptionist at the community centre

Wow, I've just had 2 days of gentle nurturing, mind-expanding and soul validating, connecting back with the original source, Franki Anderson.

16 years ago, Franki first introduced me to ‘Fooling,’ an incredible risky and connected solo improvisation form / life-style choice which has influenced my work and life ever since. Her three month course, ‘The Fools Journey,’ enriched the soil in which my teaching and facilitation skills still grow.

All the way through this work-in-progress project, I’ve had this sense of completion, finishing something I started a long time ago. It’s becoming clear that one of elements of this ‘something’ is solo performance. I never came back to it after Franki’s course. I compered for cabaret, told stories in schools, marauded through street theatre festivals and toured around theatres with various gangs of clowns and led a merry band of misfits around festivals making music, but I never did a solo theatre show. My extreme stage fright prevented me even trying. 

Both mornings when we arrived at St Werburghs Community Centre (which incidentally has a brilliant cafe these days), Franki asked me if I'd like to draw a tarot card and both days I drew 'Rebirth'.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Osho Zen Tarot

Rebirth:

"The card depicts the evolution of consciousness as described by Nietsche. He speaks of the three levels of Camel, Lion and Child. The camel is sleepy, dull, self-satisfied. He lives in delusion, thinking he's a mountain peak, but really he is so concerned with others' opinions that he hardly has any energy of his own. Emerging from the camel is the lion. When we realize we've been missing life, we start saying no to the demands of others. We move out of the crowd, alone and proud, roaring our truth. But this is not the end. Finally the child emerges, neither acquiescent nor rebellious, but innocent and spontaneous and true to his own being."

Connecting back with Franki has reminded me of what I loved about performing. With her kind eyes, offering their permission and acceptance, I’ve met my cast of internal characters (or “masks”), listened to my body and dropped deeper into feeling states, lightened up around ownership of “my” material and found more space to play on stage. I’ve conversed with shame, sadness, discomfort, vulnerability and my inner academic (she has an awful lot to say) and I have had so much pleasure in the process.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly

Each mask now has their place on stage, as pictured above (the chairs serving as markers). I’ve explored their connection to each other and how they function as a community. I’ve honoured the work that they’ve all put in to keep me safe over the years and I’ve found a particular configuration for them that I hope will allow me to stay safe whilst also being able to take risks with live unplanned improvisation.

At the time of writing, I would like the next show to have less set material and more space for discovery, using the masks I’ve been playing with over the last 2 days. The key to this is keeping an eye on the academic over the next week and a half. She can’t help herself, if there’s a room full of people, she just wants to share all her knowledge and to do that, she likes a lot of preparation time. So in order to keep her from over-writing the whole show, Franki gave us some homework as a parting gift (the academic approves of  homework). I’m to:

1.) Breathe out fully 3 times, 3 times a day.

2.) Observe- watch myself and other people closely and with curiosity

3.) Dance whenever I get the chance

Check out Franki's website here.

Come and see how all this grows into a show on 2nd April at 7.30 at The Wardrobe Theatre. Pay What you Decide. Venue info here.

Facebook event here.

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