Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…


Naked in the shopping centre

The day after we got my diagnosis, Mrs Clown thought I needed cheering up so she sent me an ad for a show with naked dancers at Bristol’s annual Mayfest.

Me: You want to go watch people dancing naked!?
Mrs. Clown: No! I want *us* to dance naked! They need volunteers.

So we volunteered and rehearsals started on Monday. 

HABITAT’s UK Premiere

We didn’t know what to expect when we showed up at that first rehearsal but around thirty people — all ages, all sizes, all genders — sat in anxious silence waiting for our creative genius, Doris Urlich, who was stuck in traffic coming from Heathrow. Someone suggested we do some ice breaker exercises to get to know one another. We lined up by age. The youngest was 22. Oldest was 67. But then Doris arrived and she had a different ice breaker for us. Tell us your name and if you’ve ever been naked in public before.

There was a handful of occasional nudists: life models for art classes, naked bike rides, that kind of thing. The rest of us were doing it for the first time. The Clown Family watched the 1998 World Cup Final naked at Lupin Lodge, a nudist camp in the Los Gatos Hills, but we have kept our clothes on ever since. A few confessed to skinny dipping. Lots of nervous laughter. 

Doris said we should dance to warm up and relax. Boris the DJ played some electronic beats and we started to sway. Doris said, if we wanted, we could start removing clothing. Soon there were bare feet. Soon there were bare breasts. The beats went on and more clothes came off. I kept my hat on.

Doris had done the show several times before but liked to adapt it to the participants and the environment. A shopping centre was definitely a new environment.

“We are going to be naked in a shopping centre, ja? How exciting is that?”

Doris has the most expressive face and she can speak whole paragraphs without saying a word. At times, she seemed to be making the show up as we went along but her clear vision for what she wanted our naked bodies to say always shone through. We danced some more. 

We are going to be naked in a shopping centre, ja?

The show that we are building will be a kind of interactive dance theatre where the audience is among us and we are among them. In an interesting twist of fate, this is what my daughter studied at university and wants to do with her life. And, in the kind of twist that makes you wonder if the universe has a sense of humour, she volunteered for Mayfest and got assigned to be an usher for our show. Yes! We will be dancing naked for our daughter. Yes! She is as excited about that as we are! 

Rehearsals are hard work. It’s like five hours of aerobics every day. Yesterday, we were in the shopping centre for the first time and we made it just in time after rushing back from the hospital where we met my neurosurgeon again. 

We’re off to see the neuro

We were expecting the worst from the neuro but he just reconfirmed what we already knew, though he spoke to me like a grown-up this time. My tumour is incurable. It’s just a matter of time before it kills me. I can do surgery and chemo if I want but the surgery will suck and the chemo will suck and we will just be delaying the inevitable which will suck most of all. We have no timetable either way — might be months, might be years — and no additional information to help us make our choice. But choose we must. We are condemned to be free. 

I’m broke, but I’m happy
I’m poor, but I’m kind
I’m short, but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high, but I’m grounded
I’m sane, but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost, but I’m hopeful, baby

And what it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine, fine, fine
‘Cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

We start every rehearsal with dancing and naked high fives and everything is gonna be fine, fine, fine.

With one hand waving free

The show is on Saturday and Sunday. They’ve sold 500 tickets but I think there are still some available. Search for Mayfest Habitat. See you there?

Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free,
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves.
Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

Mr Tambourine Man — Bob Dylan


The show was brilliant. Sold out audiences of 250+ each night. We danced with our audience around us and among us. It is incredibly powerful to dance naked surrounded by ordinary people in ordinary clothes. It feels special.

We are naked in a shopping centre!

Our grand finale is a kind of truck made of 40 naked bodies with everyone dancing and writhing and driving as hard as we can around and through the audience. The energy was palpable. Our ovation went on for an eternity. The reviewers loved us.

Best night ever and it is sad, this morning, to come down from our high.

Was it all a dream?

Doris was wrong. There are happy endings.

Doris presents this same show in cities all over Europe. The performers are always amateurs recruited locally and she adapts the show for each venue. We were the first show in a shopping centre!

Here’s the same show in Vienna