Monsieur Marcel and Monsieur Flop: failure in clown training at Ecole Philippe Gaulier

Lucy Amsden*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
373 Downloads (Pure)


The École Philippe Gaulier is a private school for performers, with an international reputation for teaching clown. Gaulier offers a formal training process that emphasises the need for on-going reflective practice. In this classroom students begin to generate clown material, while learning the skills of interaction required to make audiences laugh. This article explores a pedagogical device used in Gaulier’s classroom and writing: two friends of clowns named ‘Monsieur Flop’ and ‘Monsieur Marcel’. M. Marcel is (mistakenly) regarded as an expert performer, who gives out what Gaulier refers to as ‘stupid ideas’. M. Flop is an accident magnet, and his appearance signifies that things are not going well. The invocation of these two friends of clowns creates a sense of playful, complicit distance which encapsulates Gaulier’s ambiguous relationship with sincerity. These characters provide a framework for discussing the different registers of ‘failure’ in clown performance. The students are taught to listen to M. Flop and M. Marcel, and thus to work independently from the teacher. Through the stories told about these figures, the article examines the interaction of play, stupidity and failure in Gaulier’s clown classroom.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-142
Number of pages14
JournalTheatre, Dance and Performance Training
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jul 2017


  • clown
  • failure
  • flop
  • Gaulier
  • laughter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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