Working in the Theatre: Clowning

[Music] [Music] My entire life all I’ve ever wanted to do is
entertain people, make people laugh, make people smile, tell a good story. And I’m very fortunate that this is currently my platform. Whether that’s the stage or the ring or just on the street, I love doing it. I love making people laugh and smile and taking them to a different place
that makes them a little happier. This is my first time performing with a circus so everything is new to me. The travel, the living situation; it’s been a lot of fun. You live in RV trailers, you come to work in the tent,
you explore the new city that you’re in. I enjoy that life. It’s fun. My techniques have been compared
to that of Van Gogh. Really? Mine’s a little more Jackson Pollock.
I just splat it onto my face. I haven’t even started yet. I know! I realize that. Clowns in a circus are the human
connection for the audience. If there’s someone who’s going to reach out and shake your hand and befriend you at the circus, it’s ultimately going to be the clown. Whatever your character is, the goal is that
you have to make that audience connection. There’s an old phrase that an old clown once told me, that a clown falls down so we don’t have to,
and that’s the role that they play. And people laugh as a cathartic release. So much humor is based on pointing out reality.
People laugh at the things they know are true. I get my inspiration for characters and bits and routines from observing people, observing myself,
reading, traveling; I mean everything is grist for the mill. There are things happening constantly around us all day, so I just try to pay attention to things. Sometimes I’ll have an idea that has nothing to do with what’s happening in the outside world, it has something to do that’s happening
with me on the inside, something more psychological. Physical jokes never get old. Verbal jokes do because they’re very topical
most of the time and you can hear a verbal joke today
and it’s really, really funny and if you hear it ten years from now and
you don’t understand it. I think physical humor is sort of a timeless art form and that’s the great thing about physical humor, you don’t need dialogue, so you don’t need language
so there are no language barriers or no cultural barriers. [Music] A lot of people equate clowning ultimately with the symbol of the red nose, the misfit clothes, the oversized shoes. When you say “clown”, they then
immediately think “circus”. Whereas when you talk more theatre,
people think physical comedians. Now there’s a thing called clown theatre, which very much has been embraced by someone like Bill or David Shiner. A lot of the contemporary clowns coming out now are specifically working in clown theatre which is a little more metaphoric, a little more symbolic and is really taking on a life of its own. I saw Bill many years ago when I was living in Paris in a video someone gave me from The New York Times. Someone was doing an article on street artists and she interviewed me and she gave me this video and it was just fantastic. From that day onward, I always thought I’d like to meet him and I’d like to work with him one day. [Music] I looked that video and said to myself,
that’s the best clown in the world. That’s the first guy that’s been able to bring together theatre, dance and clowning and create this wonderful piece of theatre. I was doing Cirque du Soleil here in 1991 and he came to the show and I saw that he was in the audience so I invited backstage we met and we went out for lunch the following day. And then we were cast in a movie together and we had to come up with a clown routine for this movie and that’s when we both realized we had something great together. [Music] Well of course, Slava is internationally renowned for
his Snow Show and the beautiful thing about him is
that he’s taken very much what most people would consider internationally a Russian tradition of clowning and he has shared it with everybody around the world. In a way not only has he educated people to appreciate his style of clown theatre and his style of clowning, but at the same time he has stretched the range of what is considered a clown. That a clown can work lyrically, they can work metaphorically, they could work symbolically. [Music] As a performer in theatre, you’re not
normally creating anything new. You’re taking a script and bringing it to life. As a clown in the circus, you are
creating material that fits you. You are creating comedic bits that highlight
what you do well. Working in the clowning world, it’s taught me to constantly be creative, constantly have things in my back pocket that I can do, so that if a problem arises or if during a show, something goes wrong during our material, you can then improvise your way out of it. The question is; where can you be a clown? And you find that you can work in theatre, whether you’re working in a legitimate play or musical or a specific clown theater piece, you can work in the circus, you could work in variety, you can work in the street. As you move into a more intimate performance space, specifically variety, even the street, the legitimate theater where the format of the actual performance allows you more focus, the performing becomes more subtle. Where you are is very much how do you connect your appearance and you style with where you’re performing. [Music] Clowning has been around for an extremely long time, literally dating back to ancient Egypt. Comedy and clowning has always been
something that has been for the people and for the longest time it was
considered relatively common. So clowning has always been
very much an art form of the street. Shakespeare ultimately came up with the word “clown” in trying to describe a country bumpkin character or a simpler character, who came in, who was pure comic relief for a lot of his plays. In England, the clown eventually found its way
into the great English pantomimes and was most put in the forefront by the
clown named Joseph Grimaldi, one of the greatest pantomime clowns ever. How do clowns get involved in the circus? Well, now we got to go to France, where Napoleon outlaws social commentary and satire but the one place he didn’t do it, was the circus. So English pantomime clowns
come to the French circus and eventually clowns become the humor;
they become the heart. The red nose originally was equated with a drunk. Over the generations of clowns and clowning, the red nose has become a symbol of humanity. It has become a symbol of emotion, in that regard. Once the clown separated from the auguste to the white face, which is symbolic of thought, whereas the auguste clown with the red nose and the human face, is symbolic of heart or emotion. As the circus gets more popular,
clowns get more popular. The pantomime world is coming together,
the circus is reaching a golden age and eventually where all this pays off on a
mass entertainment scale, is with vaudeville and burlesque in America. With the creation of the motion picture, suddenly slapstick humor and clowning becomes international The beginning of silent films was
a glorious heyday for clowning. I started very much wanting
to know who these people were. You want to do big circus props, then you look to clown greats such as Paul Young and Felix Adler who back in the thirties and forties in Ringling were doing the giant circus props. You want to learn about great physical comedy, look to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy, even the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. So you find the things that you can best emulate. Whether you pursue a career as a stand-up comedian, whether you pursue a career as a comic actor, or as a full-fledged three-ring circus clown, the goal ultimately of every clown is to make people laugh, or at least to touch them in some way emotionally. [Music] What makes clowning powerful is the human heart. What makes clowning powerful is that basically the fundamental groundwork or the fundamental foundation, the enjoyment of a great work, the (GERMAN?), the primal foundation of clowning is human suffering. Clowning is about being able to laugh about
the things that hurt. Or being able to laugh about the things
you don’t feel that great about. The embarrassing moment, feeling humiliated, the loneliness, the despair, all of it. The human condition. Clowning is powerful because it deals with the human condition. It’s transforming pain into laughter,
that’s basically what it is. [Music]


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