Clowns

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Some people love clowns; others fear them. There’s even a word for it: coulrophobia. I’m ambivalent, though I definitely come down on the pro-clown side most days. Why wouldn’t I? One of my best friends is a professional clown. Kirk got a degree in law; he even started to article. Then, he thought. Screw that! I’ll be a clown.

Personally I think that was a great decision. So for more than 35 years, Kirk has been, as he says, ‘pimping the nose.’ Kirk is a lot of things — poet, husband, father, arts administrator, great friend — but I always like to think of him as my favorite clown. If I want to see lawyers, I can go to Parliament. Hmm, maybe Kirk would fit right in.

My own experience with clowns goes back away. I don’t particularly remember any childhood experiences — good or bad — but as an adult I took a workshop in Greenlandic theatre. Not exactly traditional clowning you might think but it still fits. You cover your face in greasepaint — black instead of the customary white and use red paint, bare skin and a carved bit of wood in your mouth to create a mask. There is a made up language — mostly of animal sounds— and a lot of physical movement. The purpose was always to relieve the tension during long winter nights. Let the monsters out instead of keeping them inside through a mixture of fear and laughter.

The instructor warned us that — though we should get as close to the audience as possible, an inch or two away, we should never touch them. Leela Gilday, who went on to become a great musician, but was only about 16 at the time, postulated it had to do with personal energy and spiritual things. She was more eloquent. The Inuk instructor nodded and said: Great explanation but really we got all this black shit on our faces and it will get on their clothes. Typical Inuit humour.

This kind of performance appears in all cultures. Commedia dell’ arte in Italy was a useful mechanism to poke fun at the pomposity of the rich and the church under the guise of entertainment.

Another neat variation on clowning is ‘clowns of horror’. I was lucky enough to see the Canadian clown troupe, Mump and Smoot, perform a number of times. They made us laugh while portraying scenes of mass murder and decapitation — all done through physical representation and a strange made up language with no real words but which conveyed complete emotional understanding. I recall in one show a guy’s beeper went off. The clowns went into the audience and lectured him in their mystical tongue. Couldn’t understand a single word but he got the message, turning bright red and fleeing the theatre.

I’ll leave you with this amazing musical clown performance because…

That’s ten minutes.

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