One night and one night only prepare yourself for clowns. Scared? Don’t be! Big, little, small, tall, funny, sad, acrobatic, unpredictable and adorable, no two clowns are alike. At Les Clowns Cabaret find out just how varied and engaging these passionate performers. James Keylon directs Madame Zazou, Krin Haglund, Duo Phil d’ Ariane, Julie Dionne, Toxique Trottoir, Fredolini, Tam and Phil, and Ti-cul and Burnout in a show, hosted by Soizich Hébert and Mélanie Raymond. These clowns come form a variety of professional performance backgrounds, such as Cirque de Soleil, Montréal Complètement Cirque, and GOP Berlin.
The entire project was master minded one fabulous clown herself, Kendall Savage. I spoke to her about how she got started and a few things everyone should know about clowns.
Savage explains that the project began while she was slogging through her Masters in the history of women in clown with a focuses on the suffragette movement of circus and the Victorian era of Phantasmagoria. “Although the school was excellent, the work was dreadful,” she says. “I needed to be on the stage and doing what I love, so I came back to the magical city of circus to follow through as a leader in the community of clowns.”
She got started in community building right away. “I am not the kind of person who can wait for something to happen. Life is too short and I had to jump start this community,” she says. “As soon as I got back I knew I needed to start creating spaces to perform clown and bring together a huge community that was spread out, waiting for something to happen. So now I produces Les Clowns and for the first time in Montreal The Montreal Festival des Clowns in September.”
Clowning is serious business. Being a clown requires honesty, above all, according to Savage. “Clowns need to be honest. Funny, sad, angry doesn’t matter, the clown must come to the work with an honest connection to their emotions and creative direction in problem solving impossible situations,” she says. There’s a difference between comedy and clown. “The difference to me is the relationship to the audience, and the possibility of derailing off topic depending on how the audience interacts with the clown, and having such confidence in the ability to control the situation, the clown can jump back and pick up where the situation was left off.”
Les Clowns is a special event because it is an opportunity to see top level performers in an intimate environment. Savage says, “It’s a chance to see clowns who have toured extensively with circuses like Cirque Du Soleil and Cirque Eloize, but not pay the Cirque ticket price.”
“When you come to see Les Clowns you are coming to see history preforming,” she says. “They are beautiful artists, that shape the theatre world, and have been pushing boundaries in clown. These performers are not just any performers, but a community of highly skilled artists that have cultivated the very circus community that Montreal is so famous for.”
Most Montrealers know just how deep the city’s roots are in clown. There’s a large community of clowns. “Montreal is the Circus capitol of Canada, and we have the largest community of clowns in Canada right in our back yard, with nowhere for them to play. Often the clowns live here, because the cost of living is reasonable, but they tour in Europe because Canada does not support its artists properly. Our clowns are forced to look outside the country to make a living,” Savage says.
Montreal is lucky in that it has one of the two schools in Canada that offer full-time clown schooling, L’École de Clown et Comédie. “It is Montreal’s premiere clown school, and they specialize in a pedagogy based off of the LeCoq/Gaulier technique, but with their own special touch,” she says and also describes the other school, the The Manitoulin Conservatory of Performance and Creation. “The two schools are both unique in their reproach to clown, and I can not speak more highly of both of them. A well rounded clown, to me, would invest time in both schools. One would expect to explore mask, slapstick and jeu, the art of play, from École de Clown et Comédie, and a solid training in creation for the stage.”
I am of course intrigued into what it is like to be a clown. Clowns can go to school, but they learn mostly by being thrown to the lions, or the audience. “A clown can go to the most prestiges clown schools in the world, and still know nothing until put in front of an audience. The audience is the teacher as well, because they will challenge the clown with no mercy, and teach them things you can’t learn in a school, like spontaneous interaction, or how to deal with the element of surprise when a prop breaks on stage,” Savage says.
For her own work as a clown, Savage says she varies her routine a lot. She says, “Creating original work is a process of elimination, trial and error and collaboration. I specialize in the Pochinko technique, that The Manitoulin Conservatory of Performance and Creation specializes in, aka MCPR or The Clown Farm. My clown masters Mike Kennard and John Turner, of clown duo Mump and Smoot, give tools that allow the clown to explore its world and how it sees the process of problem solving.”
As for the project underway, it seems quite successful and Savage is excited. “We have to turn people away sometimes because we have so many amazing artists wanting to perform,” she says. “The cabaret has been doing great! They keep getting better and better, and I keep meeting new members of the community. Normally I contribute on stage, and now I find myself growing as a producer, taking the punches when they come and above all making sure the artists feel that they are getting the recognition and respect that they have been working towards here in their hometown. I couldn’t do any of this with out the people in the community who have been stepping up to the plate volunteering where possible to make this cabaret come alive. I thank them most of all with all my heart.”
To conclude, I wanted to share her thoughts on what unifies all clown performers. “Love and magic unifies clowns,” she says. “That tingling energy which flows between the audience and the artist, the open heart that yearns to be loved and accepted, and the ability to walk away from failure with hope, only to come back for more moments later. That, along with improv classes. Lots and lots of improv classes.”
Les Clowns is at Cafe Cleopatra (1230 St Laurent) on May 13 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets $15 at the door, cash only.