Montreal Clown Festival : Laughing with Feeling

clown in pantomime style clothing Alec Jones-Trujillo as Old God

Clowning is a much-loved yet an oft under-appreciated art form. Okay, it’s also an art form that gets associated with some legendary horror characters, but we can put those aside until Halloween. When it comes to the non-horror genre aspects of clowning, we are fortunate that Montreal hosts an annual festival to celebrate the vibrancy and wide-ranging abilities of what clowning can be. Performers from across North America participate in the four-day festival that includes multi-act cabarets, individual shows, and some free performances outside the Gesù and in the Esplanade Tranquille of Quartier des Spectacles.

The different acts are chosen from over 100 different acts that applied following a callout. Krin Haglund and Vanessa Rigaux (who is also the Artistic Director of the festival and its co-founder) served as a selection committee to choose shows that would delight while providing a varied offering. Also, winners of the Frankie Award from the Fringe Festival are given slots, which has allowed some familiar faces to return.

The acts this year include nonverbal performances as well as shows in French, and English. There’s even a deaf artist performing in the Big Big Deal gala cabaret which will include LSQ interpretation. Media spokesperson Victoria Laberge says the multilingual programming is a conscious choice. “We want to reach everyone in the city. The programming is really well balanced – English, French, and non verbal. People who speak neither French nor English can enjoy this art.” She specifies that there’s been a lot of interest from the Latino community in the city.

The festival of course has acts for all-ages audiences and evening shows for an adult crowd. From Quebec City, Cie In Toto and L’Aubergine, and Montreal-based artist Hugues Sarra-Bournet offer kid-appropriate performances during the day that Laberge says “adults will also find entertaining.” The evening shows include a triple bill on Saturday with Avner the Eccentric, who is a legendary older clown and Broadway star, along with local superstars Laurette & Arlette, and juggler Jamie Adkins.

Notable is the return of superstar Las Vegas performer Alec Jones-Trujillo with his clown Old God, which won the Fringe this past year. Laberge says, “He’s phenomenal. It’s going to be a great show. He’s irreverent.” Old God looks like a pantomime with a white face and dressed in a period-piece outfit, but he spends the show speaking. “He’s really brilliant, a lot of stream-of-consciousness eloquence,” says Laberge. “He’ll pick a different period from history and dive into it. He’s amazing, and roasting the audience is really where he goes for it.”

Another show that Laberge is excited about is Emily Jeffers’s Bitty-Bat. “The whole gambit is that she’s dressed as a giant bat,” Laberge says. “I saw it in Toronto. She had the audience in the palm of her hand with her mannerisms. She swept everyone into the energy of it while watching a giant bat on stage.”

Audiences can expect to do more than laugh at these artists. Laberge says of all the acts, “I was blown away by what I saw on those stages. The magic of what they can do, their physical abilities and feats is truly astonishing. Clowning is a beautiful art form that feeds off the audience. It holds up a mirror to the audience. It deceptively looks so simple, but is deep in what it shows in terms of what we’re feeling in human emotions.”

In addition to the programming for the public, there are some workshops being offered by the performers. A showcase of new works will be available on the first day of the festival, the product of 12 artists spending the day workshopping with Gabe McKinney. Another very popular workshop relates to the Dr. Clown Foundation, which brings clowns to hospitalized children as well as seniors in care facilities. There, a panel will discuss the clown as an agent for social change.

Laberge stresses the importance of festivals like the Clown Festival in how arts in general and clowning in particular, are unifying and important. “In this age when the arts are struggling — we’ve just come off a huge protest to raise awareness for lack of funding for the arts. Obviously, JFL being cancelled was hugely devastating, but not surprising in this climate. We are a festival in Montreal trying to show the importance of what we do, of the arts, of bringing the community together. This art form is very effective in bringing people together and highlighting communal experiences. What brings people together more than laughter?”

The Montreal Clown Festival takes place from April 25 – 28. Information about the shows and tickets can be found HERE.

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