Demons and Death.  @clown

It's not all fun and games.  That ridiculous clown up there making us laugh has an inner life too, and sometimes it hurts.  In a profound and quite enjoyable workshop with master clown René Bazinet, the topic of demons popped up.  Rewarded for their failures, applauded for their most embarrassing moments, clowns are reinforced for roughly the opposite of what is normal behavior. For those who lap up attention and approval (are there really performers who don't?), such conditions can produce some mighty twisted stuff.  Amy G, photo by Ian DarsonSo in performances that invite intimacy and truth, we are sure to see clown innards on display center stage.  In fact, sometimes the stage is exactly where the kinks get worked out. Thrilling and occasionally dangerous, such psychological play can either heal or harm the people involved.  

Near the end of the NY Clown Theatre Festival, the phenomenon known as Amy G swept into town for one spectacular surprise performance of  Entershamement.   Before the show, Amy talked about touring, how she spent her days leafleting, inviting people to her show.  It was easy, she said, because she exorcises her shame on stage and therefore feels emboldened on the street.   Watching her, I was entirely taken in by her showwomanship and ability to fold inevitable mistakes into her loving embrace of embarrassment.  When she fell, or lost her mike, or even her bust, we loved her and felt pretty ok about ourselves. When she called up audience members, she gave them funny and doable tasks, and they were successful in their accomplishments.  I believed her that she lived in a shame-free world and I only wished that I could join her there.  

Life After Death, photo by Ian DarsonHarry and Mary, in Life after Death, on the other hand, threw the audience some pretty serious challenges.  While disguising great skill as many clowns do, and flaunting their deliciously dirty immorality, they also taunted the audience.  By this point in the fest, we'd seen several penises, so that was no biggie, so to speak.  But this one pushed its way into the audience and mimed a blow job with an audience member, jizz and all.  Then, the sticky chosen gentleman was invited on the stage to tongue kiss and compete with the performers in various ways.  Another gent was shown several tricks and invited to try.  Botching them was great fun.  Or was it?  In a conversation after the show, a friend pointed out that our reaction depended on whether we identified with the bully or the victim.  For me, this was all too close for comfort, which I'm sure was the exact point.  It was funny all right, but finally unsatisfying.  I just felt relieved that I had escaped the demons in the schoolyard.  

Speaking of death--just barely, I know, but I'm ok with this segue because death is an ever present demon--three shows gave explicit and prolonged attention to suicide, and many others featured death in one form or another.  Clowns and zen masters are drawn to death like moth to flame because once you've stared this palooka down, you are truly free.  Personally, I required three and a half snack runs to finish this paragraph; obviously this filling game of peekaboo expresses my conflicted attitude.  I spent a year pretending I had only one year to live, but nowadays mostly assume that I'm a permanent fixture here.  In the occasional moments I grasp the truth, I am filled with the deepest possible love and sadness and joy.  Seeking such salvation, I found myself in the Clown Funeral Parade, the last event of the festival.  I relished dressing in black and wailing on the streets of Williamsburg.  No one really knew why we were so bereft.  One onlooker said "why?" and I replied, "exactly, why? why?"  It felt good to dance with the tiny coffin to the beat of the band on stilts.  It felt good to lean on my fellow mourners. The Clown Fest is over.  Long live the Clown fest!

(Related posts:  PsychoZen of Clown, Failure and Freedom, For the Love of Clowns, Truth! What is it?, Purpose and Politics)

Shinbone Alley Stilt Band, Photo by Ian DarsonIt's over! Photo by Ian Darson

Audry Crabtree, photo by Ian Darson

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