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Photos courtesy Calgary Clown Festival

Calgary Clown Festival celebrates physical comedy

By Troy Hasselman, September 11 2019 —

The Pumphouse Theatre will play host to Calgary’s clowns and clown-lovers alike in the inaugural Calgary Clown Festival. Over four days in September red noses, wild hair and white makeup will reign in a diverse lineup that showcases the great clown work done here in Calgary and across the country and as well show the depths of clownery.

The idea for the Calgary Clown Festival came in collaboration between the Pumphouse Theatre and Calgary Clown Society, taking inspiration from similar festivals that happen in other Canadian cities.

“Chris Gamble, the artistic director of the Calgary Clown Society, and I have worked together before and we both practice the art of clowning,” says Kelly Malcolm, Pumphouse Theatre Programming Director. ”We both said to ourselves ‘It would be really great if we could have a clown festival here in the city. Because Toronto has one, Montreal has one, Edmonton has one so it would be really nice to see that here in our own city.’ I approached them and said, ‘Is this something we as the Pumphouse would be interested in?’ We collaborated on it and we’re very excited.”

The lineup for the festival includes both established and local clowns, with the headliners being Canadian clowning legends Mump and Smoot, who will perform their show Something on Sept. 20 and 21. Something follows Mump and Smoot through a chaotic nightmare world with stopovers including a wake and a disastrous trip to a doctor’s office.

“When we think of Canadian clowns, Mump and Smoot are it,” Malcolm says. “They were here a few years ago for the High Performance Rodeo and sold out the Martha Cohen Theatre at Alberta Theatre Projects. We are so excited to have them.”

Local talent is showcased in the Clown Snack Pack, three short shows with two done by clowns from Edmonton and one done by a Calgary clown.

“One of those shows is Desperate Shakespeare, about a woman clown who is inspired as a housewife to take on all the women characters of Shakespeare,” Malcolm says. “That is played by Iam Coulter, who was the artistic director of the Shakespeare Company here in Calgary for years and is a Shakespeare expert so we’re so excited to have her share her expertise on that. We have another one called Mandated Birthday which is all about socialist clowns having a mandated birthday party which will be a lot of fun. We also have a show called Bubbling Over which has two haphazard scientists create experiments in their lab and it goes a bit wonky.”

Other performances featured in the festival include the darker Jan and Peg’s Ritual Sacrifice about a tupperware party that turns into a trip to hell. Teddy is a family-friendly by Calgary’s Green Fools Theatre Society that follows a clown on his search for his beloved, lost dog Bella.

More family-friendly clowning will be on the festival’s Family Fun Day on Sept. 21, which includes a performance of Teddy and an appearance from vaudevillian James Jordan which combines magic, juggling, music and comedy. Free events on that day will include a dance party with DJ Hankstar, along with crafting, face-painting and a show from Hamlet the Clown.

Late-night cabarets will be held on Sept. 20 and 21 with performances from local clowns who are working on some new pieces.

The organizers hope that this will give a bigger platform for clowning and physical theatre and make a case for the importance of the arts in building a city.

“It would be really great for the city to have a better understanding of how physical theatre in general works. Not just the practice of clowning, but the art of physical theatre in general. We have a lot of great practitioners in the city,” Malcolm says. “We just want to make sure that continues to be highlighted. With arts funding being cut in recent years, we want to make sure there is a place for stuff like this to be seen, not just in fringe festivals where a lot of our artists get their shows out. We want to make sure our clowns and our physical theatre artists have a place to perform.”

The festival shows the range of clowning, with a wide variety of shows and types of clowns being showcased throughout.

“We do have performers who do wear a clown nose but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a red nose — Teddy, for example has makeup on his face and a black nose,” Malcolm says. “We have performers that will be wearing a clown nose, we have performers like Jan and Peg who will not be wearing a nose. There are a wide range of different themes and styles of clowning that suits not only for young people but things for adults and date nights as well. Mump and Smoot definitely would be a great night — that’s a little more of an 18-plus show — so there’s something for everyone at our festival.”

With the new It movie, the upcoming Joker movie and the ubiquitousness of clowns in internet memes it feels like clowns are having a greater cultural presence than they’ve had in years. Malcolm says that this isn’t a coincidence and reflects the chaos found in the world over the last few years. Clowns can act as a barometer for social upheaval and have had their popularity increase in other tumultuous times in history. One only has to look a few years back to remember the bizarre clown sightings across North America in the divisive weeks before the 2016 election.

“Clowns tend to have resurgence when there’s turmoil in the world. We kind of work our way out of the woodwork when the world seems to be a little topsy-turvy,” Malcolm says. “The clown community has an ability to hold a mirror up to society and say ‘Look at how ridiculous we are.’ It gives us an ability to laugh at others’ misfortunes and to have the ability to express emotion that we can’t do otherwise when we’re looking at the news, and it’s so hard to look at sometimes. We can go to a clown and they can look at the news and we can laugh at that. It’s a way for us to express ourselves and reflect that society and give people a chance to reflect those emotions.”

The Calgary Clown Festival will be Sept. 18–21 at the Pumphouse Theatre. Information about the festival and tickets can be found at pumphousetheatre.ca.

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