TORONTO – If your idea of a clown is limited to an obnoxious kids’ birthday party entertainer or Stephen King’s nightmarish It, Adam Lazarus wants to change your mind.
“I think the essence of a lot of what clown is, is you’re dealing with the human experience—the ridiculousness of being alive,” said Lazarus, the artistic director of the Toronto Festival of Clowns.
Described as “fringier than Fringe” (in reference to the indie theatre festival), the clown festival is in its ninth year and runs May 28-June 1.
Lazarus has turned to crowdfunding to try to raise an extra $3,000 so the performers can be paid more; he’s also trying to exceed the festival’s average ticket sales of 1,500.
But don’t bring your kids.
“The kid’s clown is like: ‘Eat birthday cake, eat it, eat it!’ … It’s so surface; it’s a gimmick and I feel like it really doesn’t transcend anything,” he said.
“That’s why good clown is like a revelation of humanity and not just a pie in the face.”
“Good clown” is enveloped in physical theatre and character-based performances, he said, citing Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, Sacha Baren Cohen, Simon McBurney, and Geoffrey Rush as examples.
“All of those guys are clown actors,” said Lazarus, who studied at the same school as the famous performers: France’s Ecole Philippe Gaulier. “Think about Roberto Benini in ‘Life is Beautiful.’ That’s a classic Gaulier-trained clown, and so wonderful.”
This year the festival includes dance, puppetry, mask, vaudeville, bouffon, character and other types of clown styles. Performers are from Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Caracas, Venezuela.
Isaac Luy is the Venezuelan act, and tells his story of what it was like to immigrate to Toronto through clown. Then there’s local act Helen Donnelly, who works as a teacher and therapeutic clown, visiting children’s rehab hospitals to lift spirits and provide interaction besides that of a doctor, said Lazarus.
And while you shouldn’t bring young kids, young clowns are welcome.
The festival has created a bursary program (through donations over the course of the weekend) for students and recently graduated clowns, nominated by teachers across the country to perform in the final night of the festival—the Student Soiree.
Twenty-year-old Kevin Forster studies theatre at Ryerson University, and will be one of the student performers.
“It’s very liberating and…it’s very difficult to do clown,” said Forster.
“Even though you have the nose and the mask, you’re really taking off your mask of being a human. They really see you as who you are and who your clown is. So that vulnerability and that truth you get from clown, I find helps me bring into my other acting; staying real in the moment.”
It will be Forster’s first time at the festival, and he’s nervous but excited.
“The bursary that is being offered would be great to get, and maybe further my studies–going to the National Theatre School as a possibility,” he said.
And with industry professionals like Cirque du Soleil’s head of casting Marc-Andre Roy in attendance, there’s always the possibility for future job opportunities.
“[Roy] always has an eye on these new acts that are coming through,” said Lazarus.
“So what we’re trying to do at the clown festival is create a start-to-finish platform, for creation to full-scale performance, and possibly touring after the festival’s done.”
Catch the Toronto Festival of Clowns May 28-June 1 at their two venues: the Pia Bouman School (6 Noble St.) or Brockton Collective (442 Dufferin St, Studio A)
© Shaw Media, 2014