Clowns from across the world will congregate in India for the upcoming International Clown Festival 2023, here’s all you need to know…
The upcoming fête hopes to revive an interest in clowning across the country…
In 2023, the first thing you think about when you think about clowns, sadly, is Pennywise, the evil clown from world of Stephen King’s novels brought to life by the two movies, It and It Chapter Two. For another set of pop culture enthusiasts, however, the word immediately personifies the adorable Fizbo, a clown avatar portrayed by the magnificent Eric Stonestreet as Cameron in Modern Family. The world today seems to either love or hate clowns, so much so, coulrophobia, or the fear of clowns, is a widely acknowledged psychological phenomenon. A generation ago, however, clowns only evinced happy thoughts. They were a must at every party and the most celebrated performers at circuses. The upcoming International Clown Festival 2023 in India hopes to revive this love for clowns and their art form — clowning, as we call it; and ‘play,’ as they refer to it — and we catch up with the curator Martin ‘Flubber’ D’Souza, an award-winning international clown from India, to find out everything you need to know about the four-city festival.
Clowning is not a new form in India, we’ve seen the ‘circus’ clown in India as an entertainer for quite some time now — how long has this culture been prevalent in the country?
Clowning is a very ancient art. Although the first recorded term or profession of the jester dates back to 2,400 BC. The jester or court fool is perhaps the most renowned and oldest image of a clown. When we think of clowns in times of kings and kingdoms of historical times, the court jester, or fool, held a cherished position in medieval courts. They were employed by kings, queens and noble families to provide entertainment and comic relief amidst the seriousness of courtly affairs, much like the character of Birbal in the Akbar-Birbal folklore of India.
Is clowning in India different from other countries? Is there a local flavour that clowns in India add to the performance?
The art of clowning is interpreted differently in different cultures. What remains constant is the ‘heart of a clown.’ I believe clowns are family entertainers and ambassadors of happiness. Clowns present themselves differently in different countries in terms of costume, wardrobe and culture and skills. Clowns have performed in circus, village fairs, theatre and carnivals and in schools and hospitals. The local culture and environment always dictates the presentation. In India, it has evolved from the vidushak to clowning, now mostly in theatres and carnivals.
What does clowning take inspiration from, where did the art in its present form evolve from?
The clown persona has evolved as a reflection of society. In the era of jesters, they were the voice of conscious to the authorities in a comical way. The classic white face clown evolved from the mime where lighting in theatres was poor and facial features needed to be highlighted. The ‘hobo’ and ‘tramp’ evolved from The Great Depression. Clowns use theatre, mime, music and circus skills to present their art.
When did you get into the art and how has your journey been, so far?
It was by chance I was asked to put on make up for a birthday party way back in 1990. I tried watercolours which turned out to be a mess. But I loved the experience. I researched and discovered that clowning is huge all over the world. I was accepted with a scholarship to clown education at a university in the USA . I learned the art, joined an international association and eventually in time, I became the vice president of the World Clown Association. I got many opportunities to perform internationally. In 2016, I was awarded the Clown of the Year by the World Clown Association. Clowning has taken me around the world and I am so glad I got into this world.
Have you been able to hone your art over the years, and if so, how?
Yes. I have attended numerous clown educational programs. I’ve attended clowning conventions in different countries and performed in seven countries and across several cities in India. It’s a tremendous learning experience performing with other international clowns on stage and in the clowning communities.
Do tell us a bit about the upcoming International Clown Festival 2023?
This will be the first mega festival after the pandemic lockdowns. We have nine international clowns and have scheduled 30 shows across four metro cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai. We will be presenting a 100-minute Broadway-style clown extravaganza. It will have music, mime, juggling, magic, circus skills, plenty of comedy gags and of course, all this through the medium of clowning. There will be plenty of opportunities for kids to get up close and get a picture with their favourite clown.
Who are the clowns participating and where are they from?
The clowns are from USA, Canada, Germany, Italy, Singapore, Japan and I’m from India. There’s Jeffrey ‘Bungles’ Potts (USA), Charles ‘Sleepy’ Lauder (Canada), Edmund ‘Captain Dazzle’ Kong (Singapore), Janna ‘Jenny’ Wohlfarth (Germany), Gaia ‘Gaia Ma’ Matulli (Italy), Daigo ‘Toppo’ Mizutani ( Japan), ‘Rone’ & ‘Gigi’ (Japan) and myself, Martin ‘Flubber’ D’Souza (India).
Clowning is now often used as an exercise in theatre and therapy — your opinions on both?
It’s an amazing experience. Clowning permits you to explore the child like spirit in you. It’s all play (what clowns call their clowning acts). We are so caught up with the everyday work routine that we forget to see ‘play’ in things around us. Through clowning we see world through the eyes of a child. We explore, we discover and we have fun through play. Through clowning we are able to convey and share a lot of ideas and content with kids. We are able to teach kids safety, hygiene, anti-bullying and so many other sensitive topics.
How do you, as a clown, keep your audience engaged for over an hour? How do you ensure the show isn’t repetitive?
The very important aspect of clowning is that we are not actors doing a role. We are clowns. We don’t dress as clowns. Though we have a set show planed, we take the audience along with us in our exploration of silliness and a child like discovery of life. Our show is packed with a huge variety of skills and acts, music, mime, juggling, magic, uni-cycling, acrobatics, comedy gags, skits, circus skills and so much more.
What can audiences expect at the International Clown Festival 2023?
Flubber and his international friends have a hilarious show planned for children of all ages. A range of new acts, some classic bits, great music and plenty of laughter. A day well spent with their family, recalling childhood memories of fun and play. A moment to bond in a joyous environment, unwind and refresh fully.
Why should a non-clown lover come to the show?
It’s more than just a clown show. It’s a wholesome family friendly comedy extravaganza. If you wish to laugh out loud with your family, you need to be at the show. The music, circus skills and comedy will appeal to anyone.
What can we expect from you next?
My dream is to host the largest clown gathering in India. Over 1,000 clowns from all over the word. I also wish to have a few permanent touring clown shows across the length and breath of the country — into small towns and cities. I believe there are 27 big cities and over 5,000 towns and cities in India and once they’re done, I want to tour the world!
INR 800 onwards. In Chennai: September 30, October 1 & 2. 3 pm and 7 pm. At Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Harrington Road and in Bengaluru: October 21 & 22. 3 pm and 6 pm. Good Shepherd Auditorium, Museum Road.