LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Monday, 14 March 2016

Clown Noir in Nose Business - Interview with Simon Thompson

A Clown Extravaganza, the gala show at the Seagull Theatre in Lowestoft as part of Clown Gathering UK in February offered a rare chance to see a wide range of clowns from both sides of the Atlantic performing a variety of clowning styles. Among them were Sean Rollo Rollason and son Tommy performing a classic pantomime-style baking routine; Canada’s Amanda O’Leary doing party magic; Arthur Pedlar as a classic musical whiteface clown; and a very physical mixture of tumbling, juggling, music and humour from the Foolhardy Circus Troupe.

Also present was Simon Thompson’s slightly scary character clown, Clown Noir, who clowns in a theatrical setting. Thompson is touring this year in his new show, Nose Business. I asked him about his life as a clown.

How long have you been clowning and how did you get into it?

I began to train as clown in 1984, my inspiration came from many directions. I lived near Belle Vue Circus so my first experience of trad clown was Jacko Fossett, then Charlie Carolli at Blackpool Tower, other inspiration came from Buster, Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. It was in Paris with Le Coq that I first put on a red nose and started to play and I’ve never looked back.

How would you describe your style of clowning?

My style of clown is on the edge of Bouffon*, I like parody and making social commentary, yet play is central to everything I do. It allows for creativity so the obvious is avoided. I focus on audience engagement and shared experience.

How did the Clown Noir character come about?

Clown Noir is an extreme me, essentially childlike and full of mischief, yet he’s lived a full life and those experiences have coloured his persona. The make up is basically a mask to hide behind. It ease’s his feelings of vulnerability allowing him to comment where others may not. The laughter sugar coats the truth behind the dialogue or the game lulling the audience and pulling them in.

What were your workshops at this year’s CGUK about?

Find Play in Everything:
This workshop does what it says on the tin. Play for me is an essential ingredient for creativity and indeed Clown. Through play we can reveal childlike qualities, we can find solutions to problems and ultimately avoid the obvious.

Shared Experience:
In this workshop we will be focusing on our engagement with an audience and how we can tap into the emotional state of the clown and then share that with the audience. Thus creating moments of truthful and purposeful play. A clown is said to act as a mirror to society, I want to push that further by creating a silent direct communication with the audience. Allowing them to share your inner most thoughts, feelings, desires and be part of your journey, which then causes them to reflect on their own
circumstances. I want the audience to empathise, not pity. I want the audience to laugh with you not at you. I want the audience to share your pain and cry with you. I want the audience to scream, shout, swear, I want them to ride your emotional roller coaster and at the end, I want them to hug you, and love you.

What is it that most interests you in clowns and being a clown?

The humanity, the ability to be honest, fragile, insecure, vulnerable and present in front of an audience, a clown can connect at deeper level with the audience, because he shows the audience themselves but in exaggerated situations. He’s a problem solver and a truth teller.  

What’s the difference between a clown and a comedian or an actor; what sets the clown apart?

See above, hehehehe!

Why does the world need clowns?

Because they reflect humanity, a clown can stimulate laughter, tears, rage, love and empathy in fact all the human emotions, whilst making it easy to access for all ages and status’s.

What was the inspiration for Nose Business?

Nose Business is the last part of the Clown Noir Trilogy, which has echo’s of my life, career and failures along the way.

Catch Simon Thompson’s Clown Noir on tour in Nose Business at the following venues. More dates to be added. Check website for details.

13th, 14th May, Chapel on the Hill, Killorglin, Kerry
16th,17th May, Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin
17th June, Fisher Theatre, Bungay. UK
18th June, Seagull Theatre, Lowestoft UK
23rd -26th June, Barnstaple Fringe Festival, UK
3rd – 6th August, Cork Arts Theatre, Cork
31st-4th Sept, Holbaek Clown Festival, Denmark
21st Sept, Carnegie Arts Centre, Kenmare, Kerry
22nd Sept, St John’s Arts Centre, Listowel, Kerry
23rd Sept, Friars Gate, Kilmallock, Limerick
24th Sept, Dance Limerick, Limerick City
28th Oct, Waterside Theatre, Derry, Northern Ireland
3rd Nov, Riverside Theatre, Coleraine, Northern Ireland

*Bouffon. Not a spelling mistake but a term coined by Jacques Lecoq:  “The difference between the clown and the bouffon is that while the clown is alone, the bouffon is part of a gang; while we make fun of the clown, the bouffon makes fun of us. At the heart of the bouffon is mockery pushed to the point of parody. Bouffons amuse themselves by reproducing the life of man in their own way, through games and pranks. The parody isn’t directly offensive with regard to the public; there is no deliberate intention to mock—the relation is of a different order. Bouffons come from elsewhere.”
Theatre of Movement and Gesture, 2006

Click here for an interview with Bobbo Roberts - 30 Years a Clown.

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