CHENNAI: What comes to your mind when you think of a clown? An image of a comic performer sporting funny clothes, painted face, red nose and curly wig? But, city-based John Pradeep, who has been actively involved in theatre since 2004, and is a children engagement specialist who conducts workshops and performances for children, tells us clowning is not just about costumes.
Four years back, John was exposed to performance clowning in a workshop conducted by Mad Hatters from Mumbai. “Gone are those days when clowns performed only in a circus. There is no course for clowning in our country so workshops are the only place to learn. The session was an eye-opener. I learned that not all clowns juggle, and not all jugglers are clowns. Clowning is an individual art and clowns are entertainment specialists. There are juggling clowns, magician clowns, story-telling clowns and children engagement clowns. Further, the World Clown Association narrows it down to clowns performing in hospitals, old-age homes and missionary & church. We specialise in theatre clowning,” shares John, founder of Blaze Academy of Refined Arts.
John has put together a relatively new team of around eight clowns. It comprises short-film actors, whistlers and stand-up comedians. “We work on our strengths. Hand-eye coordination, consistency, body language and synchronisation are important while performing. Earlier, when I approached event managers for show dates they’d bluntly reject saying they needed someone to just wear the clown costume and greet people. Now, I perform as a walk-round clown in marathons, kids carnival, and brunches. We are trying out our first physical comedy workshop at the upcoming Cat Fringe Festival. Based on the response we plan to bring in international clowns to Chennai. We’re also open to performing in unconventional spaces like malls, gated communities, schools, and open-air stages,” tells John, who also specialises in shadow theatre and puppetry.
Blending clowning with existing art forms gives these artists more scope to perform. Clowning can be used to deliver serious messages in a funny way. It’s all about making people think. The artists have a two-way approach. Depending on the crowd and reaction they modify the script on the spot. “Even when a newbie joins the team we point out what’s funny and what will work on stage. It turns magical the minute we wear our red nose. Even when we miss our moves or make mistakes, people laugh at it. This is an art of making mistakes and laughing about it. Every artist has a clown character based on their major and minor emotions, age and strengths. Once you wear the costume, you transform into a whole new avatar,” explains John.
John emphasises that only content matters, outer appearance doesn’t. There are not many clown-performing groups in the city. Many clowns, he says, are treated like showpieces. “I’ve seen many expressionless clowns. They shake hands and pose for the sake of menial wage. It’s all about creating a space for yourself and fitting in. Clowning is about expressions, and is a flexible art form. We charge for shows based on our skills, rehearsals and costumes. With enough recognition this can be a full-time profession. If there are successful clowns, then the future generation might definitely look at it as a career,” he shares.
With many non-traditional art forms taking centre stage in recent times, the artists are positive about the future of clowning. It has helped them develop a sportive attitude and easy-going approach towards life. “You don’t have to be embarrassed about anything in this art. The costume is an armour and it makes you thick-skinned. This was one art form where I was not asked to lose weight. We have to start making an effort as a community. If you’re good at something, never do it for free. If you can be a clown, you can be anything,” says Syama Harini, one of the artists.
The team will perform at Cat Fringe Festival — Clowns, puppets and more will be held on September 29 and September 30 at The ARTery, Royapettah. For details visit: www.chennaiarttheatre.com