dear santa 2022

When Larry chose to portray you, I was introduced to a world of incredible people who happily set aside their lives to portray you, eventually leading to their lives being shaped by you and what you represent.

More recently I’ve taken the plunge to support you and I thank you for Larry’s and my friends and mentors who continue to don the suit of red. Many of whom have become good friends, mentors, working partners, spiritual advisors and logical family to me. 

Having you in my life figuratively and – in many cases – literally in my life, has helped me survive the past nine years as there is a constant reminder of the magick, spirit and love that you represent. 

The men in the red suit who have remained in my life or joined me on my journey are blessings to me – I am reminded to love and give freely of myself through their acts, words and deeds.  My faith in humanity is refreshed when you reveal your presence to me through them.

Your biggest and best gift to me was Larry being given a focus and drive – especially through the worst cancer threw at him.  Your next greatest gift to me has been that the men who portray you that stood behind and beside me and supported me when my whole world crumbled, many of them held me up to ensure that I didn’t fall apart. 

At least two of these men have been an important part of my life before you entered it and they remain a large part of my life.  They continue to support me in their actions, words, prayers and deeds and they remind me that faith can be a powerful thing when given the right intent and reason. 

You have given me a good friend who both portrays you but also has taken me under his wing and works with me to create an experience where believers can share in your spirit and we can spread a message of peace and giving.   David continues to know exactly when I’m not in a good head and heart space and he reaches out to remind me of what is important and keeps me grounded.  In him I’m reminded that the spirit of St. Nicholas can still exist in an over noisy and complicated world.

You have given me a good friend who both portrays you but also has taken me under his wing and works with me musically.  David has been my most ardent supporter, believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.  He still does.  David continues to know exactly when I’m not in a good head and heart space and he reaches out to remind me of what is important and keeps me grounded.  In him I’m reminded that the spirit of St. Nicholas and St. Francis of Assisi can still exist in an over noisy and complicated world.

Make me an instrument of your peace indeed.  Both Davids are such and they bring peace within themselves wherever they goes.  It’s because of the Santas David that I still believe. Thank you.

You have introduced me to good friends who portray you and have provided me with patient and kind friendship and mentorship. In them, I’m reminded that the spirit of St. Nicholas and spirit of giving and love can still exist in an over noisy and complicated world.

This year, I was to have been blessed to spend time with many others who bear your mantle and joyously bring your blessings to us over a number of events.  Throughout the pandemic, I’ve been able to remain connected to the community and continue to communicate, educate and learn with the people who spread your message.

In them, you have given me spiritual supports and guides who show me that faith is a personal thing and can be balanced with my scientific mind’s desire for rationality and evidence.  Just as I believe in your existence in the hearts of the people who portray you, I believe in a higher power that exists in the hearts and minds of people who are searching for more than what appears on the surface.

The Davids, Kevin, Michael, Glenn (glad you’re back in the throne), Hal, Bruce, Robert, Lee, The Michigan Mikes, Mel, Glen, Roy and Stephen have shown me this higher power through their actions, words and hearts.  Once more, they have shown faith in me, when my own faith and belief in myself is often sorely lacking.  I thank you for their presence as it’s nice to have someone in my corner when I don’t feel like it’s warranted or deserved.

You have given me the drive to keep going when everything within me fights forward motion.  I continue to make and release music that represents who I am and provides a glimpse into whom I am striving to become.  I continue to create and build an entertainment experience that provides a sense of beauty, wonder and magic in a world that is sorely lacking these qualities. I continue to study and learn and approach my work and ministry with a spirit of giving, compassion and kindness.

You have continued to keep my family in my life and I am blessed with a supportive and caring Mother and an amazing brother, sister-in-law and nieces. 

So.  Once again, it’s time that someone thank you for all you have given them.  Gifts that aren’t material, however gifts that have supported me, provided me strength and continue to keep me alive.

Thank you once again, Santa, for all you have given.

I love you dearly, and yes, I believe.

myke aka phineus.

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one clown’s defence of difference

People have been asking me why I’m so passionate about fighting gatekeepers in clowning. The answer is simple.

It’s because I don’t want the current group of younger, up and coming, clowns to go through what I had to when I was starting out.

Let’s go back to the late 1980s and early 1990s. A young Myke was exploring what he wanted to do as he was facing impending adulthood. He had been learning how to play the electric bass guitar and was performing in bands of all types, but he still felt uncomfortable on stage.

Being asked to perform in a student production of The Rocky Horror Show introduced me to being on stage and performing as a character, even as a musician. I had previously taken a course in mime at a summer camp for gifted students. At the same time, I was also fascinated by clowns – having watched Bozo, Oopsie Daisy the Clown (Bob McNea from Windsor, ON), Rumpy the clown from the TV show Circus, not to mention the various other media that clowns were involved in.

As part of the aforementioned Rocky Horror Show performances, I learned basic clown makeup for the “finale” as the director was heavily influenced by the movie and the greasepaint had bitten me. I began to take out all the books on clowning I could from the public library.

In university, I realized that I had a fair amount of spare time at school due to a really shitty schedule. I often had more than ample time to finish my reading and homework, so I began to look at other ways to occupy my time in a productive way that didn’t involve propping up a bar. So I began busking, playing simple songs on an acoustic guitar. I realized that there were far better players than I, so I began looking at other options.

I didn’t feel comfortable performing as a mime or a clown, so I bought a book on balloon twisting and proceeded to teach myself how to twist balloons (the little book by Aaron Hsu Flanders that came with a baggie of balloons and a small hand pump). The first week I felt good enough, I twisted my way through an assorted bag of Qualatex 260s and came home with over $100 in my pocket.

However the lure of the greasepaint still had me. I began going to various academic libraries and using the interschool loan program to take out any books I could on clowning. I did a bunch of research and began to prepare for my first character. However the BIG problem was makeup.

I, of course, bought makeup at Halloween, a big sponge nose and a horrific afro wig and tried my first whiteface. I’m just glad I didn’t have a camera back then – it was pretty bad.

So I began to search the yellow pages to see if I could find a teacher. In a City of 3 million, surely there was SOMEONE who could teach clowning. The answer to all my phone calls was a resounding “no.”

Meanwhile, I was continuing busking with balloons and music and using my sense of humour to kid around with my “audience.” I began branching out, hosting karaoke at bars, night clubs and yes…bathhouses as I was working with an agent who saw me as “the young gay kid.” My band had gotten some reputation and, as my high school homeroom teacher was a biker, we often played at their events and clubhouse up on Lake Simcoe.

One day, I was searching the Toronto white pages and found a listing for the “Clown Association of Canada” and, decided to write a letter to them as it felt far too official a place to just call out of the blue. So I wrote what would be my first “cover letter” for an application and added my performance history as a sort of resume. I had just gotten a private land line in my parents’ house so I felt safe in giving my phone number if they wanted to reach out.

They did reach out and the phone call was straight to the point. “People like you are ruining the business for professionals like me! No I won’t train you and I won’t recommend anyone who can!”

People like me? People who have spent years researching, trying things on their own, and realizing that some things require first hand experience, reached out for help? You see, I was honest about my performance resume, mistakenly thinking that my experience would count for something. However I was naively incorrect and treated like a pariah because of the nature of some of the establishments. I was dismayed and almost ready to quit.

Then I found in the Metro Toronto Reference Library the book that saved me: Strutter’s Guide to Clown Makeup by Jim Roberts. The original version before Piccadilly Press revised it. As it was in the reference section, I filled up a photocopy card and copied the whole book page by page. I then went to Malabar costumes, bought PROPER clown makeup, brushes and sponges, went to the drug store to get baby powder and cold cream.

And I taught myself clown makeup out of a damn book. It still wasn’t great, but it was definitely quite a bit better.

During all of this time, I began exploring other retail locations to help me grow as a performer and was beginning to hang out at Morrissey’s Magic on Dufferin St in Toronto. This store was always a pilgrimage for me that would take nearly an hour to get to on transit. I would check out what Mr. Morrissey (“Call me Herb”) had, buy balloons and let him amaze me with his magic.

Eventually he asked why I don’t get out and perform as a clown – I noted that there was nobody in town wanting to teach me and I had no way of knowing where to get costume items like shoes and noses. He then handed me a pile of magazines – back issues of Laugh Maker’s Magazine. I am forever indebted to Mr. Morrissey for that act of kindness as he was not known to give stuff away.

I was through Laugh Makers that I met folks who became my teachers – Bob and Kathy Gibbons, David Bartlett, the writings of Bruce “Charlie” Johnson. I proceeded to start writing letters, ordering catalogs from Potsy and Blimpo Clown Supplies, Comanche Clown Shoes (still have my first pair) and various other companies.

I then moved to Ottawa in 1995 and things really took off. It was in Ottawa where I met Fizzlepop the Clown, AKA Alan Greenwood, who remains a friend and mentor to this day. It was in Ottawa where Rocky was born as I discovered Mooseburger North, who imported Priscilla Mooseburger Costumes to Canada and I was able to get my first real clown nose, ordered from ProKnows.

I split my time between Ottawa and Arizona in 1995 as I was doing work for my schooling on the Hopi Reservation in Northern Arizona.

My contract in Ottawa ended and I moved back home to Toronto and, once again, my progress stalled due to the incredibly closed and insular community. I found out about Toronto Clown Alley and worked out a way to attend their meetings where I sat, mostly ignored, for about a year. Then I wrote something about the clowning tradition that the Hopi Nation upheld. It was published in an edition of Laugh Maker’s and suddenly I got noticed.

After that broke the ice, I made a few friends who basically informed me that if I wanted to go anywhere, I’d have to stop working at certain establishments and go “don’t ask, don’t tell” about some aspects of my identity. So back into the closet I went.

I began to attend conventions across the US north and south east, focusing on learning from the best and getting enough guts to perform. However it became harder and harder to hide who I was, especially as I was asked to speak, teach and even judge <shudder> at conventions.

There were some folks who were always supportive of me and seemed to know my truth: Dana Montgomery, David Bartlett, Earl Chaney and I am honoured to still call them friends and mentors to this day.

And then two things happened in 2000:
– One: I met my husband and he proposed to me.
– Two: Clown Creed 2000 was published.

I won’t say my “re-emergence” out of the closet was wonderful, but it wasn’t as horrible as I anticipated it to be. However there were a number of people who walked away from me and used some hateful rhetoric about my performance in relation to my personal life.

I vowed as a teacher to not be like those people. I vowed not to judge people’s values as entertainers, specifically as clowns, based on the venues where they perform and how they express themselves. I vowed to support new clowns based on their hunger and willingness to learn and grow as performers, whether they perform in fairgrounds, nightclubs, haunted houses or on the street corner.

The difference between setting boundaries and gatekeeping is much like building a wall.

When you gatekeep, you build a wall to keep people out. When you set boundaries, you show folks where the door is and allow them to choose whether they want to enter. Regardless of such, people should not be forced to deny who they are or set aside their chosen venue and methods for expression to be allowed access to education, experience and knowledge.

The past summer at Academy for Clown Arts proved that point. Students and instructors alike all learned a bit more about themselves, their clowns and their relationship with performance. And most of us grew from that, despite the challenges and, yes, some discomfort.

I honestly feel that had I had more support and mentorship earlier on in my career, I would be ten times the performer I am now. However the lack of support and constant need to fight to learn what was important to me has made me a tenacious defender and supporter of those who are different, question the status quo yet still respect tradition and history enough to learn about it and build a solid foundation for themselves as a performer.

Denying the next generation this information and support because of who they are as a performer does not help the future of clowning and performance.

PS. This year, I have performed at a “Furry” convention, a Steampunk festival, a Pagan Pride Festival and a “Leather” event…I’ve taught at two international level conventions, worked at ACA, attended three national level educational events to continue learning and am chatting with another international school and I still maintain my weekly gig singing classical liturgical music at a Presbyterian church.

gatekeeping in clowning

There’s been a lot of scuttlebutt on the interwebz over the fact that ACA “allowed” haunt and alternative clowns to participate at the camp.

Allow me to be the first to say that ACA did not “allow” them to attend. ACA provided an inclusive, welcoming, safe space for clowns of all varieties to attend, learn and broaden their horizons.

As per Lee Andrew’s comments with respect to this, the camp was not “overrun by haunt clowns.” There were two campers who are performers who identified as haunt clowns, and at least three members of faculty who have worked in the genre.

The bulk of the other alternative clowns, would be best described as being “eccentric performers.” Each one different but each one practising what could be best described as clowning.

Since 2018, this has been a major part of ACA. Noting that Avner Eisenberg was ACA’s first headliner and they have continued in this vein with Iman Lizarazu and David Shiner as special guests and leading Master Classes.

This year ACA focussed on ensuring that younger, less “American traditional” clowns had a safe place to explore their characters and their performances. And faculty and students alike were able to see a group of people new to this level of education challenge themselves, learn and grow while finding a community of performers that made them feel comfortable for the most part.

The part that kills me in these conversations is that the individuals casting judgement on these eccentric performers are commenting whether or not they’re good or bad clowns without having actually seen them perform or talk to them in person. Essentially they’re casting aspersions about the quality of performer because they don’t particularly like the venue.

This would be like me commenting that all Christian clowns are bad because I am uncomfortable with using a secular art form to evangelize and proselytize. I may be uncomfortable with certain things, but I don’t allow my personal discomfort to malign individuals whom I have not yet met or have seen perform.

And here’s the rub, professional haunt clowns perform in enclosed venues that people pay admission for. Many of the eccentric performers perform in adult night clubs, festivals and other closed venues with restricted admission.

So it’s not like they’re appearing unexpectedly in front of random public audiences – unlike, say, missionary teams.

Furthermore, everyone who attended American Clown Academy wanted to learn, wanted to improve their skills, wanted to grow, wanted to “get good” if not better. They wanted to become better clowns and paid for the opportunity to learn about Circus History and Clown Gags, to improve their makeup skills, to have performance coaching by some of the best working professionals available, to learn how to scale their performances to a professional level theater.

I don’t see the problem with that. I don’t see the problem with teaching new generation performers the history of clowning in America, giving them new perspectives in how to be vibrant and compelling performers and showing what they can do through the eyes of other professionals.

Do you not want these other performers to get better, explore clowning in all forms – or are you just going to gatekeep them because you don’t like one thing that they do as professional entertainers?

9 years

Dear Larry,

Nine years have passed since cancer took you from us. I celebrate your life and the impact you had on the people you met. I try to continue to make the house a place of solace and respite from the overwhelming darkness of the world.

I am grateful that you did not have to live through the past three years. It has been a very tough time throughout the pandemic, and I can only imagine what the uncertainty of the past two holiday seasons would have done your spirits. Not to mention the fear of contracting COVID-19 or Monkey Pox with your compromised immune system.

Both you and I would have been complete basket cases, worried about your health. I was enough of a basket case myself with my own anxiety and recurrent PTSD. Thankfully I’ve been able to manage the PTSD, courtesy of my mental health team and my being able to travel and visit with friends and logical family.

I suspect Rev Paul Beyerl’s passing has held a very large component in this, I miss our conversations and his advice and guidance over the last few months. The past few weeks have proven very difficult for me to cope. Thankfully I’ve been able to throw my anxious energy into work, planning for American Clown Academy and a few interviews I’ve had with members of the Christmas Performance Community.

I continue to support the Santas and elves, helping them spread the magick and spirit of the season year round. I am happy to be able to assist some of the guys in upping their game and becoming a better jolly old elf. It’s an honour to continue in your boot prints!

I continue to heal and grow as I explore what it means to be me. I struggle with moments of loneliness and anxiety, however I continue to grow in strength and resilience. I miss you every day but also hope that I will someday find someone who will make me feel somewhat close to how you made me feel.

Maybe I can make them feel the way you made me feel – it would be a thrill to be able to bring such love and joy into another person’s life. That’s the least I can do to honour your legacy.

I love you.

I miss you.

Thank you.

m.

father’s day

Even before I came out, Father’s Day had been a weird observance for me.

My paternal grandfather died when Dad was quite young, forcing him to “step up” and be the “man of the house” at an early age, helping out on the farm and getting a job to help support my grandmother.

After I turned 13, my Dad stopped being a father to me and became more like a friend who provided guidance when possible.

This was compounded by the fact that my relationship with any male in authority was severely damaged by my sexual assault at the hands of a church elder (who was also a cop) and the cover up by the minister.

Life after I turned 13 became a massively messy place for me.  I couldn’t reconcile my feelings for older men, I couldn’t understand why G*d was punishing me for feeling the way I do when I was MADE that way and I couldn’t handle the thought of disappointing my parents.

I withdrew from both of them and I suspect my Dad noticed a difference in me.  I buried myself in the basement with my Yamaha RBX 200 bass guitar and the stereo system and began sneaking alcohol from the liquor cupboard.

I became the moody and artsy teenager in the basement and my Dad, having been thrust into an adult role at a young age, could no longer identify with the darkly brooding bundle of anxieties and self-loathing that inhabited the rec room.

I drunkly faked my way through high school and university, pretending to be a functioning, albeit arsty, member of society, burying myself in music, multiple jobs, school and spending the weekends drinking rye and ginger.  When I graduated, I secured a job at IBM/Celestica, adding amphetamines and weed to my regime of self-medication and continued moving numbly forward buried in a jumbled mess of music, clowning, work.

Throughout all of this, I was a denizen living in my parents’ home, with no time for relationships, including anything with my parents.

I got the job with the province and everything changed.  I had down time, I had space to breathe, I met Larry (again) online and I felt the need to be truly who I was meant to be.  I told my parents I was gay.  I told them I had met someone and that I wanted him to be in my life.  I worried that I would be disowned and kicked out.  I got higher and drunker than I had been in ages and TOLD them.

It was tense.  It was weird.  

My relationship with my Dad honestly never changed when he realized that his son was gay.  If anything, I think, it took the stress of being “Dad” off him.  His only comment to Larry was “I hope you’re planning to make an honest man out of my son and be good to him.”  It was then that I felt safe wearing my handfasting ring around my parents as we had promised our love together prior to my coming out to my parents.

Father’s Day was still a “thing” but more like:  Thanks for not kicking me out even when I was a messed up pile of angst and probably supremely awful to be around. or Thanks for understanding why I didn’t want to press charges against the man who raped me when I was a child, because asking the police to investigate one of their own would likely open the WHOLE family up to a massive shit show and trial by media.

Larry being both a father and grandfather (albeit estranged) made it even weirder.

So throughout most of my teenage and adult years, I never had a “normal” father/son relationship.  I wouldn’t know what that looked like if it bit me on the ass.

But still I miss my Dad and am thankful for the folks who have shown me what it means to be a patient, kind and supportive mentor and friend since Dad passed.

David Bartlett, Rev. gerry Beyerl, Rev. Frank Cordeiro, Blair Havers, Martin Hobbs, Drake Jensen, David Milmine, Rev. Doug Moore, Michael Morin, Murray Watson.

Happy Father’s Day to everyone.

joy, laughter and tears

I started writing this post while I was located in rural Minnesota, entering the second week of a retreat, the week prior spent performing my Spiritual Tradition’s Seven-Day Rites to honor the passing of Rev. Paul Beyerl.  It was a truly profound and beautiful process to say goodbye to my friend and mentor of the past nine years.  I am honored to have been asked to take part in the working of the full Ritual for the Dead and share in the support of his husband and partner, Rev. gerry Beyerl, as we all bid Rev. Paul a “thank you” and release his soul and spirit to the Universe.

The following week was a time of quiet meditation and, yes, fasting as we prepared for the year to come looking towards the future.  The retreat represented a tough and emotional two weeks’ in the year, however being surrounded by like minded individuals who challenge one to think and feel, there was no other place I wanted to be at the time.

I was with “logical family” in a time of tears, remembrance, joy and laughter. And hugs – lots and lots of hugs.

After over two years of isolation, working from home and not being able to visit with, talk to and hug the people who are important to me, the past few weeks have been a needed balm for a weary spirit.

This period of meditation, remembrance, physical labour and communal living – in true mykesworld fashion – came after an insane week in Atlanta, Georgia where I got to play with and educate clowns, Santas and other family entertainers. 

Definite opposites in levels of energies, focus and intent, but again providing me a chance to flex certain muscles and skills which had been mostly unused since 2019.

It was a fun, albeit frantic, week for me as I went from essentially two years of isolation to a full on convention surrounded by colour, zaniness and yes my anxieties over COVID, not to mention the stress of wearing an N95 in a state where even when there were mandates, masks were often frowned upon and ridiculed. 

Of course there was an outbreak at the convention (I know of 15 confirmed cases, including one hospitalization) however my wearing masks and being smart about unmasked photos, combined with being vaccinated and boosted, gave me a certain amount of protection. I have, of course, been testing since – especially as this is my traditional allergy season.

From a week of clowning around to a two week spiritual retreat which included funerary rites.  A true dichotomy – given the nature of my interests, I can’t say “two sides of the same coin”…perhaps two faces on the 20-sided die that is my life.

Blessed Be those who bring joy, laughter and cheer.

Especially in times of uncertainty and strife, they truly do the work of the Gods.

and time, indeed, will pass.

Recently I have been asked why I didn’t pursue legal action against the individual who sexually assaulted me when I was thirteen.

My parents asked me the same question back when I opened up to them about having been raped.

My reply:  because I knew I wouldn’t survive the process.

You see, as someone who works as a counselor and volunteered with support services, I fully understood what the police investigations, lawyer questions and court process is like from the victims’ standpoint.

In most cases, it isn’t the perpetrator who is put on trial, but the victim themself.

I had seen what happened to young men who were sexually abused by older men in power and the long-term outcome of the investigations and court-proceedings did to their lives. Particularly if it involved a beloved institution (such as the sexual assaults perpetrated by a member of the staff of the Toronto Maple Leafs)

When I opened up about being assaulted, I fully understood that everything I did when I was in contact with the man who raped me, from social events at church, to being in his home during the confirmation class and being driven home the two evenings he assaulted me would be put on trial.  Everything I did from age thirteen until I was finally able to speak about what happened would have been picked apart and examined under police and court microscopes.  This would include my struggles with self-esteem, my struggles with my sexuality, my life in the closet and finally coming out, my dances with addiction, mental health and eating disorders.

Everything would be put under a microscope, picked apart and prodded within an inch of its life.  I knew for myself that I would not have survived this process and, if by some miracle I did, I would be in far worse shape than when I was before.

When it did happen, I went to the one person in the church who I thought would believe and support me and THAT was a huge mistake.  I ended up driven deeper into the closet by shame and honestly thinking that I was responsible for being sexually assaulted by a powerful man decades older than me.  They threatened to out me to my family, threatened to out and humiliate me in the church and threatened my family.

I found out, early on, that reporting sexual assaults to people in power was often worse for the victim than the incident itself. This problem persists to this day.

And time, indeed, will pass.

Other victims of the same individual agreed with this assessment when we finally felt we were able to speak.  We also fully understood that as this individual worked in law enforcement and was a volunteer with the church, we would have been going up against the legal arms of BOTH institutions and facing our lives being torn apart in the court system to protect the institutions as well as the individuals involved.

So it was easier and safer to keep quiet.  

That’s why you’re riding on the Cherry Beach Express
Your ribs are broken and your face is in a mess
And we strongly suggest you confess
I confess I am mystified by the way you’re occupied
I confess I’m horrified why are you so terrified?
Does the pain get any less if I confess?
And the name on my statement’s under duress

– Cherry Beach Express – Pukka Orchestra

Later in life, I found that the song “Cherry Beach Express” by Pukka Orchestra was far more true than a certain city would like to admit.  Perhaps someday I will write about this, maybe not. A little more time needs to pass for that to happen.

And time, indeed, will pass.

The individual who assaulted me is now dead from cancer.  

The church where it happened closed after it collapsed under its own weight.  

I was able to find a level of closure with the individual who helped cover it up – a level that I am currently comfortable and content with as that individual cannot threaten and harm any more young people at this juncture.

And time, indeed, will pass.

what are you picking up for Lent?

Today is the first day of the Lenten season for Christians worldwide.  Lent is a season where people in the Christian faith spend 40 days reflecting on the concept of sacrifice and preparing for Easter.

You often hear of people giving things up for Lent, essentially doing without something as a form of sacrifice.  Be it coffee, chocolate, cursing, etc. – as if those “sacrifices” are symbolic of the coming Easter season and the sacrifice one man laying down his life to spare others from pain.

As I worked in an office that was primarily Christian (and Catholic) in denomination, I was surrounded by people who would “give up” something for the 6 weeks leading up to Easter, with the implied expectation that I was supposed to do similarly, even as a non-Christian.

(The last time I did this, our office had a curse jar, where people put money if they swore in the office during Lent, the funds were given to charity.  On Ash Wednesday I just popped a $100 bill into the jar and said “Fuck it, you shitheads know I’m not going to be able to make it 40 goddam days without fucking swearing.”)

That being said, I find the concept of “giving something up” for 40 days to be superficially performative and non-committal.

Because after the 40 days, people often go back to their old habits, with nothing really changed in their behaviours or outlook.  Lent becomes a merely symbolic temporary reprise from negative actions. After the bunny has visited and the tomb lays empty, people go back to “business as usual,” pretending the prior 40 days of mindfulness and reflection didn’t happen.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat again next year.

Over the past few years, I’ve focused on the concept of the Lenten season not being a time to reflect on sacrifice but more a time to reflect upon humility and charity.

So, a few years back, I thought about the concept of adding a practice during the Lenten period, be it physical exercise, meditation, prayer, dietary change.

Why?

Psychologists and other behavioural experts confirm that it takes 21 to 30 days before a practice becomes a habit and 40 to 66 days before it becomes automatic.

In the past few years, I’ve used the 40 days of Lent to increase my water consumption, take on a practice of meditation and mindfulness and exercise.  I’ve found that this period of time is a good way of adding/changing personal habits towards creating a meaningful shift in my behaviours.

In a recent public conversation with a UCC Minister, I brought up this concept and he agreed that “giving up for Lent” is at best a performative and demonstrative practice that rarely led to long-term change and that for many was a temporary symbolic gesture that didn’t lead to positive change in those that practice it.

This year, I’m planning on reading a chapter in a book each day with a focus on Critical Race Theory/Anti Racism and decolonizing my mindset.

So what habits are you picking up for Lent?

go ahead! tell me i can’t!

In the early 1990’s, as an aspiring clown, I searched the phone books to see if there were any local groups or schools that would help me along the way.

I spied an organization in the phone book that purported themselves to be “The Clown Association of Canada” so I called the number and left a message.

A few days later, I got a brusque reply from the man on the phone who called me back, saying:

“People like YOU are ruining the business for people like ME!”

And then he slammed the phone down.

Nonetheless I persisted and got an incredible amount of help from Herb Morrissey at Morrissey’s Magic in Toronto who gave me a pile of back issues of Laugh*Maker’s Magazine.

A few years later, I was living in Ottawa, working for the Canadian Federal Government and busking on street corners, using what I learned from reading those magazines and the books that I took out of the library.  My makeup skills are indebted to “Strutter’s Guide to Clown Makeup” and a lot of my early clowning skills were derived from “Creative Clowning”

As I worked through university and had access to the internet, I discovered some early online resources for clowning, including “Soda Pop’s News Letter,” “Snorkels the Clown” and “Cheesecake the Clown.”  I reached out to all of them, and Dana “Cheesecake” Montgomery remains one of my best friends to this day.  I love him like a brother and miss being able to clown around with him.

While I was working a corner at ByWard Market, I met Fizzlepop who helped me quite a bit.  I also met Hunkey Dorey from Brantford who is one of my dearest friends to this day.  I also began writing for Laugh*Maker’s magazine and am proud to have been a contributor for that magazine.

I also began a penpal friendship with David “Mr. Rainbow” Bartlett, who remains my mentor, friend and collaborator almost 30 years down this path.

Through my writings and research in 1995, I discovered Toronto Clown Alley and joined them for a few years, as well as Clowns of America International and World Clown Association.

With Mr. Rainbow, I performed and taught at a number of conventions up and down the east coast.  Leading up to my first “National” convention, teaching with Cheesecake.

During this time I wrote for Laugh*Makers, The Funny Paper, The New Calliope and Clowning Around, as well as continued my education in both American style clowning as well as working with clowns from European and First Nations cultures.

Life intervened for a while and I took a sabbatical from the funny business, eventually returning to the fold to perform at Western Regional Clown Association convention in 2012, followed by Clowns of America International in 2015.

In 2018, I was asked to be on staff at American Clown Academy.  In 2022, I was asked if I would like to be a co-director of American Clown Academy.  In 2021 and 2022, I was invited to speak at Clowns of America International’s annual conference as a solo presenter.

Not a bad run for someone who was “ruining the business.”

My goal now is to provide a gateway to new clowns that was repeatedly denied me when I was starting out 30+ years ago.

Then again, despite all of this, I still have older clowns telling me that my being accepting of “alternative” clowns like those who work at haunts, punk or anarchist clubs, burlesque shows or in adult entertainment is “ruining the business”

Judging by the size and age of the population in the international organizations, that could be true…or it could be that the gatekeeping that is preventing the younger generations from feeling welcomed in these groups…

In 2018, I was brought on staff at American Clown Academy, acting as Human Relations and camp Counselor (as in to provide counsel and support to campers experiencing difficulties over the week).  Over the ensuing three years, my role grew and evolved to the point where I was offered the position of co-director.

American Clown Academy (ACA) is a weeklong intensive residential camp whose aim is to provide educational opportunities for working entertainers to help them progress in their careers.  With a focus on performance, character development and business.  While the word “clown” is in the name, there are streams for clowns, hospital performers, eccentric performers and yes Christmas performers.

Keeping in mind that since I have been involved with ACA, there has been a solid and growing population of Christmas performers looking to enhance their abilities as performers and explore new possibilities in their depiction of the Saint from the North Pole.  The program offered as “White Beards Anonymous” is a five-day intensive residential course where people who work as holiday performers spend afternoons in a focused training program, while the mornings are spent exploring other educations opportunities including: working with a choreographer, developing a hometown business, performing in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, developing a unique character and eccentric performance.

It’s grown to the point that I’ve geared the scholarship fund left by my husband to be used for promising Christmas performers to attend ACA in order to hone and grow their skills as performers and portrayers.

That being said, when a proposal for a group where various groups that provide a formal Christmas Performer educational program to discuss schedules and timing was floated, both the director of ACA and I threw our hats into the ring as we both know how heated scheduling can be.

At the moment, there are literally groups suing one another because of scheduling conflicts – holly jolly, spirit of the season indeed.  I won’t even begin to delve into the arguments between real-bearded vs “designer” beards…

We were both told no, that ACA didn’t meet the criteria of a Christmas performance-based educational program 2 days in length or greater…hmmm….so much for offering professional courtesy…so much for trying to support an individual for whom I’ve stuck my neck out on more than one occasion.

But once again, being told “no” doesn’t piss me off – I usually take my frustration and dismay and turn it into energy to focus on being better and working hard to make things right.  The other director works the same way, so we are focused on bringing together a group of committed and dedicated students as well as a number of the best instructors the world has to offer, including a number who run their own educational programs.  This particular piece of ACA continues to grow and evolve as the Christmas performers are seeing other artists doing and asking if they can try.  While the name may have the word “clown” in it, it could easily have “Santa” or “Christmas Performers” in it as well.

Watch this blog in the next year or so to find out about my progress in my spiritual development.  However being told that I had no future in the church because I was gay…well just watch me…

So telling me I can’t do something is a surefire way of ensuring I will do my damndest to get it done – but on my own terms and in a way I am willing to live and grow with.

Thank you to everyone who told me I couldn’t.

begin a tale…

“Once upon a time, began a tale,” said the storyteller…

These words opened the Cirque du Soleil show “La Nouba.”  These words changed my life as a performer.  Up until that point in my career as a musician, clown, disc jockey, karaoke host and band member, I approached each performance as a disjointed series of vignettes, songs and “moments.”  Performances were organized as to how I and my audiences “vibed” with each other and often felt like unfinished puzzles – both to me and many of my customers…

My musical tastes were “eclectic” at best ranging from Abba to Frank Zappa with stops at some of the darkest heavy metal and beardiest prog rock.  Rocky the Clown was, at best, a ringmaster in a circus of chaos popping from trick to skill to song randomly throughout a performance.

My performances were disjointed, never really flowed and felt like they were put together by scattershot or completely at random.

And my audiences suffered from the chaos.  Yes they had fun, but when they got into a vibe and flow, I’d hit the brakes, screech the tires and take a hard left turn into a different feeling, often leaving them feeling whiplashed and exhausted.

With La Nouba, I was introduced to performance as storytelling – crafting a narrative using the disparate pieces and acts, interweaving “sub plots,” such as the clowns, eventually leading up to a grand finale which provided a closing of the narratives contained within the show.

The show pushed and pulled, it created and resolved tension and also gave moments for the audience to breathe, to rest, to laugh.

Understanding how this worked turned me into a storyteller as I began to approach my performances moving forward.

From my performances as Phineus in his various incarnations – I began to develop a narrative – focusing on who Phineus is as a character – beyond an exaggerated version of Myke.  Within the core of Phineus as a character exists the elf, the bard, the fool, the bunny, the pirate and various other twists on the character.  These core traits have helped me to develop both solo performances as Phineus as well as craft shows working with Santa, Captain Greed the Pirate and yes, other clowns, elves and comedic performers.  

Each performance has a storyline that it follows, Phineus the Elf training the reindeer and repairing the sleigh for Santa; Phineus being transformed by Santa into a Bunny to help the Easter Bunny during the “Elven Off Season”; Phineus learning new songs for the Renaissance/Steampunk Festival; Phineus acting as an olde time explorer in a Furry Convention….these stories can be 30-45 minutes long or exist for the duration of a multi-day event and the narrative builds as each event progresses.

At the same time, these stories reflect who Phineus is and what the overarching intent of each performance is.  And they build when I get repeat customers as the narrative continues at the next event I do for them.

These core traits have helped me develop my performances as a musician as well.  My gigs are no longer a “top 40” collection of songs that I can perform for the most part (unless that is what I’ve been requested to do), when I produce myself as a performer, I prefer my gigs to have a narrative arc.

“table for one.” was a two set show where I performed my album “table for one.” in its entirety during the first half – from beginning to end.  Yes – it took cojones to perform a completely unknown set of original songs from beginning to end before an audience of my peers, friends and family.  Especially songs that were pretty experimental (being human) or depressing as hell (table for one).  The second set was a series of songs that I constantly found solace in as I rebounded from the deaths of my husband and father and recovered from two suicidal periods.  It was an emotionally HEAVY night for myself and the audience and I thank them for their patience and kindness.

“Foundation” was a show where again, I played a mini set of new music, a “best of” from “table for one.” and a set of songs of continued healing.    “45 and Still Alive” was a LONG set of music which followed my autobiography in music…from my early love of the Bee Gees, through to my fixation on ABBA, through to The Who, Rush, Pink Floyd, Mike Keneally, Frank Zappa and Bob Mould.  It was an incredibly eclectic set but followed my life’s story in songs – including stuff I had written in the past and present.

Each show I’ve done resulted in incredible comments of how people felt my stories being told through music.

I’ve taken this further with my presentations, seminars and lectures.  When I returned to the corporate world in 1996 and was given classes in adult education and instruction, it became clear to me that people learned better if they were engaged in learning and the subject matter in which they were being trained.  To help them engage with it, it became evident to provide a context as to why it was important to learn whatever was being taught.  How to provide context?  Tell a story.

I have since focused on education as “infotainment” to a certain extent.  Particularly if I am teaching performers a particular skill or concept.  I have found that they grasp the idea better if they see a fellow performer using that idea in their own presentation, so why not use it as part of the lesson and “sneak” that knowledge into them by entertaining them in the process.

I have seen so many performers present a series of skills, tricks and gags and call it a show.  There is nothing connecting the vignettes together and often their performances come across disjointed, chaotic and are less than engaging for the audience.  The only connecting factor is the performer themselves and there is no rhyme or reason for why they are doing what they are doing aside from “I am an entertainer, let me entertain you!”  Sadly this often leads to a lack of engagement with the audience, who can pop in and out of attention depending on whether they find the action “on stage” interesting or not.  All the while, the performer is on autopilot doing the particular routine.

In the end, the audience had moments, but are not left with a memory or tale to tell their friends.  This was reinforced to Santa and Phineus this year when a customer at one of our events stated “Hey [childrens’ names redacted] – remember Santa and Phineus visited us on Zoom last year?  Phineus sang us songs and Santa told a funny story about why his sleigh has bells?  When we heard it was them going to be here – we made sure to arrange a visit!”  

In a Zoom “Virtual Visit” Santa and Phineus provided entertainment, created a memory and told a story that these customers remembered.  In creating our visits, we told a story to the families we met, provided entertainment and created a memory that the family cherished enough to “hunt us down” for a visit this year.

Too many performers don’t seem to think like entertainers, even fewer think like storytellers.