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.

dear santa

When Larry decided 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 being shaped by you and what you represent. I thank you for Larry’s friends and mentors who continue to don the suit of red. Many of whom have become good friends, mentors, working partners and spiritual advisors to me. 

Having you in my life figuratively and in many cases, literally, has helped me survive the past eight 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 world crumbled, many of them held me up to ensure that I didn’t fall apart.  At least two of these folks have been a large 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.  Because of them I still believe.

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.  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 two events.  Despite the pandemic continuing to limit travel and public gatherings, 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.

David, Kevin, Michael, Glenn, Hal, Bruce, Robert, Lee, Glen, and Stephen have shown me this higher power through their actions, words and hearts.  Again, they all 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, I believe.

myke.

No post script this year. I truly have nothing I care to ask for. I am as content as I can expect in my life.

not all clowns are angels with red noses…deal with it!

There was yet another article on a “traditional clown” site bemoaning the existence of “scary clowns” at Halloween Haunts and Fright Nights.  I decided against replying directly to this article as I know I would be wasting my time, energy and breath.

I wonder if doctors and medical professionals get so butthurt about the “mad doctor” or “evil nurse” tropes that are trotted out regularly in horror movies and other media? I wonder if butchers get upset over the use of meat hooks and abbatoirs in horror imagery?

However, if you don’t like something – FINE, don’t like it.  Because you don’t understand or enjoy something does NOT negate the practitioners, performers and audiences who DO.  Most haunt actors I know and have worked with are serious performers who rehearse, work hard and even study the psychology of fear.  They also get pissed off when parents bring children and adults who are not ready for haunts to these events which are often specifically geared to adults.

ADULTS can be afraid of regular clowns, and can be afraid of doctors and dentists and flying and Santa Claus! Fearing things that are different and out of the ordinary is a NORMAL human response, particularly if that individual is disguised or masked.  Get over yourselves – clowns are not immune from criticism, nor should they be immune from being depicted as being objects of fear – BECAUSE CLOWNS CAN BE SCARY TO SOME PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF HOW THEY LOOK OR ACT.

By the way – the people who perform at Halloween haunts and theme park fright events are OFTEN THE SAME people who work as costumed characters and princes/princesses in the theme parks, they are OFTEN THE SAME performers in the stage shows that entertain families during the daylight hours. To dismiss these people as being unprofessional and “lesser performers” truly highlights your prejudices.

Let’s start with this statement: as someone who has worked as a professional clown since 1995, Haunt or Scare Clowns do not offend me. I have performed in more than a few haunts and YES, I have worked as a clown at a number of them. My scare clown characters run from a family friendly “Cryptkeeper” story-teller type to all out gore and mayhem. Being asked to portray either of these does not offend me as a clown.

Being asked to portray a humorous character at a burlesque, bathhouse or “gentlemen’s club” does not offend me either.

I get more offended when I see “Christian Clowns” who use the “Angels with Red Noses” trope.  Wearing a cheap Halloween costume or yama with lipstick, foam ball nose and fright wig and eschewing rehearsal and hard work in lieu of “divine inspiration.”  Hammering their interpretation of cherry-picked bible passages into clown skits, old self-working magic and balloon sculptures to indoctrinate a new generation into their particular sect of Christianity. These groups maybe gather for an hour or two a week for fellowship, gossip and maybe even rehearsal before going out and spreading the word.

I get more offended when I see clowns rehash old skits, like “Busy Bee,” or “Ring Ring,” or “Banana Bandana” poorly at “National Level Conventions” without thinking about how THEIR clown characters would act and behave in these skits.  Let alone practicing the skit for only a few times before stepping up on a stage with no thought of timing, blocking or how it presents to an audience. Not to mention even considering if the children of today have even SEEN a telephone with a cord in their lives!

I get more offended when a person in motley and slap sits in front of a camera, lecturing people without bringing any actual clowning or entertainment to their message.  I get more offended when a person in clown simply reads old jokes and puns off of cue cards and uses the mouth of their puppet sidekick to adjust their hat or costume.

If you feel someone isn’t living up to their potential as entertainers, first try to understand what their actual role is and then consider if you can offer any advice or assistance to help them towards that goal. If the answer is yes, then make that offer. If the answer is no, then move along because you may not understand, enjoy or agree with their methods, but it doesn’t make what they’re doing any less valid as an entertainer.

I don’t go to a three-ring circus expecting a nuanced theatrical event that provides thoughtful critique of the zeitgeist. I don’t go to a kid’s birthday party expecting to see Freddy Krueger (well, I know of a few kids who would dig that but…) I ALSO don’t go to a Halloween Haunt or Fright event expecting a gentle birthday party entertainer offering a bubble princess experience (although that WOULD scare the shit out of me). BUT THAT DOESN’T make either event or the performers who make them happen any less valid than any other venue!

You may not like or enjoy those performances, but others do, so as with anything else you may not enjoy or understand, move along to something else that makes you happy and uplifts your spirit.

People will always find clowns scary, perhaps it’s the makeup, perhaps it’s the fear of being singled out and made fun of. But it will always happen. If you want to improve the image of clowns and clowning, work on your performance, find what makes you and other people laugh and add that to what you do.  Rehearse, practice, focus on being fun and being interested.

Be funny but stop being a joke.

It’s okay to not like things. Just don’t be a dick about it.

8 years

Dear Larry,

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

I am glad that you did not have to live through the past few years. It has been very tough over the past two years, and I can only imagine what the uncertainty of the coming holiday season would have done your spirits. Not to mention the fear of contracting COVID-19 with your compromised immune system.

Both you and I would be total basketcases, worried about your health. I’ve been enough of a basketcase myself with my own anxiety and recurrent PTSD. Yup, PTSD has welcomed itself back into my life as I continue to struggle with the stresses of isolation and not being able to access many of the things that have kept me balanced and moving forward.

I suspect Chloe’s passing has a very large component in this, I miss having her companionship and cuddles and the past few months have been very difficult for me to cope.

I continue to support the Santas and help 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!

Mom has mostly recovered from cancer, she currently remains free and clear of cancer, but now has to follow up every six months. I am being cautiously optimistic, as I know full well that “free and clear of cancer” can be a tenuous description.

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.

Dear Canadian Roman Catholic Friends,

Many of you know that I am not the greatest fan of organized religion, particularly your variety of organized Christianity.

And I understand a good number of you are frustrated in your church’s handling of the Residential School backlash and are considering boycotting Mass.

As someone who has been quite active in protests, boycotts only work if there is some financial trauma attached to them, so if you have your tithing on pre-authorized remittance (PAR or direct debit), make sure you cancel that and send a letter to the church explaining why your donations are stopping and what you demand will need to happen before you start them back up again.

If you stop showing up to church, but still keep supporting the institution financially, your protest is in vain.

However I feel in this case a boycott is not effective enough. Your absence and silence in the church will continue to allow those who are comfortable and complacent to remain comfortable and complacent. They will wonder where you went, shrug and mutter about “moderates destroying the church” and move along. Nothing will change in your absence.

As a non-Christian who has had a fair amount of religious trauma in my history, I am actually urging you to go to church.

I am urging you to wear orange shirts that read “Every Child Matters” I am urging you to sit at the front of the church so your priests and clergy cannot ignore your protest. I am urging you to stand and turn your backs on the priests during the sermons and homilies as a silent protest of the church’s involvement in the Residential Schools and its ongoing complicity and avoidance of its responsibilities and lack of action. I am urging you to place notes in the collection plates, explaining why you are not donating to the church until accountability has been undertaken – at the highest levels – and the church begins to take concrete steps towards reconciliation.

If the minister speaks on the Residential Schools and the impact on the First Nations people, I urge you to call them out publicly in the sermon. Ask them if they’ve actually talked to Residential School survivors or have witnessed what the schools have done to people firsthand? Demand that the priest request a Residential School survivor to come and speak next week or barring that, demand the opportunity to read from the many survivors’ accounts.

Go to your fellow Catholics and demand that they examine their faith and ask them if their actions reflect the actions, deeds and commandments of Jesus Christ. Hold their silence and complacency accountable. Make them uncomfortable in their own space.

Demand that they act like Christians for G*d’s sake.

dear santa

Dear Santa,

It’s been a while since I’ve written, but there’s been so much that has happened over the past few months. When Larry decided to portray you all those years ago, I was introduced to a world of amazing people who set their lives and a part of their identities aside in order to portray you. This has eventually lead to their being shaped by who you are and what you represent.

This change has taken plant in my life and I am increasingly grateful for the love, spirit and kindness that you provide to those who portray and believe in you. Having you in my life figuratively and in many cases, literally, has helped me survive the past eight years as there is a constant reminder of the magick, spirit and love that you represent.

Thank you for continuing to put the amazing people who support your work in my life. As I continue to meet the people who do your work throughout the year, I realize that the spirit you represent is needed more and more as the world continues to become a darker, angrier and more cynical place.

I realize the spirit you represent is needed more in my life as the past few years had threatened to make my life an angry, dark and cynical place. You have given me several good friends who both portray you but also have taken me under their wings to work with me.

The two Davids have been my most stalwart cheerleaders, believing in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. They still do. They also continue to work with me, despite my neuroses and complications – they bless me with their patience and gentle humour, knowing when to prod me forward and when to ease off.

Kevin has rekindled my joy in clowning, it is fun watching him explore who his inner clown is and will become – it reminds me of when Rocky first showed up in my life and then when Phineus revealed himself out of the ashes of Rocky. Lee believing in me enough to bring me on staff at American Clown Academy helped me realize that clowning never leaves you, even though you may sometimes have to walk away to preserve your love of the art and your character.

Through ACA, I got to connect with many who portray you and get in touch with your magick – particularly Stephen, Glen, Roy and Glenn.

I used to think that when Larry died, that you’d be in my rear view mirror, however you continue to put people in my life who show what your spirit and magick can bring to the lives of people. Every time I pull away, another amazing human being is sent my way to remind me of the good that can be done through a moment of kindness or just an instant of connection through recognition.

Message clearly received!

Now just to figure out how the next steps of my service and support should progress. Thank you. So. For once, it’s time that someone thank you for all you have given me. Gifts that aren’t material, however gifts that have supported me, provided me strength and kept me alive.

Thank you! I love you.

myke.

triggered.

A good friend created a thoughtful and interesting post questioning what the triggers will be for people who are living through the COVID pandemic.

That led me to thinking about my triggers.

In the early 1980’s, watching the space shuttles take off was a big thing – particularly for kids studying in the gifted program. The January 1985 launch of the space shuttle Challenger was huge as it included a civilian teacher as a crew member.

Schools around the world watched as the space shuttle took off that January day and then watched in horror as the shuttle exploded with the booster rockets flying off in opposite directions.

I never watched a shuttle launch – or manned space launch, for that matter – again. I still have difficulties – particularly now as private capitalists like Richard Branson and Elon Musk are racing each other to launch their own space programs…

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s there was a strange illness that was reportedly attacking gay men specifically. Many gay men were contracting rare forms of cancer and pneumonia and it was killing them.

As I became aware of my sexuality, it scared me knowing that those men who were wasting away and dying alone, in agony could be me. Then came the realization that it was spread mainly through sexual contact and then the constant propaganda of gay plague and punishment for being homosexual.

Loving the way I wanted to love and be loved became dangerous, if not deadly, and also increasingly shameful. It took me years to accept that loving another being with my heart and soul AND body was not something to be ashamed of. Yet still, it can come with some risk to one’s health and welfare.

At the same time, I watched friends and mentors get sick, and either die due to HIV/AIDS or watch them navigate the side effects of long-term medical care, including forms of chemotherapy and medications they would have to take for the rest of their lives so their own bodies won’t kill them.

COVID is not the first pandemic I lived through. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen people ignore science, deny reality and flaunt the simple measures it takes for people to keep themselves, and others, safe.

I buried friends and mentors who died far earlier than they should. Often their families would not even be at the funerals or memorials. I called and wrote to more than my fair share of families to tell them that their child, brother or nephew had died and got responses ranging from “thank you for letting me know” to “good.”

In September 2001, I was working in the head office of the organization I work for, when one morning a murmur went through the office and a huge crowd had gathered outside the CBC building, just standing agape. The computer network ground to a snail’s pace as the news of an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center made its way around the world. One of my co-worker’s began calling her fiance as he was working in New York City at the time, and for hours, she was unable to get any phone circuit and connect.

Then came the news that we might have to be evacuated as we were close to the CN Tower, both a tourist site and communications tower. The world stood still as another airplane crashed into the second tower, a third crashed into the Pentagon and another plummeted into a field after passengers stopped another attempt. Thankfully, my co-worker was able to reach her fiance and find out he was safe.

Air traffic across North America was grounded and planes heading for the US were diverted and landed in Canada. I came home and realizing that there would be an influx of people to Hamilton Airport, Larry and I contacted the local Red Cross to let them know we could provide emergency shelter if necessary.

To this day, travelers still have to go through “enhanced” body scans, take of their shoes and belts and carry on items are limited (although that is “security theater” in my honest opinion). That being said, hearing an airplane accelerate overhead or seeing one fly low past a building can still bring some people to pause.

In 2013, an outbreak of a respiratory disease effectively halted activities in Toronto and in other major cities around the world. SARS was causing severe respiratory failure at an alarming rate and people were having to be hospitalized, and many died. It took the city of Toronto months to recover and begin to feel “normal.”

And now…as we well know 2020 and 2021.

Do you get anxious when you see people not being masked? Do you jump when someone coughs around you? Does food not tasting “quite right” make you nervous?

COVID isn’t the first pandemic or the first societal trauma many have lived through. It won’t be the last. What is known is that recovery will take a fair amount of time while vaccines continue to roll out and that a “return to normal” is likely never to happen. But then again, we never really “returned to normal” after 9/11 and the LGBTQ community never really “returned to normal” after the early stages of the AIDS crisis.

It’s all about how you adapt to the changes in yourself and society that is key. What will your “new normal” be?

And when you are triggered, how will you cope?

an open letter

Dear you,

You seem to be wondering how we got to this place. You don’t understand why I walked away after years of friendship.

When you asked me to give you some space and time, I did. I respected your wishes with the words “I understand, if you ever want or need to talk, you know how and where to reach me.”

That’s how it’s always been. You ask for space, I give it, but left “the door cracked open” for you if and when you needed it.

And when you needed it, you were welcomed back – with an open heart and the offer of a safe space, an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on. There were meals and long conversations in the living room or on the front porch. There is were cups of coffee and tea poured and hours spent talking.

You and your partner were provided with room and shelter on more than one occasion both together and individually.

In our last conversation, it was clear to me that you needed to be left alone and didn’t want conversation. So I did as I usually do and wished you peace and reinforced that I will be around – as friends do.

And then your partner verbally accosted me, accusing me publicly over something meaningless and trivial. I took their grievance privately and the attacks continued, so I walked away. I made the mistake of expressing my frustration over how I was treated to a mutual friend, and when they asked you if something was up, you decided it was your turn to air your grievances.

I responded as I best could, apologizing for expressing my frustration to someone else, but you continued to lash out at me. So I walked away as it was clear that nothing I could say or do would matter.

I apologize still, for misspeaking – however you always have had the benefit of talking to someone who would keep things in confidence, I don’t seem to have that luxury.

However I won’t accept being abused. I won’t accept being treated as a someone or somewhere to go to when convenient or only when things blow up and you need someone to help you pick up the pieces. I won’t accept being a friend only when it’s convenient to you.

That isn’t friendship, and the door is no longer open.

I wish you well. I wish your partner well. I hope you find the stability and happiness that is clearly lacking in your lives. I hope you have a chance to look at what you have and realize that you are loved and truly lucky to have people that care about. Perhaps one day you will eventually find some solace and grace in that.

Not all of us are so lucky.

generation clown

Since last Tuesday, I’ve been involved in an online conference with a community of incredibly creative and fun performers.    Including presenting a lecture on working as a comedic performer during the Christmas season as well as leading a discussion on comedic performance and clowning in social media.  

I also took part in several “coffee talks” about the state of the union for clowning and family entertainment, including discussing the aging demographic that is found within the major organizations and trying to understand the reason why younger members are not seeing the need to join them.

We also had a discussion of social issues, including race, religion and identity in clowning and how the generational divide could be presenting a barrier to entry.  What I witnessed over the past few days hinted at why the younger entertainers might not find the organizations necessary.

I will first indicate the caveat that I have not been a member of any of the major international clown organizations for almost two decades. In the early 2000’s my business model changed and I was focused on different areas, while I kept my “feet wet” in clowning by lecturing, performing and attending different conferences over the past two decades, my needs moved beyond what either of the two organizations were providing at the time.

I will also note that many of the people associated with the Boards of Directors in both organizations back in the early 2000s  ARE STILL THERE.

I will also note that of the 20 people on the Board of Directors, I only regularly witnessed 8 members in attendance throughout the week…most members of the BoD WERE in attendance during the Annual General Meeting, final banquet and the few sessions DIRECTLY related to the organization and it’s operations itself…but many were MIA throughout the rest of the conference…

One has to ask if these are only symptoms?

Just prior to the conference, a young clown published a post on a clown discussion page, asking clowns what they are doing to reflect society’s ever changing values and what they are doing to grow and evolve. This clown has over 30,000 followers on social media and her honest and delicately framed question was met with derision, anger and her being blocked and banned for the sheer temerity of asking clowns to reflect on how they are changing with the times.

Further leaders in the field who have a keen eye on the future of clowning and comedic family entertainment opened up noting an ongoing history of gatekeeping younger clowns who have questioned the long held traditions didactically clung to by the organizations.

Even during the conference itself, there was a brief flurry of postings about appropriate dress for the final banquet. The organizers and the president, noting that only a precious few presenters appeared in clown for the conference, commented that attending in clown would be a fun way to celebrate being clowns. This was echoed by a few other members of the Board of Directors who also commented that it would be the first time they have been in clown for months, if not over a year. However some of the older generation “harrumphed” and stated that the banquet was formal because of tradition. No matter how many times people reminded them that this particular conference was FAR from a traditional conference…

The clowns won out in the long run. People had fun, the organization lives on and the world didn’t end.

However this only highlighted to me that there is a serious problem within the world of organizational clowning that is gatekeeping the younger generations. This is an issue that I have battled since I attended my first convention in 1995. Not everyone is like this, goodness knows I wouldn’t have remained in organizational clowning as long as I did and would not continue to attend conferences. But if they only knew the nastiness, the ego, the self-serving ideologies, and much more that the clowns of my generation and younger have experienced, their heads would spin.

It’s hard enough taking flack from non-clowns given recent movies and pop culture references to Pennywise, John Wayne Gacy and “killer clowns.” It’s even harder getting flack from PEOPLE WITHIN OUR OWN SHARED interest. Telling us that we’re not “real clowns” because our costumes and appearances don’t conform to competition rules and they may deal with more “adult” humor.

Would the same people say that to Avner Eisenberg? To Bill Irwin? To Patch Adams? To Iman Lizarazu?

The younger clowns may not look like what the organizational clowns from the 1980s through to the early 2000s looked like. Their humor may not reflect that either – is “Ring Ring” STILL relevant in an age where everyone carries a communications device in their pocket? But keep in mind that the younger generation HAS studied the history of clowning, including the Minstrel Show roots of modern characters AND acts, combined with commedia dell’arte AND clowning in other, non-European cultures…

Many of these younger clowns were born in an era where most homes had a computer and many homes had internet access. Their life experiences ARE different from those of us in the older generations and the organizations need to understand that.

The information which we originally relied on the organizations and deep dives into libraries is now readily available AND updated online. Not to mention resources from around the world not easily available to North American clowns until recently.

The younger generation IS well versed in the history of clowning, they are incredibly knowledgeable in the traditional skills of clowning, they ARE well versed in what the old traditions were AND trying to bring those traditions that remain relevant today forward and leaving the ones that should remain in the past, firmly in the past.

They also know that the old circus-style “full coverage” makeup designs used to emote to the balconies of hockey arenas and tents large enough to hold three rings are no longer necessary and, yes, perhaps may be off putting to modern sensibilities…even Ringling Brothers clowns were moving to a “softer,” “more human” look before the circus folded.

Part of what I taught in the conference was explaining how the younger generation is taking clowning as an artform to social media and ran a quick class on Zoom, TikTok, Instagram, Twitch and Facebook Live as potential venues for clowning. Many entertainers during the time of COVID restrictions realized that they could still practice and perform by pivoting online and looking at “virtual tip jars” like PayPal Me and Venmo as ways to support their performing activities…I won’t even dive into Patreon here…

One thing that was mentioned throughout the conference was that the online presentation and communications leveled the playing field. People were not able to hang out in their cliques and everyone who wanted to contribute to the open conversations and questions could. During one of the open chats, a member noted that at a past convention, they felt excluded from many groups and conversations because they were new and until someone who was well known and somewhat respected in the organization introduced them, was never made to feel welcome.

What was agreed in this discussion was that this cliquish behavior needs to stop, and people need to be more welcoming at the conventions, particularly to those who are new and – yes – look and act different.

Heck if a queer, middle-aged, tattooed and pierced pagan musician can be accepted at a clown conference…It just shouldn’t take “knowing the right people” and “fitting the mold” to be welcomed.

clowning to afflict the comfortable

So “a group for local and circus clowns and family-style entertainers who want to learn more about the art of clowning, improve their act and be willing to accept suggestions for improvement.” Had a series of conversations started about modern, non-traditional clowning – particularly a younger generation who use the art of clowning to express themselves in regular every day life – trying to start a serious discussion about gate-keeping and rigid definitions of who or what the art is or “should be.”

These conversations have been deleted. Expunged from the group. The person who wrote the first post was expelled from the group because <GASP> her profile has curse words in it.

The posts that followed were also expunged from the group too as several other people posted their support for the original poster, noting that any art form is evolutionary and while certain streams may not be to everyone’s liking, they are ALL VALID. By the way – clowning is NOT limited to children’s entertainment and NOT ALL clowns are “Angels with Red Noses.” I’ll post excerpts of Racine Celeste’s conversation starter here:

Clowncore is an aesthetic movement that is taking the online world by storm, and it takes the traditional look of clowns and ….. well …. clowning THAT too. It is an anti-fashion movement, like punk or goth, and these youngsters are using clowning as an avant-garde way of exploring their identity and self expression, often with little to no theater or clown education.
They represent clowns as gender-non conforming, as mystical magical creature, as trickster gods and gentle, fey-like beings. It feels reminiscent of vaudeville, as comedic slice of life content, balancing humor with grief, comedy and tragedy, where you don’t know what’s coming next, but with amusing and poignant messages tucked in here and there.It’s gorgeous and glorious, and very VERY different from the saccharine look that is represented by this and other clown communities.
They also openly and earnestly discuss the racial history of clowns, and pick apart the comedy used to punch down, BIPOC using these lessons and the image of clowning as a way to reclaim some of the dignity that was lost at their ancestors expense in the pursuit of comedy.
There are so so many young people participating in this culture shift and they LOVE clowns, wholesome or scary, aggressive and gentle.Is there room for young people coming at clowning with an experimental, exploratory, deconstructive eye? Or is clowning a tradition that will reject these new friends because they don’t follow the rules?

The original poster was respectful, challenging and thoughtful, genuinely wishing to generate a discussion. The only word that I could see as being “insulting” was saccharine…

By the way – the image that people were so horrified by, I posted as my Facebook Cover Photo here on February 12. I’ve posted it here because the words in question are actually kind of apropos. I could only imagine what some of the people who were troubled by the word “FUCKERY” would do if they read some of my 2SLGBTQIA+ or pagan/faith based posts…

FYI Racine, aka Sizzle the Clown has an active following of over 30,000 people on TikTok and has received funding to support her career as part of their creators’ fund. Her content is honest, thoughtful and thought-provoking – I highly recommend you follow her so you can have your notions of what clowning can be challenged.

The group’s description further describes. “If you are challenged by anything related to clowning, we hope to have the answers or guide you to an answer to your questions.”

I guess there are certain challenges they are unwilling to accept – challenges to their own perceptions, challenges to their comfort zones, challenges to the status quo. I have left the group because it is clear to me that they are truly not interested in actual discussion as to the future of clowning as an art form.

As I recall the group was originally formed as a reaction to the level of “gatekeeping” that the traditional clown organizations in North America represented. These groups are constantly commenting on their struggles to maintain registrations as their membership ages out and retires and they are struggling to attract younger members, particularly in a world where information about the art form is regularly available online. This group was formed as an effort to break the mold and shake the foundations of organizational clowning.

Lee Andrews, director of American Clown Academy wrote “Organizational clowning is dying from the inside out and it’s not going to be saved by the old generation. It’s going to be saved by the younger blood, new ideas, and fresh outlooks that so many are afraid of. Tradition is key, but it doesn’t mean tradition has to look the same or be done the same. Tradition isn’t a look or performance, tradition is the heart!” It seems that yet another group has fallen prey to dogmatic thinking and ignoring if not outright vilifying a different outlook and alienating the younger generation.

The clown organizations, old and new, all seem to cling to a dogmatic view of what clowning is and should be. They have appointed themselves as arbiters and gatekeepers of what clowning should represent and who is and can be a clown. This dogmatic approach is precisely why these groups are fading, much like another area of organized thought based in dogma, that’s struggling to attract new adherents and members. People who approach things from outside that group’s particular dogmatic approach are attacked, silenced, ignored and eventually cast out or ostracized.

Finley Peter Dunne famously stated: “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

I believe the role of any artist – including the clown – is to do the same…