Send in the Clowns

“I’m building my army of clowns,” she says with a sinister chuckle.

Is she describing her dire plan to take over the world? Well, not quite. Not that we know of.

When the statement comes from cheerful professional clown Claire Ness, we’re willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. She must be referring to her upcoming clown school summer camp, the first of its kind in Whitehorse.

Held from June 18 to July 19, each week is a separate camp for a specific age group, divided by ages 6-8, 8-10, 10-12 and 12-14.

After running five days a week, each camp will each culminate in what Ness describes as a “mini-circus”, where the participants will be able to show off their skills to family and friends. And what skills they will be!

Ness plans to feature a bit of everything in her camps.

“It’s going to be really fun,” she says.

“Because I’m a clown, there will be a strong focus on clowning, but with every circus discipline, clown is just a way of making it come to life. We’ll be doing aerials, hoops, silks, trapeze and stilts, ground acrobatics, pyramids, dance and acting.

“We’ll also be making our own juggling balls, hoola-hoops and poi. And there will definitely bebreakdancing,” she adds with a mischievous smile.

“It’s fun, it’s rewarding and it’s creative,” she says of the camp process. “They’ll get to put on a show and they’ll be introduced to the magic of circus.”

Though this type of summer camp hasn’t been done before in Whitehorse, teaching one won’t be a new experience for Ness. For three years, she was the head coach at the circus school in Toronto, where she ran camps very much like the one she will be starting here.

Based on her experiences as both a teacher and a participant in circus school, she thinks this type of learning will be well-received back home.

“The kids loved it,” she says.

“It’s a great experience because any kind of skill or talent is embraced. You don’t have to be a performer to be in the circus, you can be a designer, costumer, lighting or sound tech, et cetera.

“It’s really great for building teamwork, but also makes you feel special as an individual because it focuses on the kids’ creativity. I found it really rewarding because they don’t always get a chance to explore [those skills] in their everyday life.”

As rewarding as Ness found the Toronto camps, she expects the Yukon ones to be even more so.

“I always had the desire to bring [circus] here,” she says.

“Everything I’ve done out of the Yukon has been sort of with the intention of bringing it back to the Yukon, like going out and gathering berries!” she laughs.

Ness feels it is important to bring the fun and openness of the circus to the community.

With the different areas of instruction, there will be a lot of ground to cover. Luckily, Ness won’t be doing it alone. She plans to work with an as-yet-unnamed co-coach, as well as a number of “really cool guest instructors.”

The camps will take place at the Yukon Arts Centre, mostly in the Production Room, but with plenty of outdoor games and team building activities.

So far, Ness says, interest and enrollment in the camps has been steadily increasing, and she hopes to see each camp filled by start time.

“Kids are my favourite people,” she says.

“They’re so themselves. There’s no pretence, which is perfect. As a clown, you spend your whole life learning how to be a kid again, to have no self-consciousness.”

Ness hopes to expand her program to include adults as well. Having started the Yukon Circus Society just last year, she has done everything out-of-pocket so far, but hopes to expand into a permanent organization and space where everyone is welcome.

“Eventually, I’d like to get a permanent space so I can do afternoon classes as well, like a black box theatre that has classes during the day and shows at night, whether performed by us or rented out to other people,” she explains.

“But I don’t want to commit to any idea because you never know where life’s going to take you.”

Ness may be cautious about planning too far ahead, but establishing her summer camp is a dream come true.

“It’s really awesome to see it finally happening,” she says.

“Because I’ve been here all year, I’ve gotten to know the kids… so it’s finally happening. We’ll see where it goes,” she says.

“I have no expectations. My clown teacher always used to say, ‘Expectation cuts off experience,’ so I try not to put pressure on the program. I know it’s going to be awesome, but after that, who knows where it will go?”

For more information, or to register, email [email protected].

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