A Clown for Song and Silliness

Here’s my list of the top three ways to make friends. One, go on a trip. Two, enjoy a meal together. Three, share a laugh.

Major Conrad Flapps is a clown who knows guffaws and giggles from the inside out, from the slip-jump bottom of his wonky shoes to the – what is that, a globe? – to the various strange things on top of his head.

His show World in a Flapp comes to Haines Junction this weekend, brought up by Junction Arts and Music. The performance combines two of those forms of friend-making: travel and laughter.

“I enlist seven people from the audience to help fly around the world, and I give them gear to wear,” says the clown, speaking from his home in Victoria.

“I have to warm up the propellers, so I get two kids to form a safety barrier so I don’t fly into the audience. And they have to dress me in my flying scarf, since it’s cold up in the air.”

World in a Flapp starts with the strains of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, but since Major Conrad is also a violinist, he soon begins to play snippets of world music. His other international content is teaching audience members how to say “Hello, Bonjour,” in the language of each country he flies over.

Stuart Nemtin, the man behind the red nose, says World in a Flapp is humorous way to discuss world tensions.

Clowns exist to provide physical humour and visual comedy, but it’s the clown’s ability to mess up and recover that gives Nemtin the chance to talk bigger issues in a hilarious way.

“I’ve got the world on my mind because there seems to be a lot of conflict these days,” Nemtin reflects.

“As Major Conrad Flapps, I’m constantly making fun of my own pomposity and desire to be a big star and impress the audience. The kids love to see a high-status character fall on his face and being reduced to oafishness.”

If adults can mess up and admit it, the laughter also gives kids something to think about later, Nemtin says.

“I get to play at failing magnificently – and enjoying myself in the process. Then I also model a way of handling the process that isn’t defeating. A clown is always resilient. There’s a ‘keep on trying’ attitude that the kids really pick up on.”

Nemtin was a professional stage and film actor before he got turned on to clowning. He took a clowning workshop at Jacques Lecoq’s School of Mime and Theatre in Paris, to stretch his acting vocabulary. He was instantly hooked.

The following year, he showcased his first 15-minute performance of Major Conrad Flapps at one of the annual performing arts booking conferences. After that, clowning became his main work.

Surprisingly, some of Flapps’ best audiences are adults. Nemtin has an adult show called Let’s Redress Stress, a spoof on health and stress-reduction techniques that sees audiences trying his exercise class, not to mention going to Russia to recreate a dancing scene.

In fact, he brought the show to Whitehorse in early 2010 for the Yukon Child Care Association.

“My main goal is to get people to join in without feeling too self-conscious,” he says of the performances for adults. “Playing and laughing is a way people experience themselves as free, and subsequently more powerful and free to express themselves.”

World in a Flapp is aimed mostly at kindergarten to grade seven children, but there are layers of humour for adults, and even teens.

If you want to join in a sit-down square dance, or a round-the-world dancing contest including Russian, Celtic and Middle Eastern music, then World in a Flapp is the place for you.

“There’s an old Russian saying: a clown is an artist who can do anything,” Nemtin says. Sounds like he’s living up to that.

World in a Flapp is on Tuesday November 23, 6:30 pm at the St. Elias Centre. Tickets $5. Info: Yolande Cherepak, 634-2366.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.

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