I confess: as a child I was terrified of clowns. Met with the combination of red nose, garish wig and oversized shoes, I would silently pray in my seat, “please, please don’t throw that bucket of confetti on me.” These days, I understand the centuries-old art of clowning a little better. I see that bucket of confetti represents a break in the customary, unspoken agreement between audience and performer. And that the fun of clowning comes as the clown, with a nudge and a wink, acknowledges that we share the artifice of the theatre environment together and that draws us into the emotion of their world. The confetti flung into the air breaks through the invisible fourth wall between audience and performer.
Whitehorse clown and Yukon Circus Society founder, Claire Ness, will put the art of the clown on display in Ruffin’ It, a new solo show at The Guild Hall on Dec. 13-15.”Clowns use a certain backwards logic to outwardly show emotions,” says Ness. “[People] are so afraid of showing our emotions and clown is all about showing emotions to the nth degree. The larger-than-life part of clown releases us. When you [as a clown] are extremely sad and you show that to the audience, they feel okay to let out that feeling as well. A sympathy or an empathy is created between the two [clown and audience].”
Ruffin’ It marries Ness’s love for camping with her dedication to clowning. An avid camper since childhood, Ness began to experiment with a tent as a comedic prop in Montréal. But it wasn’t until performing in Ramshackle Theatre’s 2010 Theatre in the Bush, that she got serious about being funny with her tent. The play’s connection with Ramshackle Theatre continues as Ramshackle artistic director Brian Fidler is onboard as director and co-writer of Ruffin’ It. Since working together in the 2007 National Artist Program at the Canada Winter Games and also in Varietease, Ness has sought a chance to work with Fidler again.
“Brian keeps me going,” Ness says. “He has great ideas and he steers me in the right direction.” Whitehorse composer and musician Jordy Walker is also collaborating on the show.
Designed for audiences of all ages, Ruffin’ It aims to blend comedy, silliness and pathos while exploring the thrills and (genuine) chills of winter camping in the Yukon. While Yukon audiences may be familiar with Ness’s comedic “Clairacters”, she describes her Ruffin’ It character as, “a little more curmudgeon-ly and a little less friendly” than her usual clown. Following the run in Whitehorse, this show is built to travel. Like a true camper, Ness has designed the play to travel easily — ensuring that all the props fit into her backpack.
Making people laugh is a skill Ness has had at her fingertips since she was small.
As a child, Ness made people laugh without meaning to. While this made her pretty darn angry as a four-year old, she later embraced laugh-creating as a gratifying skill. While she also happens to be a singer-songwriter, (her debut album Hopeless Romantic is coming soon), circus artist/instructor, producer, comedian, actor, emcee and artistic director, Ness feels that clowning is closest to her heart. She has studied the form extensively. Her clown and physical theatre teachers include Mike Kennard, Adam Lazarus (Buffon clown), Sue Morrison (mask and duo-clown), John Turner (Kennard’s Mump and Smoot partner) and Yves Dagenais. Ness also studied at L’École Nationale de Cirquein Montréal and Humber College in Toronto.”[My studies] gave me depth and a palette that I can pick and choose parts of each kind of training for use in my approach,” says Ness.
Ruffin’ it is co-presented by Yukon Circus Society and Raven Loon Productions.The show is playing at The Guild Hall from Dec. 13-15 at 8 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinees on Dec. 15 and 16.