Red noses. Rainbow-colored hair. Silly outfits. When you think of clowns, this is usually what comes to mind. At their sixth annual New York Clown Theater Festival, the Brick Theater sets out to show that there are many different types of clowning besides typical children’s party entertainment.
Amuse Bouche, the title of this year’s festival, means “yummy little bite” in French. Audrey Crabtree, the festival’s co-founder and co-director, says that their type of theater is for adults. “[It] involves adult themes, portrayed by relatable characters and interactions, with a range of emotions, empathy and hilarity. You won’t see balloon animals, whiteface, or big shoes. Well actually, with theater clowns, I can’t say you won’t see anything because clowns are masters of anarchy, breaking the rules, social conventions, and expectations!”
The Brick is hosting three clown cabarets, showing movies about clowns and presenting mainstage shows. Joel Jeske, a physical comedian and clown who has received rave reviews from the New York Times and Village Voice, is performing for the first time at the theater. Crabtree herself is co-starring with Gabriel Munoz in “Flocked,” a dark comedy in which they play birds. Morro and Jasp, two Canadian Comedy Award nominees, will be showcasing their newest work about two clowns gone wild during spring break. In all, there are nine main shows, which will run until September 26th.
Robert Honeywell, The Brick’s president and co-artistic director, said the theater chose to be involved with the festival in 2006 “because it seemed like an unusual, daring art form. The type of Clown Theater by the performers at the first festival was sophisticated, complex performance, not the ‘Bozo’ cliché that Americans commonly associate with clowning. We were intrigued by it as an art form in its own right and the results were incredible. It’s become one of our best known and best attended events at The Brick.”
After taking a class at the first festival, Honeywell started incorporating this style of performance in his shows. “Clown has infected all of my theater work since then. It has an anarchic, audience-engaging quality that’s hard to shake.”
Clown Theater is not just a New York City phenomenon either. The Brick has imported performers from around the globe for the festival, year after year, from places like the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. Honeywell said he’s excited about “witnessing the incredible work at the festival, from performers all over the country and (literally) the world.”
Unlike most plays, Crabtree says Clown Theater is different because it is not pre-written, rather it is collaboratively ad-libbed on “the performers’ feet and then recorded and developed into a script with the director or other collaborators.”
Clown Theater is not performed simply to amuse audiences, but to relate to people and convey deeper messages. “Theatrical clowns play in a theater space and use and break the conventions of theater to tell stories that make us recognize and laugh with ourselves and the human condition,” said Crabtree.
The Brick offers an alternate definition for “clown” this month, and Honeywell encourages people to see a performance to truly understand the art. “It’s not what most people think,” he said. “It’s riveting, exciting, sometimes unnerving performance work that breaks most of the rules of what you’re used to onstage. There’s nothing quite like it.”
Amuse Bouche Clown Festival at the Brick
575 Metropolitan Avenue
September 7th – 25th