Campbell Vann Damme

We’re wrapping up this year in school by diving headfirst into clown. It’s an ancient theatrical territory, subtle and personal, and when it’s working it crackles with joy and life.

Probably you’ve heard someone tell you they are scared of clowns. The rainbow wig, a terrible red grimace, smeared greasy face paint, cackling out a laugh with every breath. Clowns we all know seem to shout: everyone should be having fun all the time! I agree, that is pretty scary.

Most of our shared experience of clowns comes from pop culture. Krusty from the Simsons, Stephen King’s IT or the most evil of them all, Ronald McDonald. These guys are miles away from the clown work we do at school. They are devices that use the image of a clown to hide sinister motives barely hidden under that painted on smile.

All the clowns I look up to have less of the trappings of a clown. Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball or Mr. Bean don’t have wigs or face paint. But it’s fun to watch them fail so honestly and completely because they are ridiculously full hearted and imperfect characters. They may be full of themselves and short sighted but they are marvelously curious and completely affected by the world around them.

The director of my school says that an audience will treat clowns in one of three ways, they laugh, walk away or kill the clown. (Kill the clown? Sure! Think of the court jester who mocks the king a little too sharply, or more recently that weeble-wobbling BOZO punching bag that wont fall down.) Well, my latest clown is called Campbell Vann Damme. He’s a mind reader, a snake charmer and a complete idiot. As I’ve worked on him these past few weeks I’ve alternated between wanting to ignore him, wanting to kill him and falling down laughing playing him in improvisations with other clowns from my class.

In a way this clown is what is left after everything I use as a performer to connect to an audience is taken away. All that is left for poor Campbell is my instance on being out in front of an audience. Everything is gone except the plastic red-nose and me. “I deserve to be out here,” he says and I say at the same time.



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  1. Your sister,

    Kevin! Thank you for this post. It truly helped my understanding of your ‘clown’ work and I’m thrilled to add Lucille Ball and Mr Bean to my clown reference list. I feel like I have a sense of what you are doing in Italy but find it nearly impossible to explain to others. So, thanks!