Tag Red Nose

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.


Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Sara and Chris and little June the Wheaten Terrier picked me up at JFK airport last night. It’s a short drive to their new apartment in Brooklyn and soon we were around the dining room table toasting over cold Manhattans. Maybe you’ve seen photos of their new place? It really is a unique and beautiful home, but what struck me most is that it is EXACTLY LIKE the last three places Sara and Chris have lived. So much so that Sara spent half a moment planning what to bring to a party back home, forgetting for that little while that she was in a New City. They’ve definitely found the right place.

This clown was catching up on sleep and had a long nap into the afternoon. He was up just after Chris and his brother Mike came home and the five of us, plus June, went for a meander through Williamsburg.  McCarren Park was busy with little kids and littler dogs. Skaters filmed each other grinding on hurricane Irene’s one downed streetlight while outside the cameraman’s frame three sunbathers lay working on tans and a woman daubed at her plein air oil of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral that just peaked out over the trees.

Bannack alerted us every time he saw a subway station by asking for a, “Ride? Ride? Ride?” Sara and I had three dollar falafel at the corner just past the Bedford stop. We passed highfalutin dive bars, a few dusty book stores, a top notch cheese shop, a heavy metal barber shop with a pile of cow skulls in the window, a panoply of the coolest retail experiments of the millennium. But my favorites were the Brooklyn Art Library and Mast Bros. Chocolate storefronts sitting side by on North 3rd Avenue.

Clown Town

I took a red nose clown workshop from Paola Coletto two weeks ago. One of the apprenticeship students, Ned Brower, doccumented our progress and just started putting photos on line this week. These are from an excercise we did on the last day of class when we swapped costumes and clowns with a partner.

Twin Sons of Different Mothers

That’s me and Alee as our clowns, Gar and Sparkle Grape. I’m not sure they’re if even from the same universe, but if they are they would not wish to be acknowledged by the other on the street.

As silly as the photos may seem, I feel really lucky to have found such excellent and uncommon training so soon after arriving in Chicago. I wouldn’t have known how to look for this kind of class if I tried. I stumbled into them really. My friend mentioned taking clown classes, I asked him about them and a few days later he introduced me to her at the opening of his show.

I’ve been fascinated by this kind of clown performance since seeing in Fellini’s La Strada for the first time. Innocent Gelsomina is an impossible situation and fails over and over again in a beautiful way. The little flame she started in my heart was fanned at Slava’s Snow Show. My mom bought tickets to it even though I thought it sounded dumb. Clowns mom? Come on! I came out of the theater totally flabbergasted by that show and immediately afterword I can’t remember if I speechless or wouldn’t shut up about it.

Zhenya in Detroit

I met Gene (AKA Zhenya, Euvgene) in 2005 when we both worked at the Paramount in Wellington. We were fast friends and collaborated on a few projects together. (Maybe you remember this?) We’ve been in intermittent contact since I moved off the Long White Cloud.

Gene’s visited the U.S. a few times since then, but every time he’s been stateside I’ve either been too far away or too broke to see him. But a few weeks ago Gene ventured outside of New York City and went on an impromptu tour of some great American cities, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago.

I jumped on the chance to meet Gene in Detroit, a city that looked close enough on the map to justify jumping in without much of a game plan. I meant to spend a day with him but we ended up spending the long weekend together.


Gene filled me in on what he’s been up to for the past few years. Back in Wellington he had been performing a little, collaborating on a few shows, he started a theater company, produced some plays and even flew a director in from New York out for a production. But he told me, “I made a hundred bucks man, it just wasn’t worth it.” He swore theater off and focused on making music.

After several months of producing music and DJing in Wellington, Gene found himself in a Commedia del’Arte workshop given by this mad man. The work was powerful enough to inspire taking a significant risk, so after talking it over with Giovanni (the mad man) and Gene’s long time partner Erin, he took the plunge and for the past six months has been studying at Helikos, a small physical theater program in Florence, Italy.

As it turns out, the woman who gives the amazing red nose workshops I’ve been taking in Chicago, Paola Coletto worked with Giovanni to develop the previous incarnation of the school in the early 2000s. Small world right?