Weary Willie, 2019, ink on paper, 22X30 inches
Three clown-related things:
1. Weary Willie was the first "hobo clown"—created originally as a cartoon character in the early 1920's by Emmett Kelly (1898–1979). Kelly was a trapeze artist and a traditional whiteface clown when he first tried introducing Weary Willie, but the idea was rejected until The Great Depression of the 1930's made migrant workers and homeless people a common sight. Weary Willie ended up garnering a great amount of sympathy from the audience, and was the star clown of the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus from 1942–1956. One of his more famous routines was sweeping up a pool of light from a spotlight until it disappeared.
I started this painting back in May, after watching the 4-hour PBS documentary The Circus. Laying in bed after watching the first night I googled "history of clowns" on my phone, and got schooled a little bit. The summer got busy though, and my Weary Willie painting was put aside.
2. The next clown-related thing that came my way was in the July/August issue of Victoria's own Yam Magazine. David Lennam wrote an article on Britt Small and her role in a local production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to The Forum, and I read something that gave me pause. I have a great deal of admiration for Britt Small—as a director and the co-founder of Atomic Vaudeville, plus she's a phenomenal rapper. Then a few years ago I saw her perform as an actor in Mindy Kaling's Matt and Ben and—holy shit!—I became officially in awe of her powers. I know that she sometimes runs "clown school"—but that's all I know—I've never given it much thought. In his article, Lennam writes:
For Small, clown work is a lot more serious than a pie in the face. It's timing, rhythm, and an almost mathematical devotion to finding those places where you stop the action to create the opportunity for comedy.
"One of the first exercises you do as a clown is be yourself," she says. "It's one of the hardest things to do."
Clown training, she explains, means being coached to do less and less, contrary to the all-action-all-the-time cliché. Being interested instead of interesting is key—interested in the audience, how they're responding to that.
"That's how you keep your presence very much alive in the room, as opposed to feeling like people are watching you. You see clowns; they're always clocking the audience (looking at them, measuring their response)."
"Oh shit" I thought, as I read this... "am I going to have to go to clown school?". I thought about what Small was saying with regards to any kind of performance—in my case, singing. If only I could do that... be interested in the audience! I'm so far from achieving that I might as well be on Mars. I got a lot of help with performance nerves from local singing coach Amy Konowalyk (keep your eye out for her—she's opening her own studio in Dragon Alley October 14th). Last weekend my husband David and I performed three songs on Saturna Island and I was miraculously not nervous, but I couldn't bring myself to look at the 49 lovely people sitting on the ground at beautiful East Point... they were too close, and there was too much human energy pointing my way. It's overwhelming.
3. As the topic for this month's Feed The Monster started to form, the third clown-related incident happened when I googled "history of clowns podcast" in order to learn more about this world. I didn't find anything earth-shattering, but I listened to a segment of the podcast "Ridiculous Life of a Clown" and heard "vulnerability is your primary skill as a clown". Yes, yes... and perhaps as a human being. Certainly as a singer. There's the rub... and the Holy Grail. To be standing in front of a room full of people and allow them to come pouring into your trembling, exposed heart. YIKES.
As a parting gift, here is a somewhat bizarre and incongruous video of Tony Bennett singing "Smile" to Weary Willie. Enjoy.
The winner of this month's draw for a free print from balampman.com is.... firstname.lastname@example.org! I have no idea who that is.
There are a few people who haven't collected their "prize"... you know who you are. No pressure, but I want you to know that there's no time limit. If the spirit moves you and you choose a print, just let me know!