An eerily quiet work meeting is underway in a Bandra apartment, where clubs, unicycles, balls, rings bursting out of suitcases lie on one side of the room.
An eerily quiet work meeting is underway in a Bandra apartment, where clubs, unicycles, balls, rings bursting out of suitcases lie on one side of the room. On the other side, seated by the dining table are five perfectly calm looking individuals — normal until they start to speak or make bird noises. The same motley bunch was well received as a crowd of kids and parents followed the lead to ha ha ha-he he he-ho ho ho at High Street Phoenix on Saturday where they performed.
They are now staring at me as I introduce myself and prepare to sit down. “You can continue, I’m early so I can wait,” I try to reason. “You will have to wait till 8 pm in that case,” pat comes the reply from the bespectacled, portly gentleman to my right who I later understand is Martin D’souza, producer of the International Clown Festival and regional director of West Asia and the Middle East of the World Clown Association.
For a science graduate from St. Xavier’s College in Mumbai with a Masters in marketing management from Mumbai University, D’souza seems like an oddball as Flubber the clown who dabbles as entrepreneur, compere, performer, clown, trainer, writer, publisher and producer with equal aplomb. “My father thought I was a weirdo to pursue a career as a clown. But after seeing how I was changing lives with my social missions, he accepted it and is happy,” says D’souza.
One may ask how difficult could it be to act silly in costume. “It’s not easy,” says Oscar Bond ‘Timmyto’ Flores from Mexico as he narrates what led him to his vocation. “My parents are clowns and my father taught me juggling, unicycling and other circus arts when I was 5. But as I grew older, I didn’t want to do it. Once my father had a contract to perform at a hotel. But he injured his collarbone and needed someone to replace him. I stepped in. It was then I realized that it was not easy,” says the clown, who went to graduate in circus arts. He was selected by the Mesoamerican University to represent Mexico at the 9th (2010) and 10th (2011) International Circus Festival in Cuba ‘Circuba’.
There’s no doubt clowning involves a lot of skill display that comes from relentless practice and here we’re talking about international talent we barely find in India. “This is work. Our work is to have fun,” says Pam ‘Sparky’ Moody, vice-president of World Clown Association. She was introduced to the art while being associated with the clown ministry in her church along with her daughter. She quit her corporate job to pursue one as a clown.
She is not the only one who changed track to devote full-time to clowning. Bekah ‘Lo-Lo’ Smith, who was part of the International Clown Festival in India for the second year in a row studied to be an accountant and even worked as one for a while. “I couldn’t see myself in a 9-5 job,” says the soft-spoken Smith with a smile. “I taught myself juggling as a stress-buster and suddenly I was doing it well, someone said ‘you’re a clown’. I didn’t follow that in the beginning. But now I have been juggling for 13 years and clowning for five. I see potential in India, people here pick up tricks really fast,” she says. Reminiscing a performance last year in Hyderabad where close to 30,000 mall-goers witnessed the clown festival, Smith declared her love for India.
As the conversation flows, from the corner of my eye I can see the playful Benjamin ‘Benji’ Domask making funny faces, while doing some hypnotic trick with the glasses of water placed before him. Never a dull moment, I think to myself, trying to concentrate on interesting tidbits the other clowns share. With a skill set that includes juggling with all props imaginable, improv comedy, slapstick comedy, tumbling, musical instruments, (guitar, ukulele, penny whistle, percussion), mime, acting, magic (sleight of hand) and dance (ballet, modern, eccentric), Domask is a helluva talent. He even taught me to juggle, complete with a cute red clown nose I got to choose.
So what’s the best part of being a clown “You see kids smile, and while you have fun, it’s like giving the adults permission to have fun with you. People slowly let go and that’s fun,” says Smith.
Moody feels her job is to bring joy and smiles, but admits she gets back “two-fold”. “The good thing about clowns is that we care deeply. Whenever I take a rickshaw in Mumbai, I make it a point to make eye contact and say thank you for the ride. Sometimes they just stare thinking ‘what just happened’. As clowns we are capable of making a sincere connection,” says Moody, who spent around two weeks in the city before the festival and has been clowning full time for 20 years.
The clowns, who also performed at a mall in Kurla, spoke passionately about the social impact their silliness was bringing to lives.
“I have a passion for hospice work,” she added, explaining how the presence of a clown helps kids in medical procedure. “Clowning definitely has a place when it comes to healing. We will be happier people if we are making somebody else happy. It’s a selfish trait about clowns,” she said. TimmyToo, who has worked with jail inmates said, “A clown is the only person that’s real. For me clowning is love. It’s the look a homeless person or one in an old age home gives you when you go, smile and hug them.”
Narrating his experience of having worked with children who are left to their own devices to fend for themselves, Domask says, “When I teach them juggling or other circus arts, and spend time with them, they are so overwhelmed. At the end of it they don’t want to let you go because nobody’s made them feel wanted before, nor invested time in them.” Touching lives is definitely part and parcel of being a clown.
D’souza, who created the International Clown Festival, himself has been involved in social missions. He feels there are two aspects of mission work when it comes to clowning — medical or physical and mental hurt. He is working towards getting the Social Circus movement to India, an initiative where marginalised children are taught circus arts which they can use for empowerment and employment. “When they learn, they see a positive change. The objective is to increase self-awareness, individuality, self-discipline, and many other values in order to transform their vision and capabilities. It has to be an ongoing process and we are working towards employing youth to learn and teach these kids for a better future,” he says. Amen to that.