17th May 2021
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A Rose By Any Other Name: Classifying Shows And Artists

Classifying Shows
By Martin Frenette

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” as Juliet says in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. With that in mind, would an actor by any other name act as good and be as relevant? I recently attended a duo piece created by two clowns that was programmed right in the school’s winter break in March so that all those kids with time to kill and in need of a good laugh could attend this show.

However, whilst talking with these two artists, who could not be further away from any 3-ring circus clowns, (no big shoes and no colourful hair) what sounded like a brilliant marketing idea for the venue who had booked them, turned out to be the “worst atmosphere for this show” according to these two talented actors who had already performed it over 800 times. Imagine Buster Keaton and his female alter ego who went on a holiday at the circus and came back to tell you the story: There might be a trapeze, a few acrobatic steps and a bit of red on their noses, but it is still a play with an arc, ups and downs, physical and psychological transformations.

What they meant by “worst atmosphere” is that, whilst kids can be a great audience for some shows with their honesty and impulsive reactions to what they are witnessing, when it comes to theater, they won’t always wait for the second degree and will either laugh right away or not stick around long enough, attention-wise, to appreciate the second degree of a line or scene.

Because these two actors did their debuts and have toured with circuses, ran their routines and created their characters in European Big Tops and perhaps due to their clown-inspired theatrical make-up, which is still very far from the one worn by “Popof” who was blowing balloons at the mall the other day, they are labelled as clowns.

They met in an acting school in Switzerland where clown in part of the curriculum as it is a form of acting, but were also trained in various other styles and, once you’ve seen them on stage, you can’t deny that their precision, their sense of timing, all those detailed facial expressions and that stage presence have deeper roots than a “simple circus clown.”

When the question was asked to the venue as to why the piece wasn’t booked in their regular program, at times and dates more convenient for adults, the audience for which the show was created for, the answer was “we can’t sell a clown show to adults.”

Juliet said it “a rose by any other name…” and I wanted to tell them “an actor by any other name…” Those two clowns are trained actors and delivered an hour and a half of solid acting within a piece that was well-written with its funny, poetic, tensed and amusing moments, not a single pie was thrown and no balloon was turned into a giraffe. Frankly, there were moments where the adults present seemed to enjoy the show more than their kids, which makes me wonder if producers and bookers should keep on deciding what an audience wants to see based on a show’s name or on what they think the show is about.

Our stages and theaters are filled with artists who went on several paths and who have learned from different art forms or different branches of the same form. Can we still categorize shows and label artists to how society wants them to be classified?

A singer who’s taking a break from his solo career, stopping singing his own songs to star in a Broadway musical, even though he also has to act, is still a singer, isn’t he? The ballerina who’s getting a development grant to train in tight wire and creates a new piece between those platforms is still a dancer, or is she?

In my early high school years, I befriended a girl who had been going to the theater about 4 times per year to see “actual plays” by Lorca, Tchekov or Molière since she was 10, not because she had acting or theatrical aspirations, but simply because her parents liked the theater and wanted her to be immersed in that culture rather then go to plays that were “just for kids.” If she was old enough to follow a full-length motion picture, she could attend a play. Couldn’t we all dare to go outside our boundaries and experience theatre in all its forms?

That being said, it might also be a cultural thing, as I’ve often seen more of these clown shows while living in Europe, hour long solo pieces even, and those were clearly advertised to broad audiences and sold just as well as other shows. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but, when it comes to art, are we afraid that another name might make us sneeze?

Also by Martin Frenette:

Walking In The Sky – Art Or Stunt?

When Creativity And Motherhood Become Synonyms

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