Whether a room full of clowns sounds great or terrifying to you, there’s something for everyone at the Play the Fool Festival, Edmonton’s only clown festival.
Running September 27 – 30, Play the Fool Festival is now in its third year of shining a light on the diversity of clown performances from local, national, and international stages. Produced by Julie Kiraly of Hit That Jive Productions and programmed by clown performer and teacher Christine Lesiak, Play the Fool will be lighting up the ATB Arts Barns with 11 clown performances this weekend.
Festival Director Christine Lesiak says that she was looking to represent the diversity of the clown genre when she was programming the festival this year. “We have everything from fairly traditional-looking red nose clown artists to people that you wouldn’t necessarily look at and think they’re obviously a clown, like Larry, which is Candice Roberts’ show. We have some burlesque artists as well – comedy burlesque. I was also looking for diversity in gender representation and ideally in performers as well. From young emerging artists who are in the mentorship program to experienced performers… I’d love audiences to come and realize the wide breadth that clown theatre covers: everything from character actors like Jim Carrey to Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean to what we think of as more of the classic red nose clown.”
To that end, Play the Fool Festival also brings in acts from Vancouver, Calgary and Montréal as well as local artists. Having performed across Canada and recently in Montréal, Christine says the differences in regional performance styles allow for a great variety for audiences, “I noticed that clown in Montréal tends to be a lot more in the world of cabaret-style – a lot of great, short works, works you would classically see in a circus, like in Cirque du Soleil, maybe 10 minute pieces. Whereas in the West, we tend to do longer-form works that are story based, stuff that’s more in the world of traditional theatre.”
Christine says the best way to see the breadth of performances the festival offers is at the Opening Night Gala Cabaret at 7:00 on September 27: “It’s free and you get a teaser sample of the different acts, it’s a bit of a try before you buy situation because you can find out what you’d like to see.”
From there, Christine recommends checking out the triple bills, which give three acts 15 – 20 minutes each to showcase their work. “I love the cabarets and we’ve got one every night. There’s a specific energy to clown cabarets – it’s a blend of rehearsal, performance and improv that you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen. “
For example, the 18 + Triple Bill features The Performance by Candice Berlinguette and Michael Kennard (one half of the duo Mump and Smoot), Fruitbowl – a comedy burlesque show from Calgary, and The Daily Deal with Lady where Lady launches her career as a home-shopping network celebrity. Christine also points to the Emerging Artist Triple Bill on Sunday because “for a lot of emerging artists, it’s the first time they’ve done a piece of that length – it’s 15 – 20 minutes, which is a good chunk of time in this format. I’m thrilled to be able to offer them this opportunity. “
If individual performances are more your thing, Larry by Candice Roberts, a gender-bending physical comedy about “a simple “hoser’s” journey to becoming a better man” might fit the bill, or At Home with Gisèle by Évelyne Lainel, who Christine says will bring “a more traditional French-Canadian style of clowning. She’s worked extensively with Francine Côté, one of Eastern Canada’s most famous clown teachers.”
You can see full descriptions of the shows in the Play the Fool Festival on the website, where you can also check out the full schedule. Make sure you pay attention to the recommended ages, as many shows have age recommendations or indicate if they are suitable for all ages. Individual show tickets range from $12 – $20 per show through Tix on the Square. Festival passes range from $85 – $100 depending on the pass type, or $400 for 5 festival passes.