October 27, 2016 06:00 AM
- See more at: http://www.timescolonist.com/entertainment/uvic-grad-a-proud-member-of-the-clown-tribe-1.2374449#sthash.JLaOkcr0.dpuf
Where: Phoenix Theatre, University of Victoria
When: Continues through Saturday
Tickets: $26 (250-721-8000)
Clowns creepy? No way, says Shannan Calcutt, a University of Victoria theatre grad and professional clown.
Calcutt is back at the University of Victoria to perform her show Burnt Tongue for the Phoenix Theatre’s 50th Anniversary Alumni Festival. For the past 11 years, she has been a clown with Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity, a risqué La Vegas celebration of erotica featuring men in cages, a mock orgy and Silly String orgasms.
A graduate of the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre, as well as UVic (class of ‘97), Calcutt performs with Cirque du Soleil 475 times a year. Her audiences have included Judy Dench, Eddie Murphy and Sting.
After thousands of performances, she knows her stuff. And to be frank, the whole creepy-clown phenomenon grates her nerves.
“I just think it’s a bit ridiculous,” Calcutt said this week. “These are not clowns. These are people who dress in a costume.”
For those who missed it, the creepy-clown craze refers to those who wear clown costumes and go around scaring people. Fuelled by social media, the spread of this fad has given clowning something of a bad name.
There have been creepy-clown reports all over North America. This month, the Associated Press reported non-creepy clowns are losing gigs because children — and some adults — are now afraid of them.
The World Clown Association said clowns are being asked to give performances without makeup and traditional clown costumes. The retail chain Target pulled its scary clown masks from its shelves. McDonald’s said its Ronald McDonald character would be downplayed due to mounting clown fears.
In Burnt Tongue, Calcutt wears traditional red nose and white face. Interviewed in the Phoenix Theatre’s lobby, she said mistaking “creepy clowns” for real clowns is like believing people in police or doctor costumes are the genuine article.
“You would never say: ‘Look out for the [real] doctors, they’re creeping out children. They’re terrifying. They’ve got knives,’ ” Calcutt said.
“You’re clearly disturbed if you want to scare a child. Obviously, there’s something wrong with you.”
Far from being baddies, clowns are good — even healers, Calcutt says. She notes at Israel’s University of Haifa, there exists an undergraduate degree program in clown therapy. Post and pre-surgery, patients who have an anxiety-reducing clown session require less pain medication and anesthesia.
Burnt Tongue is the story of Izzy, a waifish girl who waits for the arrival of her date, a rendezvous arranged online. Written in 1999 was she was just 24, the show was last performed in 2005 at the Neptune Theatre. Filmed with a live audience, it was broadcast on Bravo!
After being noticed by a talent scout, Calcutt joined Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity in 2005. She performs at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip. She participates in four clown routines in the show — all of which she has co-written.
In Zumanity, a show aimed at adult audiences, Calcutt does routines about sex toys and a dance club. She and a clown partner also do an act called Vegas Hookup, in which male and female audience members are invited to jump onto a bed and pretend to engage in sex.
“Silly string shoots up, so it’s like they’ve had a big orgasm,” she said.
Her other Cirque bit is culled directly from Out of My Skin, one of her old solo shows. In the routine, a satirical comment on societal attitudes toward women, Calcutt’s character wants breast implants. She makes them out of sandwich baggies, and then fills them with scotch (actually tea) in case her date requires a cocktail.
For this part of Zumanity, she is topless. Elsewhere, she’s required to perform in the nude. Performing sans clothes doesn’t bother Calcutt. But she admits it can be daunting to appear with acrobats possessing the bodies of “Olympic athletes.”
“You have to own it,” she said. “You can’t think about it. I just tell myself I’m here to show my flaws. I’m the clown.”
Originally from Indian Head, Sask., Calcutt is married with a daughter and a son. Her “show-must-go-on-attitude” was apparent when she was required to return to the stage three months after giving birth to each of her children.
“That was intense. I was nursing, so you’re pumping [breast milk] in the dressing room,” she said. “And then you’re naked 12 weeks after you’ve had a child. You’re at your most vulnerable.”
As for those creepy clowns, well, Calcutt isn’t worried they’ve damaged the reputation of a time-honoured art form. She says being a professional clown was never an easy career path. In any case, she’s proud to be a member of the tribe.
“The clown reminds us, get over yourself, you’re just human … we’re all equal,” Calcutt said with a smile.
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