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Festival of International Clowns 2003

By Nina O’Brien

In May this year, Andorra hosted the second Festival of International Clowns. The first ever was in 2001. The highlight of this year’s Festival was that all the participating members were females. It was well received and admired by both adults and children.

Clowns seem to be part of our lives – they have become a familiar figure on television, in movies, art advertising and musical performance. I have never before thought about clowns and their origin. There must have been a long period of evolution from the early to the present day versions of clowns, as we know them. Not a great deal of research on the subject is possible in Andorra.

The early clowns may have been a product of the circus. With the advent of so many other forms of entertainment, the circus is not as popular as in earlier times. Clowns entertained and help relax the tension of the daring performances. Being a clown must be a difficult task – making people laugh is not easy. In addition, a clown must be a versatile actor, pantomimist, able to dance and do acrobatics.

The forerunners of our contemporary clowns were known as fools, buffoons, zanies, pantaloons etc. It is possible that the first of these comic characters appeared in the theatres of Greece and Rome more than two thousand years ago. A favourite of kings and queens in the middle ages was often the court jester – dressed in motley and wearing foolscap with bells.

Beginning in the 16th Century, several immortal clowns were developed for play or pantomime including Pierrot and Harlequin.

Soon after circuses were established in Europ and North America in the late 1700’s, clowns were hired to amuse the audience. Two clowns, Porter and Burt, performed in London in the first modern circus. The first circus in the U.S.A. featured an English clown, Thomas Sally.

Today there are more than a dozen distinct types of clowns. Some wear make up and costumes doing the same stunts as their predecessors. This particular performance in Andorra of female international clowns was different from any traditional form of clowning. They were creative and, above all, made the audience a part of their show. Next time you see a poster in Andorra depicting male or female clowns do go. It’s a refreshing experience.

Nina O’ Brien

Published in the Inter-Comm autumn 2003