Nigel Mander’s wrinkled fingers inform the story of his life.
He unravels an previous make-up field from a plastic bread bag, which holds it collectively when not in use. He’s sitting inside Stuff’s previous pictures studio in Wellington, and has come to talk about his life as a clown.
The Higher Hutt man dabs a sponge into the white facepaint, brings it to his face and, earlier than making use of it, begins explaining how, for most individuals, clowning is simply viable as a side-hustle as a consequence of low pay.
Creatives earn an common $35,800 a yr in New Zealand – lower than the dwelling wage. “A number of have hung up their huge sneakers,” he says.
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Mander has been a clown since he was at college greater than 30 years in the past and has carried out in Oceania, Africa, Asia, the Center East, Europe and South America. His clown title is Puzzle.
The pandemic has been onerous on Mander, who has not obtained many inquiries for gatherings, occasions or birthday events since dwell performances have been placed on ice: “I describe myself as under-employed,” he says.
However occasions had been robust earlier than then, partly as a consequence of a mass social panic over clowns in 2016, when concern unfold after quite a few reported accounts of individuals dressing up in clown costumes and terrorising folks in the UK, the USA and past.
Regardless of only a few of those incidents involving precise crimes, even in New Zealand hysteria ensued as a Hamilton girl was assaulted by two males dressed as clowns, and a gaggle of Porirua kids have been frightened by one other.
Consultants pointed to childhood phobias and social media powering the clown contagion.
Off the again of the epidemic, in 2017 the remake of the movie It, primarily based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, was launched in cinemas. The movie and novel characteristic a murderous clown named Pennywise who hides in sewers.
Lately, clowning is much less of a movie trope and extra of an umbrella time period for artwork types spanning conventional red-nosed comedic performers to ones which can be linked to clowning by proxy: miming, drag, geisha.
As soon as an integral a part of the large high, clowns’ conventional position fell into jeopardy amid the worldwide decline of circuses as different types of leisure took off, and after rising scrutiny on historic circus follow, together with maltreatment of animals and the usage of disabled folks in freak exhibits, the place they have been exhibited as oddities or monsters.
However clowns date again to about 2400BC and the fifth dynasty of Egypt. Clowns featured in historic Rome and Greece, and harlequins and pirouettes appeared in Sixteenth-Century Italy in the course of the commedia dell’arte period.
Some clowns even doubled as clergymen, and within the Pacific clowns have served as ritualistic tension-relievers at occasions.
There are worldwide competitions for balloon animals, and clown conventions the place performers trade concepts. Clowns are figureheads for worldwide manufacturers like McDonald’s and have entered the cultural zeitgeist.
And although there’s a clown scarcity in some components of the world, clowning continues to be taught in arts colleges in Aotearoa. However the purple nostril as folks know it’s altering.
A red-nosed life
Mander as Puzzle outwardly presents as your typical clown: white facepaint, purple nostril.
However the transformation is a lot greater than only a face. Whereas being interviewed, Mander stresses that we should ask him all questions earlier than he turns into Puzzle, as Puzzle is mute.
Mander was first uncovered to clowns within the circus and on tv.
“I assumed, ‘I’ll do that for actual. I’m going to be a clown after I develop up’.”
He knew he would by no means be a millionaire pursuing clowning. He lives in insecure housing, and earlier this yr was couch-surfing at a pal’s flat in Silverstream.
Puzzle nearly at all times performs alone, and is as mild with adults as he’s with timid kids. He fingers out balloon animals, blows bubbles and juggles. For this interview he has additionally introduced his stilts, which add a couple of metre to his top.
The purple nostril is a masks.
Mander says many clowns use their costume to transition out and in of their id, as a businessperson might do by carrying a swimsuit to their office.
Since graduating, he at all times lists “clown” as his occupation on paperwork.
When his mom died, he took his clowning to Egypt and Turkey, and when in Nairobi in 1992 he was hospitalised for a mind harm after being violently crushed and robbed by male prostitutes.
After three weeks, he was flown residence to New Zealand. He spent one other 5 weeks in Wellington and Hutt hospitals earlier than being discharged to recuperate.
A narrative confirming him because the sufferer of the beating ran within the NZ Herald and Night Submit about 4 years later.
Regardless of being attacked, Mander hasn’t felt stereotyped, and has loved clowning for a variety of cultures.
In a city in Zambia, villagers watched Puzzle in surprised silence. When he blew bubbles of their path, they backed away nervously, fearing a witchdoctor. Kids quickly have been orbiting round him.
He remembers when a minimum of three dozen clowns would promote their companies within the Yellow Pages – now most referrals come from on-line.
Clowning magnifies Mander’s playfulness in the identical means Puzzle’s magnifying glass enlarges one thing in its focus.
Mander has clowned for his youthful sister’s wedding ceremony in 1989, and in 1989 carried out on the funeral of a pal who died by suicide.
Mander says that was one of many best moments of his profession.
‘Clowning is in every little thing’
Anya Tate-Manning is a Wellington-based performer, director and author who principally works in theatre and comedy.
She teaches a clown class at Toi Whakaari, the nationwide drama college, and during the last 11 years she’s labored on Public Service Bulletins, a recurring political satire, with James Nokise.
Political clowning is value a narrative in itself, she says.
Tate-Manning helps run an inclusive, accessible group known as Feminist Clown Posse that’s centered on clowning and bodily comedy, and goals to deconstruct the imported male, non-indigenous views inside conventional clown coaching.
A fast Google reveals a plethora of notable Eurocentric male clowns: Philippe Gaulier, Joseph Grimaldi, Charlie Chaplin – however an absence of others.
For her teachings, Tate-Manning takes inspiration from ritual clowns within the Pacific, the place a lead transvestite comic would traditionally assume the persona of a ghost to specific suppressed views of humanity.
This educational thought practice goes again to the time of buffoons and jesters in historic royal courts, the place different world views and severe topics have been explored via antics and disguised in laughter.
Due to their low social place, clowns have at all times been in a position to current absurd or humorous populist views, analysis exhibits.
Clowning has additionally been a means for society to examine itself, and touch upon guidelines and laws – notably how the imposition of construction and hierarchy constrains particular person expression and creativity.
“There are traditions all over the place when you begin to see it,” Tate-Manning says.
She says failure is essential and celebrated in clowning. Clowning has its distinct area from performing and comedic work, regardless of overlapping in some areas.
“For me, a clown is a disruptor. They’ve the ability to deliver folks collectively and unite folks via laughter, but additionally the ability to problem and disrupt our society, folks in energy, our techniques, and problem whether or not [things] ought to keep there or change.”
Clowns have the good potential to remove veils of energy via mockery, Tate-Manning says. They’ll additionally tackle a holiness or sacrosanct side.
Given the variety of clowns working throughout miming, stand-up, performing, and efficiency, the stereotype of circus or birthday clowns being the one clowns to exist is unhelpful, Tate-Manning says.
A few of her favorite clowns are folks like Billy T. James, Tom Sainsbury, and Mike Minogue and Karen O’Leary on Wellington Paranormal.
Tate-Manning says Feminist Clown Posse members are allowed to have no matter measurement, form, materials or color nostril they need to.
“There’s a lot extra than simply the purple round nostril.”
Katie Boyle, one half of Sparrow & Boyle Leisure, performs as Patricia “Pat” Goldsack, a grey-haired, short-sighted nymphomaniac with a love of knitting and Cameo Cremes.
Boyle has a historical past of performing in Elizabethan-era productions and says, for her, clowning is about the usage of physique and voice in excessive methods.
She takes inspiration from bouffan – a darker kind of clowning that’s rooted in mockery and might see performers disfigured and grotesque, and tricking or laughing on the viewers, relatively than the opposite means spherical.
Boyle says clowning is an especially selfless artwork type which thrives off schadenfreude, or the psychological pleasure and satisfaction from witnessing another person’s misfortune.
The perfect clowns and fashionable insult comics push past phrases into excessive caricature, Boyle says.
Ergo the success of teams like Clowns With out Borders, which organises clowns to carry out for folks dwelling in refugee camps and battle zones: “You continue to snort even should you don’t converse the language.”
Extra broadly, the rationale clowning is so efficient lies in its origins within the comedy-tragedy dichotomy: humour permits folks to detach from trauma, giving respite from emotional chaos and offering catharsis.
Emotions of anger, concern, ache and stress could be neutralised with laughter, therefore the position of the idiot in Shakespearean tragedies.
Analysis exhibits humour lowers blood stress, will increase blood circulation, has a optimistic temper influence, and counters stress hormones.
There are additionally confirmed hyperlinks with smiling and laughter and restoration, and advantages to cardiac, respiratory, and immune techniques, to not point out the psychological and social advantages.
Clowns alleviate stress, make painful components of life manageable, and draw focus to the ridiculousness of humanity, Boyle says. “Clowning is in every little thing,” she says.
Professor Thomas Petschner is the co-founder of Clown Medical doctors New Zealand, a social enterprise that places academically skilled medical clowns into healthcare services for paediatric and geriatric sufferers.
Medical clowns use humour for therapeutic function and are extremely delicate to emotions.
They put on purple noses as a mark of shared vulnerability, Petschner says, providing friendship, love and assist to sufferers in scientific, medical environments.
Despite the “laughter is the perfect drugs” catchphrase, clown docs are usually not extensively employed in hospitals, and their work just isn’t extensively recognised.
“Significant human connections are very important in offering the heat and humanity that all of us want in life and clowns exist to make these connections. They exist to resonate with humanity,” Petschner says.
However the greatest menace to fashionable clowns could also be limitless leisure selection pushed by units, and the technology utilizing them having grown up with out the circus.
Clowning’s altering face
Fraser Hooper specialises in mime, bodily comedy, slapstick and eccentric dance and says there are lots of extra avenue clowns and clown academics now, in addition to extra books, publications and curiosity in clowning.
Whereas omnipresent expertise has seen ubiquitous leisure at folks’s fingertips, units have additionally made it simpler to instantly have interaction with clowns’ work.
Hooper says clowns share their successes and failures with an viewers. They’ve a direct relationship with them, and convey them collectively.
Whereas New Zealand has exported a few of the finest clowns on this planet, there must be extra coaching in theatre and circus colleges, and extra monetary assist for touring clown firms, Hooper says.
James Fuller is an Auckland-based performer who works beneath the moniker Jimmy Marvel, and says a clown could be recognized from their spirit, not their look.
Fuller makes use of magic – together with dwell white rabbits and doves – in his work.
He has modelled as a clown, and labored as a clown in kindergartens; carrying fight boots, a patchwork shirt and a trench coat. He’s additionally labored at events, clowned in a shopping center in Dubai and used to put on a shiny orange wig fabricated from yak hair.
However after persistent use of talcum powder aggravated his bronchial asthma, Fuller mentioned goodbye to his outsized sneakers.
He says he can get away with extra issues as a magician now that he couldn’t do as a clown: linking rings, ropes, color altering wands … Fuller even hosts a “floating youngster” levitation act, and used to make use of swords.
Fuller says clowning just isn’t at all times about humour.
Dr Declan Patrick is a senior lecturer in theatre research on the College of Waikato whose analysis specialises in efficiency of id.
Patrick has a drag persona, Professor Helen Heels, and says there’s a lot to the concept that drag is “new clown”.
The character of leisure is altering, however the vitality of face-to-face dwell encounters can’t be replicated via screens, which take away immediacy and the sense the viewers can have an effect on what is occurring, he says.
“We’re more and more distanced from that, and we’re discovering distance from ourselves as properly.”
Patrick studied Jacques Lecoq’s bouffan – evil, nasty clowns like Purple Bastard – and feels drag is extra near that than conventional red-nose clowning.
Whereas drag is liberating in the identical means clowning is, it’s also deeply crucial of gender norms and the way in which society is structured, Patrick says.
Auckland-based performer Miss Handle discusses the similarities and variations between clowning and drag.
Each sometimes contain exaggeration of options, and the embodiment of a personality.
“It’s a job you inhabit via costume. … That’s the premise of clowning – it turns you into one thing else,” he says. “Drag provides you licence to face outdoors and look in. That’s been a part of the position of the clown – to poke enjoyable … converse reality to energy.”
Drag has advanced from fringe occasions in homosexual bars to being featured in massively profitable franchised tv exhibits like RuPaul’s Drag Race and in different mainstream pockets of society.
Patrick says the concept of transformation is crucial to each drag and clowning. This was ironic, he says, because the artwork types themselves have been altering.
Auckland-based drag performer Miss Handle, aka Jeremy Hinman, says portray a giant face was once seen as doing a “clown model” of drag.
Hinman says some drag performers embrace the clown title, and take into account themselves extra as clowns: suppose Jimbo or Bianca Del Rio, and campy, theatrical, larger-than-life drag characters Nina West or Drag Race Down Below winner Kita Imply.
However within the age of Instagram and aesthetic drag, not all drag artists would sit comfortably with the clown identifier.
Hinman additionally cautions in opposition to merging drag’s historical past with clowning’s.
Drag has its roots in political activism and underground ballroom tradition, and has at all times been pushed by queer folks.
“What I feel has occurred now could be that it’s completely merged within the center,” Hinman says. “Now on the Venn diagram [there’s] clowning, drag, [but] the center part is kind of massive.
“How broad they’re as artwork types is fairly enormous. You are able to do something with drag. You are able to do something with clowning,” he says.
“Should you consider a clown: purple nostril, rainbow curly wig – that’s such a small illustration of what clowning is and what clowning could be. However equally to tug, should you consider one efficiency you’ve seen, that’s the tip of the iceberg.”