Clowning around in Hangzhou
Of all the coffee joints in all the world Adam walks into Wagas, yes folks, we are at our usual location meeting with Adam Read aka the Serious Clown. I’ve never met a clown before, so to be honest, I was a bit apprehensive. Would he be in his full clown costume or in civilian clothes?
If you are already thinking Pennywise or Joaquin Phoenix ‘s Joker relax, it’s Adam who turns up in a smart tartan Adidas jacket. Phew. Over breakfast we cut to the chase. Why clowning?
Adam tells me he thinks he’s been performing all his life, from being an athletic youngster in Australia to this moment where you can find him performing with the Cirque Du Soleil branded show, X The Land of Fantasy, at the Suntiandy Theatre in Hangzhou. Don’t for one moment think this is a Mr Pastry slapstick, custard pie in the mush, style of clowning. While that does have its place in the art form, it’s clear that Adam has paid his dues and learnt his craft both at Australia’s prestigious theatre schools and long stints on the boards.
From the Edinburgh Fringe festival to Germany for a 20-year association with the Grotest Maru ensemble through to a long collaboration with a Russian troupe called Derevo all of which he says was life changing. Adam also cites his 5 years working with the Norwegian/German duo Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller as inspirational. Their transgressive and improvisational performances are somewhere between South Park and Opera––a new direction in theatre.
He emphasises, often using body language, that what he enjoys most is the physicality of the performance. More often than not there are no words or as in the current show “ X The Land of Fantasy” there is only gibberish in the place of language. He also cites Butoh as a major influence, this is a Japanese art form which includes playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, extreme or absurd environments, and it is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion.
Don’t be surprised however, if you come across the Serious Clown on your meanderings around town as there is nothing he likes better than mingling with the locals. What do they make of him walking into their lives I ask? “It’s incredible,” he tells me, “especially in the working class areas, down the back alleys, I get an unbelievable reaction, people let me into their lives and are very open to having photos taken with me or letting me play, they really do have a great sense of humour.” However, Adam does admit to upsetting more than one security guard and being asked to leave.
I ask him about people’s clown phobia, I mention Pennywise and the recent Joker movie again. He believes that Phoenix’s performance was excellent and moved the notion of the clown away from the common fallacies that these Hollywood, quick fix phobias were built upon. There were deeper themes in the Joker film that touched upon loneliness and bullying together with a masterful soundtrack that fused with the elements of theatre. He even suggested that it had some fundamentals of Chinese opera where all the components came together.
The fusion of Art and Performance is important he stresses. Being on the street is raw, but the rapport one can build with people can bring beautiful moments. And Hangzhou is so unlike Shanghai, where he has performed in the past, during one of his five earlier trips to China. Hangzhou is not so shiny and is more isolated from that sort of vibe and it’s safe for the family, with a culture that is unique and different. He says that “By filming around Hangzhou I have found my own Disneyland, a place where I can create my own Art.” He likes Hangzhou where he and his family, his wife (who is a designer in her own right and designs Adam’s costumes) and his three children live because: “the people are open and friendly.”
A famous clown (Patch Adams) once said that walking around in colourful clothes making people smile is a public health service. And if the Serious Clown can bring a smile to your lips either on the street or in the theatre, then that’s not a bad thing for a clown to do is it?