Last Thursday and Friday, Arena Theater presented “A Clown Show,” an original piece that developed the comedic side of theater.
The play was composed of a series of scenes in which actors interacted with one another and the audience to give humor a presence on stage.
The piece was brought together largely by Felicia Bertch ’02. Bertch was also prominently active in the “Shakespeare in the Park” production over the same weekend, in which she played a clown character. Bertch completed her MFA in acting and continued to enjoy it throughout graduate school, but said that she was repeatedly cast in comedic roles. Working on “Clown Show” was a way of manifesting what she had learned through these performances. Through this piece, Bertch wanted to share “the certain kind of freedom” that comes from laughing at oneself.
The show was seemingly well received. The audience was receptive and laughed along with the clowns’ antics. Many younger children sat in the front row and were delighted by the humor they got to enjoy. This was one of Bertch’s goals in crafting the show — enabling people to simply be delighted. “It was really fun to share with the audience,” she said.
Because dialogue was very limited, the clown actors relied heavily on music, movement and expression to convey meaning. They used facial expressions to connect with the audience many times throughout the evening, creating a sense of relationship between the actors and those watching.
The30 students who participated in the show were those who had been through a program taught at the Black Hills this summer. The teachers were Bertch and another workout theater alumnus, Chad Hauge ’06.. Their teaching this year concentrated on humor and comedy in theater, and the final show was a product of this education. The actors worked on movements, songs and short acts in preparation for the final product.
Additionally, Bertch said that it was these actors who conveyed the more implicit meaning of the production. In “Clown Show,” she desired that those in the audience would “understand the fallen parts of our being,” because sometimes the best way to handle those things is to make fun of them. “It’s not funny if you don’t see yourself in it,” she said.
Bertch said that in the clowns, the “naked feelings” of what is happening in life can be observed. “We try to show the best side of ourselves. People know about our masks, but won’t say anything.” In the production, these clowns often showed a frustration that their expectations were not being met, and indulged their feelings in an exaggerated way.
A prominent goal of the performance was for those who watched to identify themselves among the clowns. Bertch acknowledged the bravery of the actors for revealing themselves to this end and for making people laugh with their own personal truth.
“We are all clowns,” Bertch said. “Those who watched Arena Theater’s latest work had the opportunity to see a message of removing the masks people often attempt to conceal themselves with … and just to laugh.”