CLOWNS AND MIMES by and Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen
COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE • During the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy, as the world-famous commedia dell’arte was developing, three basic clowns began to evolve: The Harlequin, the Auguste, and the character clown.
THE HARLEQUIN AND SLAPSTICK • In the latter half of the 16th century, the “Arlecchino” (Harlequin) clown started out as a foolish servant and then developed into a more sophisticated, acrobatic prankster. • He carried a large stick that was split so that abrupt movements would make the separated parts hit against each other with a loud noise. • This was the development of “slapstick” comedy.
Harlequin clowns had elegant, patched costumes with symmetrical patterns and a black domino mask covering half of their faces. • Today’s Harlequin clowns (including mimes) still wear precise, neatly detailed makeup, and a sophisticated demeanor of being “in charge.” • Their aura of control is sometimes heightened by the contrast of having a “fool” companion.
MIMES • An obvious advantage of mime and pantomime is that it transcends language barriers. • Because of this, Charlie Chaplin was the first movie star recognized and appreciated around the world.
Another advantage of mime is that it works in arenas that are too large or too noisy for people to hear well. • This is why circus clowns and the mascots for athletic teams rely for their humor on exaggerated body movements.
Emmett Kelly, the famous Ringling Brothers clown, was so skilled in pantomiming the role of Weary Willie that he was allowed to remain in the circus arena through the entire performances. • His most famous act was to sweep a circle of light thrown by a spotlight into a smaller and smaller circle, and then to chase it under a rug or into a dustbin.
Harpo Marx was one of the world’s most beloved pantomimists. • Harpo was a mute with unruly hair who could communicate with others only by means of honks, whistles, and pantomime.
He wore a fright wig and an overcoat with enormous inside pockets from which he pulled such objects as an ice-cream cone, a cup of coffee, and various pieces of hardware, including a blowtorch. • Somewhere in every movie, he pulled a face called a “Gookie,” in which he puffed out his cheeks and crossed his widened eyes.
Harpo’s best known pantomime scene is in the movie Duck Soup. Groucho chases Harpo, who accidentally breaks a floor-length mirror. • When Groucho looks in the empty frame, Harpo is standing on the other side and deftly reflects back every one of Groucho’s intricate moves.
Marcel Marceau had a clown-tramp character named Bip. • Bip had tight-fitting high-waisted pants, a dark jersey designed to set off his whitened face, and to serve as a backdrop to his expressive hand movements. This was a modern interpretation of the French Pierrot.
It is ironic that in Mel Brooks’s 1976 Silent Movie, it was Marcel Marceau who said the only spoken line.
PIERROT • The “fool” companion of the Harlequin was the Pierrot. • Pierrot was a French clown with a bald head, a flour-whitened face, and an always-gullible demeanor. • Pierrot was the straight man for the Harlequin.
THE CHARACTER CLOWN • At the turn of the century, character clowns were becoming very popular. • They had such identifiable personalities as tramps, scarecrows, grandmothers, out-of-work gentlemen, etc.
Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and the Three Stooges were all character clowns. • Emmett Kelly’s “Weary Willie,” and Red Skelton’s “Freddie the Freeloader” were both influenced by Chaplin’s “Little Tramp.” • Jerry Lewis and Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean) were also character clowns.
CLOWN TABOOS • While in character, clowns should never be seen doing “normal” things like shopping or eating meals. • They should also never appear in public partially out of costume.
One Halloween in Paulsboro, New Jersey, a police officer dressed up as a clown managed to arrest 12 individuals, most of whom were wanted for routine traffic offenses. • He explained that instead of getting the usual “He isn’t home” response, the clown costume got the policeman into the homes to make the arrest. • The real clowns of the world protested.
The clowns of the world also protested when Bob Dole referred to President Clinton as “Bozo.” • Larry Harmon, the creator the Bozo Television Program, was not amused to have the name of “Bozo” used as an insult.
CLOWNS AS SPORTS MASCOTS • The newest commercial role for clowns is that of team mascots. • Some of the most famous include: • Paws for the Detroit Tigers • Billy for the Florida Marlins • the Chicken for the San Diego Padres
Because of the size of sports arenas and fields, these clowns are much like early circus clowns in wearing oversized, one-of-a-kind costumes. • They also practice exaggerated pantomimes, do acrobatics, and use huge props. • Philly Phanatic rides around on his dune buggy. • The Phoenix Suns Gorilla makes baskets by jumping from a trampoline.
Like Circus Clowns, these sports mascots fill in dead time, provide photo opportunities, give young children someone to relate to, and work as genuine clowns at community events where they represent the team. • And they are even able to compete as cheer leaders.
CLOWN WEB SITES AXTELL PUPPETS: http://www.axtellpuppets.net/ LAUGHTER REMEDY (PAUL MCGHEE): www.LaughterRemedy.comhttp://www.LaughterRemedy.com LAUGHTER WORKS (KAY CASKEY AND LAURIE YOUNG): www.LaughWays.com THERAPEUTIC CLOWNS: http://www.therapeuticclowns.ca/resources.html VENT HAVEN VENTRILOQUIST CONVENTION: http://www.venthaven.com/ WORLD LAUGHTER TOUR (STEVE WILSON): http://www.worldlaughtertour.com/