Clowning around in the bush

Sometimes it's hard to take clowns seriously. But that hasn't always been the case. "There's always clowns in any society since the dawn of humanity," said local clown Claire Ness.

Sometimes it’s hard to take clowns seriously. But that hasn’t always been the case.

“There’s always clowns in any society since the dawn of humanity,” said local clown Claire Ness.

“There’s a specific tribe that I read about in California that used to revere their clowns so much that if the clown didn’t like the chief, they would oust him. They’d get a new chief.”

Ness’s solo clown show, Ruffin’ It, opens next week at the Guild Hall.

It’s about camping in the Yukon, but it’s also about “the ridiculousness that you can own land and feel like ‘this is my land, this is my space,’” said Ness.

But when it comes to clowning, the less you try to explain it, the better.

“I hate talking about clowning,” said Ness.

Clowning is supposed to be something you do, not something you intellectualize.

Her clown teachers at the National Circus School in Montreal made that point clear.

“Their approach was very simple. It was like, ‘Be dumb. Be dumber still,’ but it was all in French so it was like, ‘Plus con. Encore plus con que ca.’”

The idea for Ruffin’ It was conceived at the circus school, where Ness began experimenting with a tent as a prop.

When she was invited to perform at Ramshackle Theatre’s Theatre in the Bush event in 2011, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to take clown camping to the next level.

“Not having ever seen clowns use camping props, I had a real, like, discovery and excitement about it because I’m always trying to get away from things I’ve seen before, just this ridiculous obsession with being original,” said Ness.

“When she arrived for the evening, she was already in character,” said Brian Fidler, artistic director of Ramshackle Theatre and director of Ruffin’ It. “And she was kind of this really scowly, mad kind of clown.”

It took a while for Fidler to notice that the bum-flap on Ness’s one-piece long underwear was open and her bare bum was hanging out, he said.

Ness continued to work on the piece at Nakai Theatre’s 24-hour playwriting competition.

But it didn’t go so well.

“I was intent on writing, and writing for a clown is pointless,” said Ness.

So instead she applied for a grant from the Yukon Arts Fund and brought Fidler on board as director.

The pair started out intending to create a show with no words.

But it was a challenge, so they invented a style of gibberish where the letter L is added to the beginning of each word.

Now, as they continue working with the show, they are finding that the words are slowly making their way back out of the piece.

The goal for the rehearsal process is to generate a structure, but the details are forever up to interpretation.

In the end it comes down to the relationship between the clown and the audience, which can make rehearsing difficult, because you’re performing over and over for only your director, said Ness.

“It’s really hard playing for one person, especially when they’re taking notes, scowling,” she added.

The show promises silliness to suit the whole family.

“I wanted kids to be able to come and have fun, because I think there’s a lack of kid-friendly theatre, but it’s very fun for adults,” said Ness.

“And, so far, Claire’s bum hasn’t made it into the show,” added Fidler.

“But don’t expect no bum,” said Ness. “Expect nothing. My clown teacher used to say, ‘Expectation cuts off experience.’ So just don’t expect anything.”

Ruffin’ It runs Dec. 13 through 15 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 15 and 16 at 2 p.m. at the Guild Hall.

Tickets are available at Climate Clothing, at $15 for adults and $10 for children, students, and seniors.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

City of Whitehorse city council meeting in Whitehorse on Oct. 5, 2020. An updated council procedures bylaw was proposed at Whitehorse city council’s Jan. 18 meeting that would see a few changes to council meetings and how council handles certain matters like civil emergencies. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Whitehorse procedures bylaw comes forward

New measures proposed for how council could deal with emergencies

A Yukon survey querying transportation between communities has already seen hundreds of participants and is the latest review highlighting the territory’s gap in accessibility. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Multiple reports, survey decry lack of transportation between Yukon communities

A Community Travel survey is the latest in a slew of initiatives pointing to poor accessibility

Mobile vaccine team Team Balto practises vaccine clinic set-up and teardown at Vanier Catholic Secondary School. Mobile vaccine teams are heading out this week to the communities in order to begin Moderna vaccinations. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mobile vaccine teams begin community vaccinations

“It’s an all-of-government approach”

The now empty lot at 410 Cook Street in Whitehorse on Jan. 19. As developers move forward with plans for a housing development that would feature 16 micro-units, they are asking city council for a zoning change that would reduce the number of required parking spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Developer asks for zoning change

Would reduce the number of required parking spaces

The Liard First Nation is preparing to enter negotiations for self-governance with the territorial and federal governments. (Jackie Hong/Yukon News file)
Liard First Nation preparing to enter self-governance negotiations with Yukon, federal governments

Chief Stephen Charlie seeking an agreement separate from “dead end” UFA

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Mayor Dan Curtis listens to a councillor on the phone during a city council meeting in Whitehorse on April 14, 2020. Curtis announced Jan. 14 that he intends to seek nomination to be the Yukon Liberal candidate for Whitehorse Centre in the 2021 territorial election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Whitehorse mayor seeking nomination for territorial election

Whitehorse mayor Dan Curtis is preparing for a run in the upcoming… Continue reading

Gerard Redinger was charged under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> with failing to self-isolate and failing to transit through the Yukon in under 24 hours. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Man ticketed $1,150 at Wolf Creek campground for failing to self-isolate

Gerard Redinger signed a 24-hour transit declaration, ticketed 13 days later

Yukon Energy, Solvest Inc. and Chu Níikwän Development Corporation are calling on the city for a meeting to look at possibilities for separate tax rates or incentives for renewable energy projects. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Tax changes sought for Whitehorse energy projects

Delegates call for separate property tax category for renewable energy projects

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

Most Read