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