The weekend of the 13-16 June 2019 saw the 6th Festival of Women’s Clowns with its base on the sacred grounds of Circ Cric at St. Esteva de Palautordera in Catalonia Spain.
Perhaps more poignant than any other year the theme of the festival had – like the cliche of the clown – a mixture of sadness and celebration.
Only a few weeks before, one of the magical graces of clowning passed away after a battle with cancer. Marta Carbayo was one of those delightful beings of comedy whose own personal locura brought joy and awe to all who had the luck to see her. Her own style also possessed brilliant timing, innovation and magic which most of her contemporaries struggle to emulate – male or female.
But Marta was not only a top notch performer she was also a beautiful person, who always had time and energy for someone in need, whether it be her family, friends, students. Anyone in fact…A true clown whose heart soared way above her ego.
I first saw her at a festival in Spain where I was also performing around 2008. I was stunned at her originality, her speed and ease of improvisation, the deftness and charm of her clown and her understanding of being 100% in the performance moment.
The clown is a much maligned word in the UK and the category is not necessarily highly rated in many parts of the showbiz world…. But when I talk about clown, I am not talking about the cliche British definition: the party clown, the pretty clown, or the circus clowns whose effect on me as a kid was horrific boredom. The definitions – entertainer or comic artist – might be better words to describe the nouveau clown of today…. and Marta Carbayo was inventive, funny and always ready to entertain.
In Spanish the word clown is different from Payaso. What makes the distinction clear for me is that payaso is the circus clown character who works with traditional sketches, (often direct copies) – as in circus-family hand-downs – whereas the same English word clown adopted into Spanish means an artist who creates comedy or poetic sketches from his or her own creation. The Spanish meaning of clown is much nearer Danny Kaye, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton than CoCo the Clown.
I arrived at the festival on the Saturday well in time for the special homage to Marta. I met many an ex-student, some old friends that I had walked the boards with and many new women clowns who I had never heard of from all over the world…
There was an air of sadness and a little apprehension but also excitement perhaps about how the show might be presented later that night.
The show itself proved to a master class of production. Many traveled to St.Esteva that night just to be part of this special evening and by showtime the tent was packed. Marta would have loved it. It was touching, truthful and often very funny. Aten Soria, the Murcia actress and clown, and long time friend and co-worker of Marta spoke at length with amusing, entertaining and endearing stories about her. She was obviously suffering from her loss but the support from the audience was huge and she got through her task beautifully.
Marta’s family also nfeatured in the show…Jon Skjerning-Rasmussen, her husband for 20 years gave a touching eulogy, and even performed on of her sketches. Felix, elder of the two sons, performed Marta My Dear, the Beatles song : it started as a touching rendition but grew into an uplifting salute to his Dear Mom. Then Sylvester the younger brother performed his favourite sketch of his Mom’s repertoire and I sat there aghast at how excellent the sketch was – and only ten years old!!!
It was then during this beautifully executed homage that I realised how much Marta had affected these clown women’s lives. I knew the family when visiting and playing in Denmark but I had never seen Marta at a women’s festival. She had indeed been a guiding light for all the women at this festival in the past. And they all now cried and danced after the show as Marta had wanted.
Women are gradually shaking off all those men prejudices about what women can do. I remember as a teenager discovering in Scottish bars there was a separate room – sometimes 2 meter square – where a drinking man could bring his wife or girlfriend without the bar clientele assuming she was a prostitute. (but she couldn’t go in the main bar with all the other men, since then she would be considered so.)
And in my young days any woman who took too much attention from men’s company was often frowned upon. so women were never allowed to be funny or buffoons unless they became famous and respectable enough to be on TV like in my younger days performers like Gracie Allen or Lucille Ball.
Women clowns embrace the energy of the Mother, the Angel, Helper and the Refuge. This shone through to the large crowds who came to see what happened on the Sunday in the village where led by an all women marching band clown women paraded through the streets in joy and the statement which was clear for all….WE ARE HERE!
What I saw on the Sunday confirmed the beauty and power of the woman clown. May they spread more across the planet! This is a movement that has to be championed and our fragile society with its competitive culture, its warmongering and politics of absolute madness need woman clowns in abundance to balance out the love. This is why the world Is better off with women clowns…
All fotos by Johnny Melville