Sunday, September 12, 2010

Clown Fest Interview - Heidi Rider and Adriana Chavez of Clowns With Gowns

By Byrne Harrison
Photo by Carol Eckstein

Name: Heidi Rider and Adriana Chavez
Show: Clowns With Gowns
Relationship to show: Actor and Creator
Website: and on Facebook

Tell me a little bit about Clowns With Gowns.

Well, see, there are these two female clowns, and they both are really pretty, well, maybe they just think they are really pretty and maybe they really aren't so pretty but they reallyreallyreally want to be the prettiest. And the best at everything. Our show is about rivalry - specifically playing with the "feminine" stereotype, the ridiculous lengths we go to for attention, for adoration. Our clowns, Carmen Francesca Maria Frida Ophelia de la Rosa and Gertrude, attempt to perform an extraordinary act together but they just can't seem to get out of their own ways. We have been inspired to explore that feminine cliche in our clown work - to really scratch our nails into how ridiculous it all can be.

What inspired you to create it?

We both started working with these clown characters while we were studying at Dell'Arte International and found that they stuck to us. There are aspects of clown that are so nakedly human, with attributes that are fascinatingly close to who we truly are as individuals. I love the way that a clown can access things that are embarrassing, uncomfortable and ridiculous and reveal the delightful and wondrous sides of it. And, for me, there is something delicious about a feminine stereotype that I want to investigate- to open it up and see what's inside of it... My character in this particular show is revealing herself to be more ridiculous and awkward than "feminine", but that rivalry and wanting attention to be paid- it runs deep inside of her. I guess what it all really boils down to is laughter. I love to laugh and I want to inspire laughter in others. It unites us as humans and it can be done without words and build bridges across cultural differences, so we can reach each other. Is that idealistic? Probably. But I still believe it.

Adriana wanted to deeply delve into dramatic extremes- exploring how delightful it can be to see a clown drive herself from one extreme emotion to the next and discovering that particular satisfaction in seeing the diva fall flat on her face. She is drawing from her own personal Latina attributes, and those of the women she grew up with- to find that side of her that is outlandish and bigger than herself. Actually, she has an Aunt Lily that is the real-life inspiration for this character. Lily's obsessions with beauty pageants, performing with fervent conviction around the house for anyone that would pay attention, her preoccupation with her physical appearance and her sincerity in it all - it made her funny, ridiculous and delightful to be around. Deep inside, Adriana's character believes that she is an opera singer. And Adriana would just die to sing opera.

What is your clowning background?

We both studied at Dell'Arte International where we had a focus on clown with Ronlin Forman. We also both grew up watching the classic clowns- Lucy, the Marx Brothers, Dick Van Dyke. My parents loved Lucy, Red Skelton and the Three Stooges. Some of my favorite memories involve us watching these performers and laughing together. My first glimpse of the love I have for clown began when I played Harpo Marx in a college production when I was nineteen years old... I was in awe of his ability to communicate so much and to provoke so much laughter... and without verbally saying a single thing, he said everything.

What would you tell someone who is afraid of clowns to get them to come to your show?

Clowns are the vulnerable beings that are able to express themselves and see the world in the open and honest way that we as adults have forgotten how to do. They are made up of both the beautifully raw naivete and the absolute knowing and understanding. We can laugh at the clowns and with the clowns because we see ourselves in everything that they do.

What is next for you after the New York Clown Theatre Festival?

We have both very recently moved back to New York City and are still trying to put our feet back on the ground! Right now we are developing a contemporary commedia dell'arte piece, working on a maskmaking/ mask performance workshop and taking in the beauty of finally returning home to this messy, glorious city.

Clowns with Gowns Productions: Adriana Chavez and Heidi Rider
Blue Lake, CA

NY Clown Theatre Festival
The Brick Theatre
575 Metropolitan Ave.

Saturday, September 4th @ 5pm
Saturday, September 11th @ 10pm
Sunday, September 12th @ 5pm

Tuesday, September 7th @ 7pm

Wednesday, September 15th @ 7pm

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