Beyond banana peels! Theater fest celebrates the art of clowning

Beyond banana peels! Theater fest celebrates the art of clowning
Photo by Matt Bresler

They may be a bunch of clowns — but these actors are no bozos.

America’s only clown theater festival is coming to Williamsburg next week — featuring performances that are smart, emotionally rich and just plain silly.

Beginning on Sept. 7, the Brick Theater will run two weeks of “clown performance and cabaret” that blend dark, political and sometimes sexual themes with Vaudeville-style physical comedy.

“It’s for adults by adults — with a broad depth of emotion,” says Audrey Crabtree, the festival’s co-director. “It’s some of the bravest work out there.”

The performances — which include the story of a bike messenger’s quest for love, an apocalyptic journey to the future and one man’s esoteric battle with loneliness on a desert island — are proof the art form goes deeper than red noses and banana peels.

To set the tone, Canarsie’s Leroy Sisters will kick off the festival with a free cabaret performance that’s packed with slapstick comedy and acrobatics (but, unlike last year, will be devoid of pie fights).

Crabtree said the shows are peppered with improv and audience interaction to excite a generation that knows more about Charlie Sheen than Charlie Chaplin.

But just because clowning is misunderstood — especially in the United States, where it’s associated with birthday parties and Stephen King novels rather than a night at the theater — doesn’t mean it’s a dying art.

In fact, the number of festival applicants has doubled in the past five years, Crabtree said, evidence that clowning is in the midst of an artsy resurgence. And the festival now offers nine main stage shows and three cabaret performances along with films and classes.

New York Clown Theatre Festival at the Brick [575 Metropolitan Ave. between Union Avenue and Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, (718) 907-6189], Sept. 7-25. Tickets $15. For info, visit www.bricktheater.com.

It wouldn’t be a clown theater festival in Williamsburg without some hipster clowns — courtesy of Morro and Jasp.
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