Send in the Women Clowns!

Feature in Issue 13-2 | Summer 2001

Angela de Castro reports…

What a great week! Festival Internacional de Pallasses in May was the first ever international gathering of women clowns, taking place in Andorra in the Pyrenees. For me it was perfect timing, coming at the end of the Why Not Institute’s season of clown training ‘Who Said Women Can’t Clown?!’ The festival programme was made up of two days of intensive workshops, followed by three days of public performances and an outdoor programme.

I’d been booked to run my masterclass How to be a Stupid; direct and produce one of the three opening ‘combinados’ shows; and perform Stagehands, an improvised cabaret show, with two old friends, Sue Broadway and Hilary Ramsden. After two days of intense teaching, I then had just another two days to put together the combinado with a group of women clowns, none of whom had met before.

Sue Broadway says: ‘A major highlight was de Castro’s big show on the opening night. She had been extremely tough with her group – cutting their numbers, inventing new material with them and shaping everything with a precise and demanding eye. They called her “the Sergeant” for a while but through the process they came to regard her highly and the show was such a huge hit on the night. More than that, a group of disparate and inexperienced clowns was melded into a moving and inspiring show with astonishing speed.’

The final show of the festival was a cabaret combining three acts (Rachel Ponsonby from Brussels, Marceline Kahn from Los Excentricos, and Merybelle from France) with our Stagehands in between each of the other acts. We had a wonderful time and delighted the audience. The festival finished with a brass band and a circus parade. I threw myself into everything and was so busy that it was only at the final parade that I realised the significance of this gathering. There is little recognition for women clowns, yet during this week I’d been valued and respected for being both a woman and a clown. I didn’t have to compromise or justify either. Looking around, I saw all these women clowns from different parts of the world, a minority within a minority, coming together in a tiny country to celebrate and share this passion of ours for clowning

Soon the time came when Sue, Hilary and I had to zoom off to catch our plane back to London. As we unloaded our bags from the taxi at the airport, Frank Sinatra sang out with ‘Send in the Clowns’. It was just the right ending for such a wonderful week.

Angela de Castro is artistic director of the Why Not Institute.

Referenced Artists

This article in the magazine

Issue 13-2
p. 4