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On Being Clown: a serious look at a funny art

Arts Everywhere event at River Run Centre connects being a clown with reconciliation in Canada

It was a serious look at a not-so-serious subject Saturday night at the River Run Centre.

On Being Clown was a panel discussion the art of clown, the underlying currents behind clowning and how in some way that can be related to failing and reconciling in Canada.

The event was part of the Arts Everywhere festival and was attended by a sold-out intimate crowd of 100 people in the River Run's Co-operators Hall.

It featured some of the country's most accomplished clowns and clown instructors and was moderated by Julia Lane, a "clown scholar" from the University of British Columbia.

"Being a clown," said veteran clown and clown instructor Jan Henderson, "is permission to accept yourself completely and discover your most authentic self."

"They fail over and over, but they keep trying," added clown Heather Marie Annis, whose work includes being a clown in therapeutic settings.

"Clowning is love: it spreads and it gives," Annis said, to which Henderson added, "you can't clown in a vacuum. It's about love."

The evening included several songs from First Nations singer/songwriter Tara Williamson and opened with a detailed thanksgiving blessing from Mohawk architect William Woodworth.

During discussion clown Mike Kennard applied his makeup in the background and later he and Barry Bilinsky gave a brief performance amongst the audience.

There was also a brief clown learning workshop, with audience members partnering to go through one of the tools used in clown training.

Some of the more veteran clown artists and instructors on stage Saturday studied under the late clown instructor Richard Pochinko, whose style of clown instruction has now been dubbed the "Canadian style."

When it came to clowns and how being a clown can be somehow relatable to the reconciliation process with indigenous people in Canada, the aspect of cultivating a willingness to fail - a key clown element - is crucial to reconciliation.

"I'm comfortable with the mistakes and conflict that clown training brought out," said Amy Lee, an Alberta-based clown.

"I hope there's a way to bring that out into the world and admitting mistakes. There's ugly things in our past in our society and look them in the face instead of just feeling bad. Just feeling bad doesn't solve anything," Lee said.

"When we embrace our flaws and imperfections it brings us together on a deeper level."

Henderson said reconciliation goes nowhere without listening "and clowns are the best listeners."

The evening concluded with a brief question and answer period.

Several audience members, clown students themselves, praised the art.

"It's very freeing," said one woman.

"It's a brilliant art. It's a blessing," said one man.