It’s good catharsis to simply clown around.

Jesse Buck (Bubkus)
photo supplied by Play the Fool Festival

Play the Fool Festival
September 25 through September 28, 2019

review by Jake Cardinal

Slap a red nose on me and call me Binky – the Play the Fool Festival 2019 was held at the Backstage Theatre September 25 through September 28, and is put on annually to celebrate contemporary clown work happening right at this very moment. Here are some of the highlights of the festival.

Bubkus is a one-man clown show performed and created by Jesse Buck, a seasoned clown who has not only toured his show around the world for over a decade, but has even worked with Cirque De Soleil. His energy, timing, improvisational skills are delightful, but perhaps the most important aspect of his performance was his skill to create real drama and tragedy without saying a word.

Bubkus is Yiddish for ‘nothing,’ which is fitting because the hour-long show used only a blanket, a box, a pillow, and a pillow-sheet. With only these items, Buck was able to create a wizard, a Giant, a beautiful woman, a snake, and more. I laughed, I yelled, I cried, and I wasn’t the only who seemed to enjoy Bubkus as it received a standing ovation from the crowd on Friday night. If you ever get the chance to see Bubkus–see it.

White Comforter: Get Some with Carol White, written and performed by Alexandra Dawkins and directed by Jake Tkaczyk, was performed during the emerging artist triple bill, an hour long show which featured work from different artists hot on the clown scene. With the exception of White Comforter, I felt the emerging artist triple bill suffered a bit from pacing issues, but the overall quality of the show was fine.

White Comforter was just so Goddamn good. Dawkins was phenomenal–she was able to improvise with the crowd, which always garnered laughs, and her ability to switch energies on a dime added remarkably tragic layers to an otherwise innocent story.

In the show, Dawkins plays a woman named Carol White who has just suffered a terrible car accident, and is now promoting her self-help audio book. Through one of Carol’s seminars, we find out that two people were affected by the crash. PTSD and self-help never went together so well. I hope Dawkins keeps performing this piece; in fact, I want her to make it into an hour-long show. Would love to see it at the Fringe.

Festival Spectacular Cabaret hosts Jake Tkaczyk and Rebecca Merkely
photo supplied by Play the Fool

The Play the Fool Festival Spectacular performed on Saturday night was perhaps the most wonderful show of the entire weekend. Much like the triple bill, this show featured work from a ton of different artists; however, it was two hours long and the entire audience was drunk–which is how something like this ought to be experienced!

Although the night is a little bit of a blur, I remember a few stand out performances, beginning with Doctor Professor Lavernius Cumquat. Performed by Dustin Allen in an Einstein facemask and the old projector your third grade teacher used to use, it’s making me chuckle right now as I’m writing. This conservative satire covered topics like Justin Trudeau in blackface and Greta Thunberg.

Another piece in the Spectacular I remember in the oil-painting of a show was Holly Von Sinn and her strip show. I was not expecting to see a stripper performing at a clown festival, but I was happily surprised. The Paul Blinov Comedy Experience also resonates with me, although I’m not sure why, because it was just Blinov pretending to be a caterpillar in a chrysalis who turns into a butterfly.

I only went to one show on Sunday, mainly because my hangover was something else, but I got my ass out of bed at 6pm so I could go and see the festival favourite: the Rookie Cabaret. The show featured completely new artists, some of which popped their clown cherry with this performance, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell because the show was tight. The point of this cabaret was that these new artists could get sponsored so that they could keep pursuing the form, and I am delighted to say all performers were. If you feel like you could be a clown, apply to the 2020 Rookie Cabaret and see if you got what it takes.

Two performances really took the spotlight, and although I wish I could tell you their names, I wasn’t wearing my glasses and they were all wearing clown make-up.

The first show of the cabaret featured a young woman who created a metaphorical piece on love that is not reciprocal, using only flowers and movement. The other piece was a musical-duo, something along the lines of Garfunkel and Oates. They created a story with a ukulele and subpar vocals which dealt with melodrama, revenge, and chicken.

The Rookie Cabaret ended the festival. The festival director, Christine Lesiak, the festival producer, Julia Kiraly, and all of the rookies stood in a line on stage, which created a beautiful image. “This is the last show of the festival!” Christine had said, “But, don’t worry. Passes for Play the Fool Festival 2020 go on sale in July!”

I got up from my seat once the performers disbanded and began mingling with the audience, which had quite a few regulars, and every single night they were lively, responsive, and inclusive. I walked through the crowd, the heart of the Edmonton theatre scene at 10pm on a Sunday evening, through some surreal dream. Sad the festival was over and walking as slow as possible, I was watching the performers and audience interacting, wishing I could enter such a world.

This place had a very welcoming feeling, something akin to playing outside in the snow as a child, then walking into your warm house where your loved ones are. The Play the Fool Festival is proof that when you start taking life too life too seriously, it’s good catharsis to simply clown around.

Play the Fool website