Serious task of getting the world to laugh
ONOFRIO Colucci has drawn white face paint around his lips to create the smile he wears on stage as a professional clown hundreds of times.
The smile is his surrender to the exquisite anarchy of all things inverted but possible in the world of a clown, he said.
Colucci is one of the eight clowns who have bought snowstorms and a touch of winter magic to Johannesburg with Slava Snowshow opening at Montecasino this week and coming to Artscape next month. It’s not anarchy as chaos, but disruption through contradiction, through possibility and things maybe never before imagined possible.
“A clown is a natural mismatch, which makes him fit anywhere. But he has integrity and a pride in who he is, not wanting to be someone else. Everyone can relate to him because everyone has at least once been in love, has at least once cried, or felt lonely.
“And everyone has at least once found a way out – it’s this that makes a clown instantly recognisable,” said Colucci, sipping coffee (because he has enough energy already, he says) and chatting amiably.
Growing up in Puglia, “the heel of the boot” of Italy, Colucci knew at the age of six he had been born a clown.
His Twitter profile reads: “I was born a clown and ultimately I’ll go with a smile on my face.”
He studied architecture, but ran away to join the clowns in 1996.
“I saw the Snowshow that Slava Polunin was creating in 1996. It was really in its embryo phase, but I was mesmerised and knew that’s what I wanted to do professionally,” said Colucci.
The tradition and craft of clowning presented in the likes of Slava Snowshow and Cirque du Soleil (of which Colucci is also a part) is for him about putting together “all elements of performance”.
It’s the furthest from the kiddies’ party clown or a fast food mascot. This is clowning that draws from heritages that date back hundreds of years and have elements of mime, drama and theatrical spectacle.
It’s also about timing, rhythm and physicality in movements and holding poses. It’s of course about laughter and humour, but also about subtle statements hidden in comedy and the power of storytelling. Above all it’s tuning into an audience and responding intimately.
“Every time I draw on my smile I’m reflecting what mood I’m in and I’m taking off the mask of the ordinary world and becoming who I really am. And when I step on stage I’m feeling the audience and their mood and this makes every performance different,” said Colucci.
He is one of only four clowns who are trained to play the lead role of the Yellow Clown in Slava’s production.
“We are a rare species,” said Colucci with a smile. He adds that clowns sew their own costumes and do their own make-up. For Colucci it’s because these are not props or embellishments but an integral part of the process of bringing his innermost to his audience, to just being present.
“We are not a representation of the world, but a presentation of the world. I show the happy burden of my life as it has evolved when I am on stage.
“The secret of Slava Snowshow is that we don’t aim to please, we don’t give the audience pre-chewed food, so to speak, it’s for the audience to receive,” he said.
And receiving from Johanesburg audiences, who have already been to the show, has been in submission to play, to wonder and to clowning around – because they can.
● Slava Snowshow is at Artscape August 17 to 28.
Onofrio Colucci plays the lead role of the Yellow Clown in Slava Snowshow at Artscape next month.
Slava Snowshow. Putting on his make-up is an intricate process.