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INTERVIEW: Henry Maynard and Dan Lees, London Clown Festival founders

INTERVIEW: Henry Maynard and Dan Lees, London Clown Festival founders
 The clowns are coming to town! More specifically, they are coming to London’s brand new arts venue, The Omnitorium in Manor House. Over 34 acts will roll up from around the world to perform at the inaugural London Clown Festival from the 10th – 19th June, but leave your red nose and squirting flowers at home for this one. Alongside the cabaret, theatre, puppetry, mime and one-man comedy shows is a more serious theme; a redefinition of the art of clowning and its place in contemporary theatre.
The Metropolist caught up with festival founders Henry Maynard and Dan Lees, to discuss their brand new show and the popular misconceptions people have about clowns…

The Metropolist: Could you tell us a little about how the festival came about?

Dan Lees: For a while now, I’ve been aware of an increase in interest in clowning, particularly within the world of comedy. I felt there was a need in London for a festival to bring all these wonderful artists together. Then around a year and a half ago, I was fortunate to meet Henry who shared this vision and who happened to be constructing the Omnitorium, an exciting new cultural hub in North London.

Henry Maynard: Both Dan and myself were at the Adelaide fringe in 2015 performing independently. We started talking about the possibility of working together to create a festival. We were discussing the fact that ‘clown’ seems to be a misunderstood concept and the difficulty that performers have in promoting their shows without mentioning the word clown for fear of audiences assuming that it was circus show or a show more suited to younger audiences. The form has enjoyed a reinvigoration of late with some amazingly exciting performers taking up the challenge. With my venue being built it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together to celebrate the style.

TM: Why do you think so little is known about such a diverse genre as Clown?

DL: A lot of people are certainly put off by the word ‘clown’, I think this is partly because in popular contemporary culture, clowns are often pigeon-holed as either horrifying figures or as children’s party entertainers. The result is that very few performers identify themselves as clowns, making it difficult for audiences to find other artists doing similar work.

HM: I think diversity itself is part of the issue; clown performances are as unique as the performers and one character is utterly different from another. For example Rowan Atkinson’s creation Mr Bean is a clown as is Sasha Baron Cohen’s Ali G. So whilst one performer becomes well known the style remains an enigma.

clown1 INTERVIEW: Henry Maynard and Dan Lees, London Clown Festival founders

IMAGE: London Clown Festival

TM:What stereotypes are associated with Clown that just aren’t true?

DL: Clowns don’t only exist in the circus and they do not necessarily wear red noses or outrageous makeup. Tommy Cooper and Spike Milligan both considered themselves clowns. They are not exclusively children’s entertainers. All the shows at the London Clown Festival were devised with adults in mind.

HM:  Big shoes, squirty flowers and extra-long ladders. Grimaldi was the first clown to apply the ‘slap’ or the makeup that most people associate with the term clown and he was a pantomime performer. Most misconceptions or generalisations are a consequence of the rich and diverse history of the style ranging from Commedia dell Arte through children’s performers, circus and on to Will Ferrell and Jim Carey.

TM:Did you both train and if so where?

DL: I trained at Ecole Phillippe Gaulier in Paris.

HM: I did a BA(hons) in Acting at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and I have also done clowning workshops with Dr. Brown, Eric Davis (Red Bastard), Eric Le Bont, Mick Barnfather and John Wright amongst others.

TM:What are the highlights of the festival for you both?

DL: I’m excited about all the shows but if I had to pick five out (other than my own and Henry’s shows of course!) I’d pick Jamie Wood, Spencer Jones, Marny Godden, Neil Frost and Lucy Hopkins.

HM: Yes, leaving Dan and myself aside, I’m excited by Paul Currie ‘Release the Baboons’, Spencer Jones ‘The Herbert in Eggy Bagel’ Helen Duff’s ‘Come with Me’ All In Theatre ‘Love Sick.’

TM:Do you think this kind of festival will have the chance to grow, following on from successes like the London International Mime Festival?

DL: Who knows! Right now we are just focused on this year and the sensational and eclectic line-up we have programmed.

HM: It’s hard to say, it would be wonderful to think so. We have a wonderful opportunity this year and we have managed to keep the prices cheap and the deals for the artists generous. Both of us are very keen to keep the festival serving grass roots performance. This is the first major project that I have produced at the Omnitorium and I really hope it will lead us to further opportunities in the future.

The London Clown Festival is being hosted at London’s newest Arts Hub, The Omnitorium, Manor House, from the 10th to the 19th June.

London Clown Festival, 10th – 19th June 2016, click for more information


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