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Roblin Davis, Emily Windover and John Leo - the three Juneau residents who make up Wild Rumpus Clown Theatre - began sketching ideas last fall for their first three-clown performance.
They didn't have a plot, but they did have dessert. Windover brought an apple cake for Davis.
With the pastry, they also had the prop that serves as an improvisational springboard for "In Cahoots," their acrobatic and equally existential clown performance. The show plays at 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 30 and 31, and June 6 and 7, at Marine Park downtown. Admission is pay-as-you-will, and the show is suitable for all ages.
"I was so in my character that I didn't think she was serious about having an apple cake," Davis said. "It sounded bizarre to me and I couldn't believe that there was such a thing. We started arguing about it in character."
"The apple cake started as an incident and became a major theme," Windover said.
"The show is about what you do when you don't have the apple cake," Leo said. "What do you do when you promise something to an audience and you don't have it? What comes out of that?"
"That's really what clowning is all about," Windover said. "Problems, and what happens, how to solve them and how to find more problems."
"In Cahoots" is about the relationships, the tension and the absurdity of the three clowns, as well as the clowns' relationships with the audience. It's not about cake in the face, though there's plenty of slapstick. Think Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Gilda Radner, Red Skelton and the fine tradition of the theatrical clown.
Davis plays Mr. Worcester, a grumpy, cantankerous clown, perpetually unsatisfied with every situation. Windover plays Murphy, a bossy-yet-charming foil to Mr. Worcester. Murphy and Worcester have an argumentative, sort-of-sibling relationship.
Leo's clown persona, unofficially named Mr. Bizarro, is a pantomime, a la Harpo Marx. He doesn't speak, but he acts as a pseudo-narrator for the audience.
"He likes to pose, and he also likes to play games with the audience," Leo said. "He likes to wander off and flirt with audience members and sit on laps. And he also lets the audience know that (Worcester and Murphy's) world is very bizarre."
All the actors attended The Dell'Arte International School of Physical Theatre, a nine-month clown school in Blue Lake, Calif. Leo and Windover were in the same class, and when they moved to Juneau together three years ago, they were told to look up Davis.
Davis was born in Anchorage and moved to Juneau four years ago. He met Leo and Windover for dinner, and the next day all three were performing in "Fry Tales," a physical comedy and clown show Davis wrote for Perseverance Theatre in 2000.
Wild Rumpus developed "In Cahoots" last fall. The show premiered, in a bawdier variation, in front of an audience of friends in Davis' living room.
"It was exciting and different and new, and they did things I'd never seen before, like eating Jell-O with toothpicks," said Bridget Milligan, owner of Juneau's Kodiak Coat Co. "I rode my bike to the first rehearsal, and when I left, my pants were caught in my bike chain. All of a sudden it was hysterical. You find that in a lot of situations in life you get to be a clown, and you can laugh at yourself and have fun with yourself."
"It's really whatever comes out of us as artists that we're interested in developing and putting out there," Davis said. "It's a great reflection of who we are and who our society is, and that's where I think a lot of the laughter comes from. People recognize themselves in us and allowing people to laugh at us is a reflection of who we are and what our humanity is."
Wild Rumpus plans to perform "In Cahoots" at the 12th Annual San Francisco Fringe Festival, Sept. 3 to 14. Davis won "Best of Fringe" awards at the festival in 2000 and 2001.
"One of the traditions of the clown performance is that the clown gets knocked down over and over," Davis said. "But the spirit of a clown is to bounce back to be resilient to the world. It's a very hopeful way of being in the world."
"I can't imagine that they don't make everybody walk out of there thinking about what clowns we all are," Milligan said. "It's great to go see them do something that makes you laugh and be happy, because we all need that in our lives."