This week, Backstage Theatre workshops a new show involving sci-fi, clowns and horror. Is it like Stephen King’s It in space? Not exactly. More like a plunge into the existential terror and excitement of the digital age. Lauren Brady’s first solo act, @interWEBBED, is something out of Marshall McLuhan’s nightmares but also demonstrates everything Brady has learned about herself, her art and playing the fool.
Not many would refer to the University of Alberta as a clown college, but for Brady, it actually was. The school’s BFA acting program was where she was first introduced to the primordial art of clown through a Canadian style called Pochinko Mask. Admittedly, my knowledge of clowns starts and ends with Robin Williams in a lab coat and red nose wandering around a hospital. But Lauren Brady is no Patch Adams, for her clown is less about therapy and more about expression. She found a calling in this art’s masks, movement and emotion. “I had this epiphany of ‘I think this is my thing!’” says Brady. “In my entire life, I never had something that made sense before.”
But since COVID-19 disrupted her graduating year, life has been a bit of a circus act of repetitive doors slammed in her face. First came the restrictions, which moved many in-person classes online and significantly reduced the experience. Then, the studio performances, the capstone project for acting students in their senior year, had to be reworked to fit within COVID-19 health regulations. The result was an empty audience of a couple of drama faculty and a visceral experience for the young actors. “It’s a different type of heartache that I never thought I would ever experience,” Brady says. “You’re so excited to show the world, and then the world isn’t there.”
Upon graduation, Brady received funding to pursue clown performance with an esteemed guild of veteran fools called the Clown Farm. But then, like a reoccurring joke that wasn’t getting any funnier, another door slammed into Brady’s red-nosed aspirations. In the wake of the pandemic, the Clown Farm closed down. And Brady was left with a heap of clown-specific funding and needed a new outlet before it went to waste.
Instead of letting the funding dry up, Brady got to work and began learning how to put on her own clown show. She worked with her U of A clown instructor, Mike Kennard, and dove into the world of writing and producing an act that could be workshopped, performed and sold — a process Brady didn’t get to learn while in clown college.
The result of this endeavour is a unique show, even in the context of Edmonton’s fringe theatre scene. Brady is not just bringing a clown show — she is bringing a high production, multimedia, interactive experience that even includes a smartphone app the audience can play. And this week’s viewing is just step one. A clown show depends on audience interaction, so the show must be workshopped before it can take its final form.
While Brady plans on taking this show to Ottawa Fringe Festival and then back to Edmonton for our August Fringe, the most exciting thing for her is sharing what she’s created with the world. “I think because my first couple big shows were to no one, I’m just so excited that these will be to someone. I’m just excited to share something.”
Make sure to check out Lauren Brady’s @interWEBBED on April 26-29.