A red nose, a painted face, funny shoes… that’s the usual image that pops up in our mind when someone says ‘clown’. But is that really what being a clown is all about? Believe me, it’s not! With her surreal clowning show “The Expector”, Paula Valluerca will soon make Fringe-goers realize that there is far more to being a clown than just putting on a thick layer of make-up. After last night’s show, we talked to Paula and here is what she told us about the upsides and downsides of being a clown.
Although having had her first contact with the stage at the age of twelve during a school theatre performance, Paula took a long time before she finally knew that being a clown was what really made her happy. Born and raised in the Basque Country, Paula first went to university to study English literature but soon dropped out. “I really tried to be a normal person but it didn’t work out” is how she comments with a little laugh on this part of her life.
When she decided she wanted to become an actress, the last thing she had in mind was becoming a clown. After having done a three-year graduate course in ‘acting for the stage’ in Pamplona, she went to London to study physical theatre at LISPA.
“I wanted to be a serious actress in the beginning, but then everything changed. When I was in London, the physical theatre programme I followed was really based on a spiritual journey to ourselves. We had to learn to take off the masks and all the layers to see what we were in the essence. That was when I discovered that my essence wasn’t so serious. So, I started doing clown workshops with some of the big names in the clowning scene and that was when I realized how much I love what these people were doing.“
Ever since, Paula loves to go on stage and make people laugh, but does she think she is a funny person? She isn’t sure. “People laugh in life about me, without me trying to be funny. I like making jokes but most of the time I don’t plan to make people laugh. They laugh a lot because of the reactions I show within a conversation. Or, when I try to be really dramatic.”
Working as a freelance tour guide in Madrid to make a living, Paula tries to bring her inner clown with her when she goes to work: “When I do the tours, it is the same rules as in a show. You have to keep the energy up, make them laugh, make sure they are entertained, make them love you so that they forgive you when you do shit.”
Paula Valluerca in her everyday life, on stage the young woman is known under a different name,’Madame Senorita’. “Madame Senorita is something I play, not something I become. It’s just a name and a nice dress that I love to put on. But it’s not a character or anything. But the name and the dress make me really happy. I have no idea who Madame Senorita is”, Paula tells us.
So, there is the dress and the stage name that make her feel happy. But what is it about clowning that she really loves?
“What I love about clowning is that it is myself who is on stage. I’m not playing a character. If the show is successful, I feel good as a person as well. After a good show, I get out of the venue and I just feel very good, and very cool. And of course, it is a really nice feeling when the audience likes you and supports you against people in the show who don’t want to play the game.”
Despite all the love, a clown can get from his or her audience, being a clown isn’t always funny, as Paula knows from her own experience. In fact, it can be really hard.
“One thing that is really hard when you are a clown is that you are a solo performer. So in the show, you maybe had the laugh of fifty people and then nothing, you are alone. And that’s really hard to deal with.
And of course, dealing with flops isn’t easy either. If people didn’t laugh it was shit what you did and it affects you as a person because you know that. But as a clown, you should be sensitive enough to know that it is happening, but it shouldn’t affect you in your head.”
Accepting flops and coping with loneliness. Two tough challenges for every clown, including Paula. But what does she do to deal with these challenges?
“When you are a clown, you just have to look for the things that give you pleasure. Find the pleasure in everything, that’s what being a clown is all about. You have to find the pleasure even in failing. So, even if one of the shows really fails, a clown has to be positive. That’s what we fight against all the time, being happy even if we flop”, Paula explains.
That sounds quite easy in theory but what about the real experience? Like every clown, Paula has experienced flops in her career. In these hard moments, there is only one thing that keeps her from throwing the towel.
“I would be really bored. If I ever give up doing performances, I would feel really bad inside. I would loose my identity and I would be really lost”, reveals the female clown.
However, no need to only see the negative side of it. There always are great stage experiences to remember that can help in these dark moments.
” I remember that last year in Edinburgh, I did a cabaret night in quite a big venue. There were maybe 200 people in there and the atmosphere was really great. The audience was in a really good mood. I was just so happy to be there playing with them. I was just reacting to all that love from 200 people laughing and I went totally crazy. It was so playful and uplifting and it had so much flow. It felt really really natural. That’s what happens when you are really in your zone. It’s magic.”
Magic experiences on stage, is that what she would like to do all the time? A few years ago, the answer was a clear yes, now Paula is less certain about it.
“At one point in my life I only just wanted to perform but that was when I wasn’t in love. But now I have a boyfriend and sometimes I just want to stay home with him on the sofa and it feels like that is the best thing to do”, Paula admits.
Being in love and starting to drift off more and more into what she calls a “cozy life”. Paula slowly seems to transform into what she parodies in her show ‘The Expector’, the idiocy of womanhood and marriage. How is it possible to hold these two things together? Is there still a message behind her show?
“I don’t like messages. It is just an expression of my own experience. I am in love and I can see the dangers of being in love. I think a subconscious part of me is scared of being in love and becoming so lazy and comfortable. I suppose that is what I am really talking about.”
Dressed up in a sexy red dress at the beginning, then slowly transforming into a grotesque monster-like wife, always playing with the audience, especially with her chosen future husband ‘Pepe’. That is what her audience experiences when Madame Senorita takes on the stage.
This might be far from what people usually think of when they hear ‘clowning’. But, what is a typical clown like for Paula?
“Red nose, lots of make-up… a clown is nothing like that. It is so much more. The clown is about taking the masks off. It’s the complete opposite. It’s all about becoming your most essential inner child. For the audience, a clown is an object of laughs and he or she loves being that object.”
Paula, aka ‘Madame Senorita’, will be back on stage at The Warren tonight and tomorrow night at 9:30pm. Ticket are on sale here.