I am sitting in a café, drinking peppermint tea. The lights are dim and a soft flow of jazzy music supplemented by discreet conversation ebbs through the air. There is nothing exceptionally unusual about this night. Nothing abnormal, that is, unless you consider that the man sitting across from me is a clown.
Local Peterborough resident Dan Fewings has gained a reputation for his involvement with the Fabulous Green Roof Theatre Camp, his role as an improvisational singer with the band The Three Martinis, as an emcee for hire, and his successful career as a guitar and drama teacher. To say that Dan has also been employed as a clown, or that he has experience in the field of performance arts, would be both depreciating and false. In little over an hour, I had the pleasure of interviewing a man who is quite literally the living embodiment of a first-rate comedian.
Originally from Simcoe, Ontario, Dan is a Queen’s – Trent Concurrent Education graduate who attended a theatre arts school at Niagara College, where he enrolled in his first professional level performance course. Recently, Arthur had the opportunity to sit down with Dan, and hear his thoughts on humour, old movies, and living the life of a clown.
So, Dan. Tell me a little about yourself. Do you come from a drama background?
Yes. I had always done plays and stuff like that in high school, but this was new, like wow! It was so profound when I started clowning. I was really busy living it.
Do you wear a costume?
Not much. No white makeup, just a red nose, which is the smallest. The clown is more normalized that way. But I always tap into that spirit. I’ll wear a scarf, black pants, detached jacket, and a hat. I do it with very little. I really think now that I am less of a clown and more so a clown in real life, because I know how to play.
That is certainly a good skill to have! Is there a difference between clowning and acting?
Acting is adopting the various characteristics, clowning you are flowing through. There is energy. You surrender to it.
How much does your own personality get invested in the comical character?
My archetype of who I am as a human being is essentially a clown. I have the most fun when kicking my feet out from under myself. For example, I will always crack the first fat joke, to disarm people. As a clown, I can tap into that trickster-ish notion of taking a lower status, like an underdog. There’s definitely that element to it.
Do you have a favourite thing about being a clown? Or least favourite?
I like the belief that people know that clowns are necessary in society. You are using the rest of the world as your stage. The reaction of kids, too, knowing that you are valid. Like, this little girl came up to me once and opened up her purse and hands me a penny and said, “Thank you, Mr. Clown.” You have every kid’s undying love, a space in somebody’s life.
Are there many challenges that accompany clowning?
Well, I like the edge. Clowning is sink or swim. I’m like someone whose sight is gone, so his hearing increases. I can’t learn or remember lines, so my other sense of being quite comfortable in “just going with it” was developed.
So I assume that you think humour is important in society?
Definitely. Charlie Chaplin once said that “humour is the gentle and benevolent custodian of the mind, and that it prevents one from being overwhelmed by the apparent seriousness of life.” That about sums up me [Laugh]. I feel like I’m one of God’s little elves. If you look at Chaplin, he is saying really serious things, but with humour. But he is really just showing us how precious life is. I aim to do the same.
Do you think everyone has an inner clown?
Oh, yes! You just have to access it. Clowning is a journey, it’s like character tai chi. It’s not Shakespearian theatre. You can’t fail when you have someone there who can help you discover who you’re all about.
That’s amazing. I am inspired to give it try now! What are your future plans?
Well, I’ve been teaching for 26 years. When I retire, it’s not going to be like…Oh, now my life begins. My life has always been this way. I love to keep on playing.
Okay. My last question is kind of a fun one: what advice would you give to grumpy people?
[Thoughtful pause.] Hm. Lao Tsu said, “Once you’ve made a thought, laugh at it.” That’s exactly what clowning is, turning reality upside down, on its head. I’d tell people, just laugh at it.