Clowns. The word immediately conjures up white faced weirdos in puffy silks running around at a circus. This of course is just one type of many clowns and is a deeply Americanized and niche version of clowning that just happens to have the most public attention. In reality it is an ancient tradition that has its roots at the earliest parts of human civilization. It is an artform with numerous schools across many countries, with students traveling all over the world (namely to France) to study the art form with the most prestigious craftsman alive. Like any artform it must be respected, appreciated, and given its due time to show you why it exists. Keep that in mind as you meet these guys.
Fruit Salad is the latest show by Moonlight Theatre Company based out of Athen, Georgia, and consists of Chase Brantley and Nicholas Hemerling; self described “clowns” who engage in a variety of frivolities including putting on strange and unique theatre performances. They are on tour right now performing their newest bizarre piece, and I figured I’d catch up with them to learn who exactly these strange fellows are, what they’re doing, and why exactly they’re doing it.
Fruit Salad is performing at Reveler Experiences in Carytown Saturday April 15th, starting at 5:30 PM as a part of Richmond Fringe Festival. Read below for my brief interview with them to learn a little bit about their craft, and then make your way down to Cartytown Saturday night for an evening of strange experiences and, I assume, lots of fruit based comedy.
Fruit Salad Two world-touring, clown-trained comedians (Chase Brantley & Nicholas Hemerling) burst out for a “banana”-za of fruit-based stupidity at the Richmond Fringe. This night of charming yet meaningless hilarity was built by the Award-Winning Moonlight and originally inspired by chainsawing a watermelon. For one night only, you’ll also see smooching, heartbreak, pelvic thrusting, hot muscles, and beautiful dancing. If you want something intelligent, we will… try our best. Whatever you’re into though, this is the event to find love! That’s something we can promise.
Is this the only show you put on?
Together, we’ve built probably six or seven shows. ‘Fruit Salad’ is just our latest show that we’re touring. We have no current plans to revisit our earlier work, but who knows what the future holds.
Where exactly were you trained as clowns?
We both trained at École Philippe Gaulier in Étampes, France, which is known as one of the most brutal and challenging clown schools in the world. Our original intention was to study with Philippe Gaulier in order to become better actors. However, his approach to performing is so different from that of most American schools that we became enamored with clowning. He believes that theater should emanate from a place of pleasure, playfulness, naughtiness, and risk-taking, rather than from a desire to be “correct” or “truthful” (values that are highly prized in American theater). In fact, Philippe has a strong aversion to truthfulness; he wants performers to bring something rare and expensive to the stage and to create a beautiful dream. This is a captivating way to approach the stage, and we have been chasing the world of clowns ever since.
Are you going to be performing improv or sketch comedy?
‘Fruit Salad’ consists mainly of clowning which isn’t exactly improv or sketch comedy. However, our concept of clowning differs from what most Americans typically expect. There’s no red nose, no balloons, and it’s not intended for children. Instead, it’s a blend of childlike playfulness and foolishness with a concealed layer of rigorous training and professional sensitivity. Think of a fusion of Andy Kaufman and the movie Elf. Although some people may assume that the whole performance is improvised, we aim to be extremely precise in our chaos and mischievousness. Our ultimate objective is for everyone to have a good laugh. Therefore, if a particular act isn’t amusing, we eliminate it from the show.
How well does a duo of traveling clowns actually perform around the country?
Our performances in ‘Fruit Salad’ usually go over really well. We tend to catch people off guard and win them over with our unique style of performance, which differs from sketch, improv, or standup comedy. It’s wilder, more dangerous, more sensitive, and more interactive with the audience. While most crowds enjoy our work, we don’t always ‘spark joy.’ One time, we were traveling through a small town and signed up for an open mic night. When we showed up, we realized that it was a music open mic night with a coffee-house/smooth-jazz vibe. Our act followed a woman singing earnestly, strumming her ukulele. When we got on stage, stripped to superhero tights, stuffed two oranges stuffed down our pants, and started pelvic thrusting to techno music, I think the audience went into shock. The tech guy (probably an anarchist) loved our show, and one guy in the back couldn’t stop laughing, but it felt like everyone else hated our wildness in this very peaceful coffee shop. That outcome was absolutely not our goal. But, a little disruption is healthy for everybody. And, I bet we gave them one hell of a story to tell when they got home. What we really fear is that someone might be bored by our show, and thankfully, there was nothing boring about that evening or Fruit Salad in general.
Where do you usually perform, and how long do you stay in a city?
We perform in all sorts of spaces all over the world. While we prefer a proper theatrical setting, we’ve also done shows in basements, living rooms, coffee shops, front yards, bars, large 500-seat theaters, and even on the street. Currently, we’re in Athens, GA, preparing for our international tour with a reboot of the show. After that, we’ll be heading to Richmond, then to Los Angeles, Denver, Kansas City, Edinburgh, and possibly Geneva.
Is the watermelon okay?
We don’t talk about the watermelon.
You can check out Fruit Salad this Saturday at 5:30 PM at Reveler Experiences in Carytown. It is a strange evening that you are not going to want to miss.
Photos by Anna Forrester
Go follow Moonlight Theatre Company: @moonlight_theatre_company