Faeble Kievman, visited SANCA in 2016, joining la Famiglia Gentile in the Artist in Residency program. After finishing a tour with Lewis and Clark Circus, Faeble returned to Seattle to perform their juggling-clown opera, “Carman,” at this year’s Moisture Festival. Infusing traditional and contemporary clown with Chinese jar juggling and other circus skills, Faeble has a unique clowning style. First introduced to clowning through a social circus and the Circus Center in San Francisco, Faeble has performed internationally as well as co-founded their own circus company, “Cirque en Deroute.”
When did you discover you wanted to be a clown?
“As a child, I was by myself a lot, so I found this side of me that was very comedic. My grandfather was a story teller and a very funny character; I learned a lot from him. Really, I’ve been clowning my whole life, it’s not like you have to be a funny person to be a clown. If you lived with me, you’d be like this guy’s boring. He’s always got some deep thought process he’s going through.”
Their decision to truly dedicate their life to the pursuit of clowning came after their mother and sister were in a tragic accident in which it wasn’t clear if they would pull through.
At the time Faeble heard about the accident, they were at a spiritual gathering, with other self-identifying “radical queer faeries”. When Faeble returned from the gathering, they learned of the accident and returned to the space of the gathering to pray for them. Eventually, their mother and sister did make a recovery, but Faeble’s sister was left paraplegic.
“I realized at that moment that I had a call to continue to make people laugh; that was my path. I wanted to do something that my sister wouldn’t be able to do again. I wanted to carry on with my path in doing clowning in honor of my sister. So there was a lot of tragedy that happened that brought me into doing it. I do believe that without tragedy there is no comedy.”
What did you do after deciding to become a professional clown?
“I went to school at the [San Francisco] Circus Center. After graduating I created my own clown trio, Cirque en Deroute. We toured around the world for three and a half years, going to circus festivals all over the world like Melbourne [Australia], France, China, Eastern Europe, Central America, and with Le Cirque Starlight in Switzerland. I ended up getting together with my partner and me and my company split up. Since then I’ve worked with Circus Bella (we went to Japan, but mostly stay in the bay area), worked at Zoppe [Circus] as a strong man, and performed with Acrobatic Conundrum in their shows in Seattle.“
You’ve been called a philosophical clown, can you share a little bit more about that?
“My philosophy [around clowning] is about acceptance. Acceptance of stupidity, of character defects. Acceptance of nature, of reality of the environment around you. So you can actually recognize the themes that are around you, what is happening in the moment. There is an energy between me and the audience, and that energy can be a magic portal. [I] can do almost anything on stage. If I can feel that energy in the audience, that’s everything.”
“…There is this idea of what you think you are, what people see you as, and then what you actually are. Laughter is produced by what you truly are and by what people see you as, but not by what you see yourself as. Being a clown is about being authentic and true to yourself.”
What does being authentic and true to yourself mean to you?
“When I first went to Circus Center, I identified as a trans woman. There’s a reason a lot of trans and queer people make good clowns. Because you understand what it is like to be invisible to the world and still embrace who we are. Which can enable us to be very good clowns on stage. But at the same time, the queer community, just as in the straight world, has its own social paradigm, which can inhibit us as well from being a great clown.
“There is one exercise in clowning where you adopt some kind of gesture as someone else counts off. The numbers go from 1 to 100, and as the numbers go up, you change your gesture to show more and more who you are”: – Essentially exaggerating the expression you originally adopt.
“So we were doing this exercise and I took on a gesture of what I thought felt really natural to me, this really feminine gesture. My hips are out and I’m snapping my fingers. As the numbers go up, I start snapping like crazy, really snapping waving around my hands around, like a bat outta hell. I thought if you had seen this on TV or something it was so ridiculous it would be hilarious. Well, it was dead silent. No one is laughing. This guy yells ‘STOP! STOP! YOU’RE NOT FUNNY! You do realize that no one is laughing right?’ I thought, yes of course I realize that, it is pretty obvious. And he says ‘Look, I know what that gesture means, I know that maybe you felt like it is a gesture that you feel represents you. And in some certain social context, it may work. But in the world at large, it reads as you playing something that is not you.’
“…I was taken aback from that. And it took me a minute to think, ok, maybe that isn’t really funny. For me, what I realized was that I wasn’t being honest. I wasn’t being me. I was being something I thought I should be, which was a huge breakthrough in my life.
“So, I’m thinking of something else to do and for some reason the first song I ever wrote comes to mind. I started choking up as I’m trying to sing it and the guy starts yelling ‘SAY THE SONG!’ I am crying at this point, and he goes ‘you can cry, but say the song! Now do the same thing again, but this time say the song and laugh’. Meanwhile, I’m still crying, in tears. So I start saying the song, and I’m crying.
“…and everyone starts DYING of laughter!
“It was funny, because of the depth, and the emotion was real. It was authentic. It was who I was, and I couldn’t be anything else but that.
“People start laughing, and I get excited and start to perform the song.
“So he yells ‘STOP! STOP! You had it! And then you started PERFORMING.’
“In that moment, I just realized that I wasn’t a woman. It was the first time I realized that and at the same time I was not a man. I was not a man. I am both. I am all of the things…. So I started discovering that when I start accepting who I am, when I can actually accept who I am…THEN I can start to be funny. THEN I can start clowning.”
How did that discovery influence your persona on stage?
“Eventually you want to get to a place that you want to accept the parts that are ridiculous about yourself. Me as a man, I feel uncomfortable in my skin, which made me feel like I was a woman. But that uncomfortability is the very thing we need. In some countries, ego is funny. But for me, when I embarrass myself on stage, that is when I can get to the good clowning; when I am vulnerable.“
Any advice to share for beginning clowns?
“I always recommend to people who want to do clowning, go out and street-perform. Once you can get people to stop on the street as a clown, you can do that anywhere. On the street, anything can happen, whereas on stage people are stuck in their seat. But when you’re on the street you have the magic of chaos. A pelican can swoop the hat off your head, or someone could throw something at you, someone can come and start picking a fight with you. Anything can happen. You learn to embrace chaos. You learn to embrace the unknown, the unexpected.”
Thank you Faeble! Have a great drive back to the bay area!
Faeble will soon be leaving their home in Pacifica, CA to perform their one-person clown show in China, and they will also perform with the YiKamen Bros in the Gong Show this May. This Summer they will be featured in Comedy and Common Thread for a show at the Krystallpalast Varieté Leipzig.
Good luck Faeble! We look forward to your next visit at SANCA!