Happy September, all!
I’ve had the great fortune this summer to begin a new collaboration with Laura Cleminson, founder of the Pre-Dead Social Club, a Seacoast, NH-based organization whose mission is “to make having compassionate conversations about death and dying a bit easier, less burdensome and more tenderhearted before it’s too late.” It’s a fascinating group, and I suggest you check out the site to see all the events in store. But, for the next two weeks, I’ll be on deck leading the PDSC’s DEAD-LINES, a Creative Obituary-Writing Workshop!
I’m sure I’ll have more to share with you about this whole experience, but in the meantime, one preparation I’ve made to lead this workshop is to write an obituary myself . . . for my first clown character. I was casting about for a subject to write about that felt pertinent and emotional but not too vulnerable, and I also happened to be reviewing digital footage of my year in clown school. I realized, Blue is dead, and I mourn her. So I marshaled my skills to tell her story, truthfully, but with a bit of humor. Enjoy! And I’ll report back to you on the workshops after their done.
BLUE: An Obituary
The feisty, mercurial clown character known as Blue was declared officially dead on April 27th, 2023, after a decades-long decline spent mostly out of the spotlight.
Blue was born fully-grown in the spring of 1995 in Blue Lake, CA, at the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre. The exact date is unknown, as her birth was multi-phasic and included several abandoned makeup designs. In her heyday, Blue was known for her daring-to-the-point-of-reckless acrobatics, which often surprised audiences distracted by her curvaceous frame. Blue sported a vertically striped baby-doll dress worn over flowered bloomers and a gleaming teal unitard that screeched “80s fitness craze” at the top of its thrift-store lungs. Yes, tights from thrift stores are somewhat sketchy, but Blue was unafraid of where that thing had been. She was unafraid of so much in the early days.
Blue’s brother Max was her partner in art, with their career-making performance arriving in the summer of ‘95, just months after their joint birth. In “Maximum Blue,” the pair danced jitterbug and viciously laid hands upon one another: Blue clawed Max in the privates, and he responded by bashing her face into the wall once, twice, then one more time. As for so many siblings, this violence hinted at disturbing erotic undercurrents, to the delight of Blue Lake audiences.
After that giddy summer, Blue found herself the proud owner of both lumbar and cervical injuries that only worsened in the coming years. When acrobatics became too difficult, she allowed herself to be mostly subsumed into the mask character, Brighina. Brighina’s use of speech allowed Blue to perform less extremely physical performances, although she still danced. Indeed, Brighina’s greatest work, Clean Room, which expanded on the themes of love and violence within the family unit, was greatly served by Blue’s mischievous facial expressions and poignant gestures of the wrist. But it was hard for Blue to see her contributions go unacknowledged as Brighina’s star rose, and she fell into a depression that never really lifted.
Throughout the aughts, Blue periodically attempted comebacks, pushing herself through grueling training sessions which resulted in additional injuries and debilitating pain. Hobbled, she attempted to practice acceptance and content herself with watching from the wings or the audience as other artists ran, jumped and flew. But, in the back of her mind, Blue repeatedly thought, “Once I’m better, I’ll be back up there.” This delusion persisted until April 2023, when rheumatologist Daniel Kunz pronounced her death sentence: “You cannot do those things anymore. Ever.” Within the span of an hour, Blue had died, in a flood of tears in the overheated car, still parked in the lot behind the hospital.
There is archival footage of Blue at the literal peak of her powers, standing tall on the shoulders of her brother, Max. She reaches out her arms, elbows hyper-extending as she strains to grasp an enormous rainbow-colored lollipop suspended from the ceiling. When Blue finally plucks it into her hands, her astonished grin is so wide that her teeth resemble fangs ringing the black cavern of her mouth. With shining eyes, and with syrupy stage blood staining her lips, arms and hands, Blue’s joy swirls together all the pleasure and all the pain of the moment, until they are indistinguishable. You can see her eyes dart to the audience and hear the laughter rise and rise. And then, as she leaps to the ground, you hear the applause.
That’s me as Blue with my partner, Chris Whalen, as Maximum Damage.