Terror has no place in clowning, Agnes the clown says

A resident clown and clown expert spoke with CBC Up to Speed radio host Ismaila Alfa about the recent wave of creepy clowns, saying terror has no place in clowning.

Creepy clowns aren't clowns, 'they’re just people wearing masks,' says clown of 30+ years

Sue Proctor has been clowning for decades and says the recent wave of creepy clowns terrorizing strangers is not what the performance art is about. (Sue Proctor/Facebook)

The creepy clown craze has some people on edge leading up to Halloween, and not in the traditionally scary-yet-innocent way most are accustomed to at this time of year.

Two teens were given a slap on the wrist in mid-October after the pair dressed up as clowns and terrorized people in Winnipeg. 

Initial reports to police described two clowns chasing three other teenagers through the streets in the Valley Gardens neighbourhood.

That is just one of several similarly-strange reports in Canada and the U.S. in recent weeks and months.

Regardless to whether the stunts are meant as silly pranks, the humour is lost on many — including Sue Proctor.

Proctor has performed as a mime, clown and storyteller for more than 30 years. She recently earned a master's degree at Concordia University, where she studied the role of the clown for individual and social transformation.

Proctor spoke with CBC Up to Speed radio host Ismaila Alfa recently and explained that terror has no place in the clown world.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What makes a good clown?

It's about being able to laugh at yourself. I think a clown sees from the heart and often brings out emotions and contradictions in human behaviour.

Healing has been a big part of the clown, because the clown creates disorder and then a new order can be built. Usually the chaos is not violent, but is simply a reordering of things, a re-looking at things.

What went into developing your clown personality?

I started clowning about 30 years ago.

I took Commedia dell'arte (theatre characterized by masks) in university and started to develop a Pierrot character, or a silent clown — a very sad clown character. Then, I just gradually developed that. As I interacted with audiences, with kids, Pierrot grew and grew.

I specialized in mime, so my character was a silent character.

That character had a white face with small marks on the eyes, lips and face.

Gradually over the years, I think because of videos and different cultural changes, children started to become more afraid of clowns.

I don't use white-face anymore because it frightens kids, because they don't know who is behind it. So a lot of times now, people just wear red noses.

The clown I do now is Agnes and she's an old lady with a red nose and glasses. Her skirt sticks way out. She has jewelled high heels. And she can tell stories, which is a lot less athletic than being a mime.

Is there room in the clown community for scary clowns?

No. Clowns can touch on emotions like sorrow and despair, and if a clown comes toward a child and they are scared, what I've always said to clowns is to turn and run away and act afraid of the child. In no way are real clowns out there to do harm.

So then what do you make of these stories of creepy clowns?

I get feeling a bit apprehensive and it's very curious that it's happening all at once. 

But then some days, like one day recently, I was clowning at the library doing some storytelling, and people loved it. People love clowns.

The public can tell the difference between someone putting on a mask and acting frightening, and a clown that's doing this as a profession and wants to make people feel better and laugh.

Some really funny things happen when you're performing as a clown. Once as I was crossing Portage Avenue, I had a bag full of balloons, I was dressed up and hadn't really learned how to make balloon animals, but I had landed a job doing balloon animals.

I had all my balloons blown up and inside big green garbage bags. As I was trying to cross Portage, my balloons started blowing out of my bags.

So here I was: a clown running around on Portage at the stop light trying to collect my balloons, and all the people in cars were looking at me sideways.

So those putting on masks trying to scare strangers, they're not clowns, they're just people wearing masks. They have no relation to clowning.