This article appeared in a previous edition of Sudbury Living (2009)
The clowns of horror, Mump & Smoot, are working on their first new show in seven years. With any luck, Sudbury audiences will be among the first to see their comeback show.
This summer the duo will spend some time collaborating at John Turner’s (Smoot) farm on Manitoulin Island.
Turner teaches in the French theatre program, Programme d’Arts d’ expression at Laurentian University. Michael Kennard (Mump) teaches theatre on the other side of the country at the University of Alberta.
After directing his students’ final projects for a performance at the end of March, Turner headed to Edmonton to visit Kennard and to talk about the new show.
At some point, they will put on their red noses. The magic is always there when the two men get together. “We are great friends…We tried to break up but we can’t,” says Turner.
Turner and Kennard have performed together only occasionally since 2004. They began their act in 1988 and were an instant success on the fringe festival circuit.
Sudbury audiences were introduced to the clowns from hell in August 1993 at Fringe Nord. They have performed to appreciative audiences at the Sudbury Theatre Centre, as well as at Fraser Auditorium, several times since.
Although Mump & Smoot are lovable, these clowns are not for children. They come from the planet Ummo and speak Ummonian, a gibberish with a few English words thrown in the mix. They use pantomime to tell their hilarious and horrendous stories.
They have been described as a “punk rock Laurel and Hardy;” “demented cartoon characters;” “a little bit David Cronenberg;” and a “post-apocalyptic Abbott and Costello.” They have also been called a national treasure.
Mump & Smoot won two Dora Mavor Moore Awards in 2003. They were also nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award for Comedic Play (Mump & Smoot in Flux) and are past recipients of a Canadian Comedy Award for Outstanding Performance in a Comedic Play. They have fans across Canada and the United States.
It can be awkward crossing the border with suitcases of clown props such as plastic human limbs with something that looks like blood dripping from them, says Turner. One can imagine the look on the face of the customs officer when Turner explains what he does for a living.
Turner and his wife moved to Manitoulin Island from Toronto when they realized they could buy a 911/2 acre farm for less than a tiny house in the big city. He says he enjoys visiting Sudbury and is generally knocked out by the talent of his students.
In addition to teaching at Laurentian, Turner has directed numerous other artists for stage and film, and runs a clown school during the summer at his farm in Evansville.
He teaches something called Baby Clown Intensive, a 16-day workshop at the “Clown Farm.”
Participants don’t learn how to be clowns but rather they go through a series of exercises that allow their “inner clown” to emerge, he explains.
Turner studied with Richard Pochinko who developed a style of creative exploration and performance training on clown traditions. The childlike Smoot was born during those sessions.
The former bartender had no ambition to be a clown, at least in the North American sense of birthday parties, balloons and floppy shoes. But just a year after clown school, Turner and Kennard were playing to sold-out houses.
Clowns, fools, court jesters, satirists, comics, the people who make us laugh at ourselves and our world have a long tradition in many cultures. Shakespeare’s fools are the characters who see the truth of a situation and who are not afraid to say it.
“A clown is not an exaggeration but an amplification” of real life…Clowns do not need to be loved, they need to challenge the audience,” Turner says.
“Clowns live in a dream world that is more real than the real world.”
Turner estimates he has taught “Baby Clown” to some 700 people since he began teaching in 1991 in Toronto. Not all are wannabe clowns. Some students are art or drama teachers, while others simply want to express their creative selves.
He is always delighted to see what (or who) emerges when his students are given the freedom to explore.
“I have no idea (when they start) who will be the best clown,” he says.
Turner taught his students in the Programme d’Arts d’ expression, the principles of “Baby Clown.” Introductory students are asked to make six masks (playgrounds) for their clown.
“It’s complicated,” says Turner. A performer doesn’t create different clowns, rather his or her clown can have different personalities or like an actor play various roles.
Turner, 53, admits he and Kennard, 50, won’t be able to repeat some of the physicality of their earlier shows in their new collaboration.
Turner jokes he can foresee a day when the two octogenarian Ummonians are rolled onto the stage in wheelchairs, and as they reminisce about their misadventures, Cirque du Soleil performers, dressed as the crazy couple, do all the physical work. But Mump & Smoot aren’t ready for their wheelchairs just yet.