Thursday 13 July 2000 edmonton journal

Don't expect this clown to be nice

Mime on stilts gets his kicks at others' expense

Bob Gilmour, Journal Staff Writer The Edmonton Journal

Martin Ewen is a clown with a difference. He performs on three-metre stilts at the Street Performers Festival, and can be mean and make kids cry.

Don't expect him to be nice or talk to you while performing. The 37-year-old New Zealander is a pantomime clown and aggression is a hallmark of his performance. "I'm a mime and we don't speak. I don't really have to answer questions."

He uses an idiosyncratic character called Lurk to create theatre. He can be provocative and in your face. "It's something I get a great deal of pleasure getting away with."

The stilts are a vehicle to pull off a good show, which is his main pleasure. "My show revolves quite often around surprising people. I hide behind corners." His advantage is that pedestrians can't see him. But the audience can see both him and the pedestrians, making for some funny moments.

"The audience is safe. They're just watching what I'm doing to other people. There's a degree of victimization."

At the food court Monday in Eaton's Centre, he followed unsuspecting passers-by, hunched with his hands only a few centimetres behind their heads. None seemed aware of it, but the lunch crowd cracked up.

"My attitude is relatively provocative. I'm entertaining myself primarily. It's a little indulgent but I indulge myself, and the audience are entertained as a consequence."

He has no set show but just interacts with the public and imposes his character.

"I can be mean. I'm not looking for the best in people.There have been instances where children have been known to cry.

"I try to do the opposite of what is expected of me. So I will tell children off rather than be nice to them, although I will be nice to them as well. I just play lots of little (behaviour) games."

A primary piece of his character is that he knows he's a clown and is professionally unhappy about it "so I take it out on my audience -- which is the exact opposite of what a clown usually does. A clown tries to ingratiate himself and I try to do the opposite."

Ewen joined a New Zealand stilt dance group at 20 and has used stilts ever since. He performs nine months a year and has appeared in 22 countries and 83 towns and cities. Later this year, he'll perform for two months at the Olympics in Australia.

"It's a good job. I enjoy it and get all the attention I need."


Q: What's the most common question you're asked?

A: 'What's the weather like up there?' That drives me mad because I still haven't thought of a good answer to that.

Q: Have you fallen over?

A: I've fallen over quite a few times. I've been on stilts close to 18 years.

Q: Have you been hurt?

A: I've had some dramatic falls but I've survived. I've never had any really serious injuries.

Q: What was the most embarrassing incident you've had?

A: I danced into an overhead fan at the end of a festival in Scotland in 1995. I cut my head up. I had to be hospitalized..