She studied classical piano and trained as a theatre director, but when Diana Kolpak saw the clown duo Mump and Smoot in Toronto, she was inspired by what they were able to convey through comedy.
She started studying with the ‘comic horror clowns,’ and discovered that clowning provided a way to combine her talents of performing, singing, writing and designing costumes.
“I think clowns are among the most subversive art forms,” said Kolpak, who loved watching Red Skelton when she was a child. “You can get away with saying serious things while making people laugh. That’s what clown is about to me, telling the truth, holding up a mirror to society and telling the truth, some of which we don’t want to see, in a way that people will laugh at but then later on will think, ‘Well, that was really serious.’”
Like her 15-minute piece, Perfect, where she performed liposuction on herself at the International Festival of Women Clowns (Clownin) in Vienna. Afterward in the lobby, a young man told her the solo piece was his festival favourite because it was serious but funny at the same time.
“I said thank you because that’s exactly what I wanted to do,” said Kolpak, who was the first Canadian to perform at Clownin.
Born and raised in Lethbridge, Alta., Kolpak spent many years in Toronto before moving to the Comox Valley last year. She studied at McGill University in Montreal, and earned a master’s in directing from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Kolpak feels that clowns are a “powerful archetype in our psyches.” She likens them to court jesters – the only ones who could get away with speaking the truth to royalty.
On stage, she said there’s a magic that happens at the intersection between the performer and the audience.
“Clown makes my dreams come true,” Kolpak said. “When you put on that little red nose, or assume the character, the audience goes with you.
“There’s a power in clowning,” she added. “You have to be responsible with it as a performer.”
In February, she made her Comox Valley debut with her musical Blue, which she performed solo at Artful: The Gallery in Courtenay.
Some of her performances use a cast. The Gorgonetrevich Corps de Ballet Nationale in ‘Bethany’s Gate’, for instance, had a cast of eight.
“Depends on the project,” Kolpak said. “I follow my gut to the next project. Sometimes it’s theatre, sometimes it’s a short story, sometimes it’s a poem, sometimes it’s a full-on production.”
She’s always looking for partners to do something fun and creative with art.
“Crazy ideas are great, let’s see what we can do with that.”
—Scott Stanfield, special to the Comox Valley Record