Blue Collar Clown Takes Clowning Around Seriously

95 Empire helps foster creativity

blueFor almost 30 years, AS220 has been pushing boundaries and giving Providence a space for all kinds of media. The 95 Empire residency program provides artists a creative outlet by giving them free reign in a black box theater or a dance studio. The program fosters creativity of all kinds, and regularly holds workshops, classes, talk backs and other events to benefit the arts community. The latest piece featured in the residency is Blue Collar Clown, the autobiographical brainchild of playwright, actor and educator Elizabeth Ann Keiser.

The play is a dramatization of Keiser’s experiences working with children, using comedy as a social tool. She has held workshops in Rhode Island and the five boroughs of New York City, teaching young people how to deal with things like bullying, behavior management, and literacy issues. The show will also discuss how her work has affected her life. Keiser describes Blue Collar Clown as “an emotional roller coaster of politics, demographics, poverty and surrounding sadness mixed with tiny triumphs and glimpses of gold.” Keiser works in mostly economically depressed areas, and shows how her unorthodox way of reaching out is ultimately redeeming for her and her pupils.

The goal of the workshops, according to Keiser, is to encourage kids to create “toolkits for self-empowerment.” “The comedy aspect of my work is a way for the kids let their guard down and say what they’re really feeling,” she says. The workshops usually culminate with some kind of performance with the children, and she uses these performances as the basis of Blue Collar Clown. Keiser has worked locally with Girls Rock RI , The Manton Avenue Project, and other community organizations.

The format of the play is, according to the playwright, “interactive vignettes,” and features monologue, film, video and audience participation. Her previous work, Perversion Incognito, was done in the same style, and its success encouraged her to apply for the residency at AS220 to explore the medium even further. The title of the play is a reference to how seriously Keiser takes her work of clowning around.

The idea with Blue Collar Clown, as well as many of the shows performed as part of the residency, is to let the work of art evolve organically. The program’s mission, according to its website, is to have artists “explore, create and present exclusively new, original or seldom-produced theatrical works.” Keiser has performed most of the sketches in various places, but she’s taking this opportunity to put them together in an authentic, creative way. She seems fully up to the challenge.

“Sometimes you have to generate your own muse; this space does that for me,” she says. The space is a rectangular black box theater, endlessly mutable to the artist’s creative intentions. Many of the logistics will come to fruition throughout the week leading up to the show. Even the cast is up in the air, as Keiser has invited friends and colleagues she hopes will join in.

Blue Collar Clown is a journey through Elizabeth’s work using comedy as therapy. Come see the serious applications of acting totally ridiculous this weekend.

Blue Collar Clown will be performed March 21-23 at the 95 Empire Street Theater at AS220, 95 Empire St., Providence RI.

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