Last autumn, I opened Clovni Extraterestri (Clown Aliens) at the National Theatre of Romania, in Cluj. CE is my first full-on musical; I wrote the music and created the sound design. Eli Simon wrote the book and directed. I’ve just finished mixing some board recordings, so I’m finally able to share some of the content here.
EC is a sequel of sorts to Razboil Clovnilor (War of the Clowns), a piece that Simon and I developed for the National Theatre a few years ago. RC ends with a family of clowns blowing up their home planet; CE starts with that family of clowns escaping to Earth. When they land on Earth, they have to make a life for themselves. Some clowns want to hold on to their clown identity, but others are quick to integrate into human culture. They get jobs, they adopt human traditions, they try to retain their own clown-ness. Some clowns are more human than others, but all of the clowns try to find a balance between human-ness and clown-ness. Through it all, the littlest clown, Baby Clown, misses their Mother Clown, who didn’t make the trip (presumably lost in space?).
The music is a balance of folk and funk, and was primarily performed by Ada Milea, one of Romania’s national musical treasures. Milea is a gifted singer and guitarist, and she performed in the character of a homeless bum who has wandered into the theatre. All other music (everything that’s not acoustic guitar) was tracked or performed by me. The rest of the cast also sang, but Milea was the prime voice we heard.
Eli and I first started working on the beginning ideas of this piece over five years ago in a piece called Clownzilla: Illegal Aliens that we did in Orange County, CA. That piece was also about clowns entering a new land, and even then, we wanted to focus on the social issues (immigration, xenophobia, cultural identity, assimilation) that immigrants face. When we started working on the musical, those ideas stayed at the forefront of our thoughts, though the specifics of the metaphor shifted from Mexican immigrants to the Roma (gypsy) people.
I wrote the music over the past year, and had the score in good shape by the time we got to Romania in late August. We immediately jumped into rehearsal, Eli working with the clowns on the mainstage while I worked with Ada downstairs in the studio theatre. After almost a week of rehearsing separately, we put the music and the clowning together and started to craft the show. Generally, we’d rehearse in two four-hour chunks, but the second half of the day often ended early, as we all got tired and distracted. Plus, since Eli and I were crafting the show, we often needed time after rehearsal to hash out ideas, edit songs, mix/master music, and lay down tracks.
After 3.5 weeks of residency in Cluj (during which the summer heat broke into cool brisk days), we opened the show to an audience full of adults and kids. Ada would wander through the lobby, begging money from adults and distributing it to kids. She started the show by offering to tell a story to the audience. As she sat down and strummed her guitar, the clowns appeared on stage, as if from her memory. Ada served as the narrator, speaking in Romanian and singing in English, telling the story of this group of illegal immigrants, ejected from their home planet and trying to build a new life.
I’ve added some of the songs from the show to my portfolio page. Go check them out, and if you’re interested in producing Clovni Extraterestri, drop me a line! We’d love to see it have a life outside of Romania.
Also, I’ll be speaking on the creation of this piece at the annual USITT conference and convention in March. Come check out my talk on 20 March at 5.30pm.