Clowning around Europe With More Than Just The Red-Nose

by Rachel Cunningham
0 comment

Emigration has shifted the essence of ‘Irishness’ from an island on a map to an adaptable state of mind. While living away from your native home can lead to a feeling of displacement, in another sense, moving abroad is an inherently Irish thing to do. Dublin’s Kiva Murphy spoke about clowning around Europe and forging her path in the arts since leaving Irish soil.

Having always known she wanted to be a performer, Kiva rapidly discovered that she could marry her flare for the creative with an industrious and entrepreneurial spirit.

She left her place in Drama and Film in Trinity after six weeks because she “wanted to perform, rather than talk about performing” and later made the move to London to pursue her interest in performance, shortly before her 21st birthday.

While there, she divided her time between her children’s entertainment company, Alakazam, and being a clown doctor in children’s hospitals.

Commenting on life at the helm of Alakazam, she said: “It was kind of a blend of the clown side of my brain and the business side. I had around 50 clowns, magicians, face painters, balloon modellers and cake decorators working for me in the UK and Ireland, so it turned into quite a big enterprise.”

Despite the business success, she found that her work wasn’t meeting her need to create and she decided to once again leave her comfort zone and moved to Paris to attend the prestigious clown school, Jacques Lecoq.

“They work you hard but I’m glad I went. I met a lot of people and I learned a lot. You’re making a show every week, so you get very good at using your devising muscle. That really gave me a buzz and made me realise it was what I wanted to do”, she said.

In English, we have only one word for clown but to understand Kiva’s art-form is to understand that a clown can be more than the red-nosed stereotype. “The kind of clown I do is not circus clown, it’s much more Buster Keaton, absurd Charlie Chaplin kind of stuff. In Spanish and French, it’s easier to distinguish because they have two words for clown.

“One means the theatrical clown, that kind of physicality and telling of stories that I do, and then you have the circus, over-the-top, white face kind of performance”, she explained.

Eight years ago, torn between furthering her clowning training in Barcelona and Turin, she moved to the Spanish city on the flip of a coin. The course taught her the importance of creating art “without being too precious”. “It was an education in how to get it up there, get it out there and get an audience”, she stated.

“After that, I set up a theatre company called No Guilty Bones with two friends”, she said. “On the first of January in 2018, I made a list of what I wanted to achieve that year. I wrote that I wanted to take a show to New York and to perform on Broadway, so I did.”

The show was well-received, as was her solo Edinburgh Fringe Festival show, Madstone. However, when her collaborative partner, Philippa, moved country, it became clear that another change was on the horizon.

She reached out to an improv group called Barcelona Improv Group or ‘BIG’, and was surprised when they asked her to teach. “I had very much thought of myself as a clown, rather than as an improviser. The clown world is great but, as in every artistic world, there is a lot of ego involved and it is mainly made-up of men. When people picture clowns, they don’t really picture girls.

“In teaching these classes, I discovered that I knew more than I thought I did and found a community that was incredibly inviting, kind and diverse. It felt much more welcoming, which I hadn’t really expected”, she commented.

When the pandemic hit, Kiva continued teaching online and was soon at the helm of BIG alongside her friend, Ella. “We found ourselves running this company that had been going for 10 years and we didn’t know what to do with it.

“So, we decided to take it by the reins and to make it our full-time thing by showing what a useful tool improv can be. A year later, we opened our own venue and theatre and now it has just gone from strength to strength.

“We teach classes every day, we have shows once a week and then the real big change is the corporate training side, called, ‘applied improv’, where we lead team building days or give workshops in businesses. It’s exciting because, since coming out of the pandemic, a lot of people are more interested in the group’s mental health, how they bond, deal with problems, how they share and can be open with each other.

“That side is very rewarding because of the immediate effect. You go into a business where they’re a bit dubious and two hours later, they’re on board. We’ve done some workshops across Europe and it’s ultimately something that I’d love to do more of in Ireland.”

Reflecting on how she feels about how her career has carried her away from her birthplace, Kiva said: “I don’t think homesick is the right word but sometimes I miss that banter, that chat. But basically anywhere I’ve been in the world, people have been excited to meet someone Irish and to share their relationship with Ireland.

“It happens anywhere I go, virtually every day. When I hear the passion so many have for Ireland, it makes me feel really proud to be carrying on that legacy.

“I don’t feel less Irish for not living in Ireland because people are applauding me for being Irish all the time. I feel part of a bigger story in being another Irish person out there making my way”, she concluded.

Related Articles