Interview with Ella the Great

What inspired you to become a performer?

It was after seeing a clown perform (Albert The Idiot with Henrietta the Car) in my local park when I was 3 – it was the first time the world made sense. I then joined the circus classes they were running from the age of 7, and it grew and grew. We had the opportunity to perform all over the world and saw a lot of incredible shows that inspired me, and I had the opportunity to perform for a lot of people. I really enjoyed playing with different audiences and being part of circus festivals. Our shows mainly used mime, circus skills, and physical comedy so they would be universal across all languages.

After I expressed a strong passion for clowning, Albert the director especially wrote clown parts for me into the circus shows. That gave me an early understanding of the connection a clown has with the audience and the craft of making clown numbers/visual stories. I come from a family of artists; my dad is a musician, and he would invite me on stage from a very young age to play percussion. I felt very comfortable on stage. My small rebellion is physical comedy.

Can you discuss the process of developing your character for the stage?

The drag king clown I play in this show, Richard Melanin The Third, was developed through London’s drag king scene. I first appeared on the cabaret circuit as my clown persona, Babushka. I’d wanted to create a drag king, and one night I did an act where Babushka transformed into Richard. Shortly after, I played a gig at Smoke & Mirrors Bar in Bristol, and it seemed right to make a clown magic act for there—that has become Richard’s signature act. Even though I don’t know how magic works (one of the few disciplines where I intentionally haven’t looked behind the curtain), I love it and crafted this act using the main element of magic: belief!

Richard Melanin The Third is a traditional circus showman, and I mostly perform as him in silence. I love him; he’s playful, generous, and he has the ability to create something out of nothing. I feel free when I wear his Edwardian box-beard.

The description of your show mentions “making magic in mundanity” and “splendour in simplicity.” Can you elaborate on how you bring these themes to life on stage?

The show takes place on an ordinary rainy day at Richard Melanin The Third’s humble abode. I use minimal words in most of my acts – objects/props help set scenes and scenarios so you can visually see the situation and where the “problems” may lie. With all these objects, visual information is being read by audiences a lot more than they realize. The show is a series of transforming images – everyday, recognizable objects need to be subverted in some way to be seen on stage, otherwise the imagination can’t go very far.

I have a plastic bag “balloon modelling” act, using those white plastic bags found quite commonly in local small shops. They are transformed live, blown up, and twisted into recognizable shapes (a rabbit, a rose). Dinner plates, ironing boards, tape, lampshades, and suitcases all transform or behave in unexpected ways while Richard is left to his own devices.

I have a background in fine art sculpture and circus theatre. I make a lot of my own props and I have been gifted a lot of beautiful objects from the circus that go way back.

How do you approach the balance between scripted material and improvisation in your performances?

I map my acts like a dot-to-dot drawing; how I get to every moment is different each time I perform them. I leave space for a live conversation with the audience. You can script or choreograph it completely, but being light on your feet and open to problems is vital.

I have worked as Richard for a long time, with so much experience playing to all ages, that he’s developed his own physical vocabulary. When he’s on stage, his responses are genuine, everything is alive and present. I can set up the scenario, know what beats I’m going to hit, and also set up problems. Richard just plays it all for real.

What can audiences expect from your performance at the London Clown Festival and why should they come to see it?

Circus, nostalgia, escapism, and lots of laughter. It’s a new take on traditional circus, celebrating the craft in the clowning from the heart. It feels like a very special occasion for Pomp and Cirque-umstance No 3.1 to be played at Jacksons Lane, to be part of the story of the unique centre of circus theatre in London at this glorious venue.

Audiences will be invited into a world of wonder, and take a moment to enter and embrace the absurd. There’s a joyous feel of old-school circus, and I hope they’ll be left with joy and optimism. It’ll be my fourth outing for this full show, and it gets better each time.

It’s my second year performing in the London Clown Festival, which is putting marvellous work on bigger stages in London, helping people find and fall in love with the art form.

Come and join the magic, share the laughter.

You can catch Pomp and Cirque-cumstance No 3.1 on Tuesday 16 July at 7:30pm. Book your tickets here.

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