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Interview with Lost Cabaret: A Cocophony of Clowns

Tell us about yourselves and when did you start collaborating?

Hello! My name is Sharnema Nougar (from the Two Little Dickheads), and we are the clown duo who run Lost Cabaret in Australia and sometimes other festivals, like Edinburgh. This question is an international can of clown worms; because there are different Lost Cabaret teams all across the world, and they all have their own unique story and timeline. However, the spirit of Lost Cabaret remains consistent across all of its incarnations, but more on this later…

I began playing with Lost Cabaret just after its humble beginnings in London, 2012. It started as a one-off season produced and hosted by the renowned clown Zuma Puma at the Lost Theatre in Stockell, before moving to the Priory Arms Pub down the road. That’s where I began playing. Lost Cabaret happened there every Friday night for at least 3 years, up the stairs in the little pub room, with a big bell. It became THE night for clowns to try their stuff. If we went too long or bombed too hard, Zuma would ring that big old pub bell that hung off the back wall. We would take our bow and sit down in the shit we had just made. No matter how bad, she would always have us back. It was glorious. Without Lost Cabaret, I would not have kept performing comedy.

12 years later, Lost Cabaret is running regularly in Paris, Munich and Bristol. It frequents festivals from Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, to Edinburgh and of course, London. So much incredible clown work has grown from the Lost Cabaret.

I moved home to Australia in late 2014 because my Dad was unwell, and starting Lost Cabaret in Sydney was how I kept myself together and how I found a new tribe of clowns. One of those clowns was Maddy Love, who moved to Paris, went to Gaulier, and began Lost Cabaret in Paris. All of a sudden Lost Cabaret was bigger than Sydney and London. How exotic! Then some of the Paris crew moved to Bristol – including the incredible Hester Welch, who is co-producing this London Clown Festival season with me – and so too, Lost Cabaret began in Bristol. Très Exotique!

When covid began, we ALL connected and ran incredibly sophisticated, albeit stupid, online Lost Cabaret zoom shows for audiences across the world. It was an incredible feat. It cemented the Lost Cabaret as an International Collective of Clowns. It cemented our ability to collaborate with total diplomacy. Nobody owns lost cabaret – it belongs to all of the clowns who play in it, who watch it, who love it. There is no hierarchy, just advice from elders and a collective agreement to have fun, be weird, wild, beautifool, take risks, treasure the moment and nurture the clown community. Sometimes, a handful of us decide to get together and do the admin to make it happen. Sometimes we go it alone and find more clowns along the way. Whatever works.

After the success of Edinburgh 2023, (every show Sold Out and the vibe was palpable!), some lovely clowns in the audience from Munich fell in love with the Lost Cabaret spirit. They asked us if they could start their own Lost Cabaret in Munich. We said OF COURSE! They understood the vibe, they loved it, so why not?

Lost Cabaret has been the birthplace for many clowns. A rite of passage. But it isn’t cool or edgy. It is a wonderfool garden of stupidity. It is the crone of clowny realms.

Hester: Hello, I’m Hester Welch! I’m from the Lost Cabaret Bristol team. I mean Sharney has encapsulated the story so wonderfully. For me, it was being involved with the Paris team in 2020 and the online international shows whilst in lockdown that got me hooked. I think Sharney and Dave first met my left boob before they met the rest of me in a very clown-y screen freeze moment during one of the online international shows. And since, they and all the gang have welcomed me into the clown (left and right) bosom. They’ve kept the Lost Cabaret torch burning, shared their wisdom and support in running it and widened this community of beautiful idiots. Before that I was working with the Paris team getting it going there in a wee basement theatre. It became a hub for students from Gaulier and Lecoq to come together away from that brutal drum, and try something weird and wild in front of the public.

Moving to a new city, Bristol, in a pandemic was pretty odd. I sought a community of like minded idiots. After having had such a great experience of bringing fools together in Paris, it felt like a no brainer to get Lost going in Bristol. There is already a really exciting alternative scene here with so many great clown teachers like Holly Stoppit, Robyn Hambrook and Zuma herself birthing brilliant clowns left, right and centre for many years. It didn’t take long for other artists to join the Lost team, eager to get a regular experimental comedy night going. We’ve been running it as a collective of beautiful souls for two years now, predominantly at our home at The Wardrobe Theatre – a delicious fringe venue in Brizzletown. Robyn has now established the Bristol Clown School, and thanks to her pivotal involvement in growing Lost in Bristol, we have so many brilliant newcomers performing as well long-timers from the South and beyond.

 How did the idea for Lost Cabaret first come about, and what inspired its unique blend of absurdity and whimsy?

Hello! I’m David Tieck! I’m gonna answer some of these questions now because Sharnema asked if I could, and I said “you bet i can!”. I started playing with Lost Cabaret in Sydney, 2014. It was my first ever experience of ‘clowning’. Before that, I was a writer and improviser. But I met Sharnema and I wanted to play with her. Watching her way with the audience was completely new to me and my brain exploded. She was magnetic. I was down to clown.

As Sharnema said, Lost Cabaret was originally started by Zuma Puma as a place for clowns, physical comedians, and experimental comedians to try out new material – if you have a wig, or a prop, or just an idea, jump on stage and see what happens. At any given year there are loads of shows doing the festivals which are not traditional stand-up comedy, but there are still far too few places for these artists to try new stuff, and work on their craft. And for all comedians, finding places where you can risk it, for no biscuit, is so important for their development.

Sharnema: Zuma’s core values have genuinely laid the foundations of Lost Cabaret’s whimsical vibe forevermore.

Lost Cabaret has travelled far and wide, captivating audiences at festivals across the globe. What makes this show resonate with audiences?

Sharnema: The audience are often asked to verbally commit to being open to new ideas. “I am open to new experiences” is the mantra that I get the audience to chant in an ‘opening ceremony’. Other Lost teams/hosts have their own ways, but essentially they’re evoking this spirit in the audience.

David: The shows are always completely different. Anything can happen and does. The acts are always chosen for maximum variety, in style, in experience, in tone, in diversity of background. Some acts are brand new, some are really experienced, and there is a real spirit of community, some line-up shows are like; here’s my 5 minute spot, then your 5 minute spot, then their five minute spot…but Lost feels way more like – we are all making one show together – we are just up there at different times.

Hester: Yeah absolutely. The audience’s experience is at the heart of the night. We all become one big silly mess. Playing, laughing and taking a risk together. And let’s face it, now more than ever we need the sweet connective nature of laughter. Clown reminds us of our humanity, to be open, present, to take a leap of faith and to not give a f*@k.

As one of the pioneers of alt-comedy clowning, how has Lost Cabaret influenced the growth and evolution of clown artists over the years?

David: It’s been a training ground for loads of now really successful clowns and performers. Many of whom still come and do spots here and there. The London Clown Festival show will probably include a bunch of acts that started out as baby clowns together playing to four people, and are now seasoned pros.

Sharnema: Experts of the stupidest order.

David: Loads of clowns made their clowning debut at Lost Cabaret, which is really cool.

Hester: Many ideas that were first birthed at Lost Cabaret have now turned into full length shows, now performed at festivals all over. It’s a womb for the ridiculous!

Can you share some insights into the creative process behind putting together each edition of Lost Cabaret?

Sharnema: Part of the ethos for me is to give spots to people who are not necessarily known, but are looking for somewhere safe to take a risk. They may be new clowns, but they are often very experienced clowns who are terrible at self-promotion and therefore don’t have a regular home for their incredible work. Asking for gigs is like applying for a job. It’s a gruelling act until you build up momentum from other gigs. I get to know these amazing humans in clown workshops and around festivals and I wanna see them smash a gig! When I take risks on clowns who are in the wildest part of their journey as creators, the energy they bring to the stage is electric. They love the audience and the audience loves them too. The hosts are always experienced clowns who have mastered holding this electric space. We always have a slew of Lost Cabaret veterans doing some tried and tested bonkers also, so new acts are well supported.

David: There is always a focus on making each individual night as varied as possible. There are different hosts, and the different hosts are normally Lost veterans who know how to build that sense of togetherness, with the audience and the other acts.

Also, particularly at festivals, other acts come and see the show and their eyes light up and they say “I have an idea for an act but I never knew where to try it – and now I know that Lost Cabaret is perfect”. In Edinburgh last year so many acts wanted to try something that we had to do a special midnight to 3am mega show.

How do you keep each show fresh and spontaneous while maintaining its signature charm?

David: Just being open to spontaneity is important, lots of clowns have acts which are spontaneous in nature, and will always vary depending on the crowds, and we like to throw in things like random walk on clowns/archetypes that might only be on for 30 seconds, and games that might be played throughout the show that keep everybody on their toes. Literally and figuratively. It’s such a safe place to take comedic risks that on any given night there’s always going to be performers who make huge discoveries themselves, and that’s always magical.

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

Sharnema: This one is going to be a real celebration – since Lost Cabaret began in London it’s grown so much, in so many locations, and the community around it has blown up beyond what we ever could have imagined. It will be an absolute HOOT! A bombastic doozy if ever there was one.

David: Loads of Lost veterans are coming back to where it all started for them. So it’s going to be weird, and chaotic, and random, and a total party.

Hester: We. Can’t. Wait.

You can catch Lost Cabaret: A Cocophony of Clowns on Friday 19 July 2024 at 7:30pm. Book your tickets here.

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