Williamsburg is going to the clowns – again!

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In a few short days, Brooklyn will brace itself for an influx of hundreds of clowns from all over the world, parading through the streets of Williamsburg and holding impromptu pie fights on street corners with nearby pedestrians

Okay, the parade and pie fight has only been scheduled for September 5, opening night of the Third Annual New York Clown Theater Festival at the Brick Theater, but the event will feature a wide range of 20 mainstage clown and general buffon-related performances, plus cabarets, workshops and lectures with performers and troupes from 23 national and international companies.

While some of the shows are family friendly, most are aimed at a late teen to adult crowd. For specifics on the performances, including dates and times, please visit the show website.

At 4:30 p.m. on September 5, all are invited to join the Clown Subway Parade, the official launch of the festival. Kicking off at Union Square in Manhattan, the Clown Parade proceeds on the L train to the Bedford stop in Brooklyn. Volunteers will be handing out free clown noses at stations along the L line.

Participants get out at the Bedford stop in Brooklyn, and march ten blocks to The Brick Theater along with a marching band and over 100 clowns. Once arriving at the Brick, participants can jump into in a free and fun pie fight, followed by the chaos of an all-evening Clown Cabaret. These events are all free; seating for the cabaret is limited.

The festival concludes on September 28 with the Clown Funeral Procession and closing night party. Theatre Group Dzieci leads the funeral procession through the streets of Williamsburg with morbid buffoonery, audience participation and the choral singing of sacred hymns.

As clown mourners follow the casket to its final destination back at The Brick Theater, the bereaved are likely to cry out in anguish to unsuspecting passersby.

At the funeral rite following, clown widows and widowers will remember with great passion the achievements of the festival in its four short weeks of life. Be sure to stay after the funeral rite for the traditional Closing Night Party. Both of these events are also free and open to all.

From the ridiculous to the existential, from the playful to the dark, the New York Clown Theatre Festival shows run the gamut of the human experience.

Audrey Crabtree, Eric Davis, and Devon Ludlow, with the help of the Brick Theater, have been putting the end-of-summer festival together for the past three years. They are careful about distinguishing clown from traditional theater and have scheduled many different genres of circus and clown theater.

“One thing that is really unique about clown is that clown involves being in the same room as an audience. There is no fourth wall,” Crabtree said. “The clown speaks directly to an audience and the audience responds.”

Throughout the year, Crabtree and Davis scout different acrobatics, circus, and theater productions in the city and send requests to companies to perform in their festival. Their work has steadily connected the clown community in New York and attracted new artists from out of state who want to do productions in Brooklyn. This year, performers are coming from France, Italy, Brazil, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

“Birdmann is huge,” Crabtree said, speaking about an Australian performer who will be in the festival this year. “It’s a comedy show with a lot of skills and audience interaction. We’re fortunate to have him.”

Crabtree is also looking forward to seeing Ten West and Pants, two different shows feature pairs of men and women from Los Angeles, if she has time to see it. She will be performing a clown piece in her own production Numbers Up, which will consist of a dark form of character named ‘Graspy McTakeitall, as well as hosting one of the cabarets featuring a number of different performers.

“Graspy is a character who is needy and social and she will be taking the audience on a ride with her,” Crabtree said.

Another highlight of the festival will be the clown parade, which Williamsburg-based clown Jeff Seal will be leading. On September 5 at 4:30 p.m., people will meet in Union Square, pass out clown noses and take the L train to Bedford, where they will then proceed in a humorous procession to the Brick Theater. Seal promises a peaceful organized clown march, and they have already secured a police permit.

“Each year a lot of people show up,” Seal said. “It’s always a lot of fun getting on the train and all the normal commuters are surprised when they sit next to a hundred clowns during rush hour. They usually just laugh and smile.”

Crabtree, who has been in living in New York since 1998 and has won a Drama Desk award for the radio clown play, Charlie Victor Romeo, and an Innovative Theater Award for the Bouffon Glass Menagerie, enjoys the sense of community that the festival has fostered. Local performers are putting up international visitors in their apartment and participants eagerly see one another’s shows to learn what kind of art is being made in other communities and what kind of skills to add to their repertoire.

“We have a lot of stilt walkers in the festival,” Crabtree said. “There are so many people in New York who know how to stilt walk. Basically everybody knows how to stilt walk. I don’t.”

The New York Clown Theater Festival will be performing at the Brick Theater September 5 to 28.

Performances take place at The Brick Theater (575 Metropolitan Avenue, between Union and Lorimer, in Williamsburg). Tickets to the main stage and cabaret performances are $15; lectures and workshop prices vary. Tickets are available by calling Theatermania at 212-352-3101 or 1-866-811-4111 or online at For more on the festival, visit

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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