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Tickled pink by Rosa, the ‘clown princess’

Jennifer Kishan | Updated on January 09, 2020 Published on January 08, 2020

Princess charming: Rosa (Katja Lindeberg) sits pretty with her frog-turned-dragon mother, played by an audience member in Kolka   -  JENNIFER KISHAN

Slaying stereotypes for 10 years now, Katja Lindeberg’s ‘clown princess’ has been holding a mirror to society

“Mirror, mirror in my hand, who is the cutest princess in this land?” asks six-year-old clown princess Rosa, peering expectantly into her mirror. “Rosa,” whispers a little girl in the audience. The clown grins back.

Descending from a stage that looks like a huge dollop of pink, Rosa rides into the audience section on a bicycle. She slips clumsily, trips and falls in her oversized heels, and gets her fingers entangled in her matted hair. All this, within five minutes of taking the stage. She may not get it all right, but in a room packed with six- to nine-year-olds this clown princess is an instant hit.

Performed by Katja Lindeberg, a 33-year-old theatre practitioner from Norway, the show If only Rosa could do Magic played at Kolkata’s ThinkArts International Festival for Young Audiences in November. But this is more than your regular fill-in show of slapstick comedy and juggling acts.

As ‘Rosa the clown’, Lindeberg has for the past 10 years been trying to slay stereotypes. Her ‘princess’, for instance, isn’t delicate, she isn’t perfect, and she can take matters in her own hands. Lindeberg also wants boys to look beyond tropes such as “pink for girls” and the image of a prince as a saviour figure.

Lindeberg, who has a Master’s in physical comedy from the Stockholms Dramatiska Högskola in Sweden, entered the world of clowning by chance when she took a workshop with Canadian clown pedagogue Sue Morrison in Barcelona in 2009. “One of the first exercises Morrison made us do was to get on stage with only our clown nose on and not perform at all. The clown is never a character — when you are a clown, you are playing yourself. The raw emotions I felt then — that was the turning point.” In 2009, Lindeberg went to Toronto to train under Morrison, an alumna of Cirque du Soleil, the Montreal-based entertainment company and contemporary circus producer; she has been a clown ever since.

Traditionally, the clown has been seen as a figure who comments on society and lampoons all that is absurd. Lindeberg believes the clown has the ability to transform her audience. “A lot can be said under the guise of ‘playing’. The clown can hold a mirror to society and bring out its repressed emotions. She can intellectually connect with the audience and provoke it to change. All this, while at play. It is the art to provoke, but with a heart,” she tells BLink in a chat after a two-day workshop she held at the Presidency University, Kolkata.

In her performances, Lindeberg tries to challenge prevailing gender codes. “The audience can see that I am a woman, so I make it a point to always dress up in women’s clothes and try to emulate society’s idea of what a woman should be. Then I bring in an element of surprise — I break all the rules!”

So, Rosa the princess slurps, farts, spits, and lets herself feel sad and scared. She misses her parents and lives in a very lonely world. Even so, she does not need a prince to rescue her. She has the agency to solve her problems. “In the play, I almost kill my frog, then use magic to turn it not into a prince but a dragon mother. As a female clown I wish to embolden the ideas of girlhood. I want Rosa to be hero for both girls and boys in the audience,” says Lindeberg.

For her Master’s degree, Lindeberg’s thesis had examined the role of the clown in relation to gender. “If you conjure up the image of a clown you will invariably imagine a male figure. I want to change that.”

This can pose challenges of its own. “A performance with a strong female protagonist usually gets labelled ‘for girls only’. But we don’t do that with male protagonists. So, as a society, we teach girls to have empathy for both men and women; but for boys, we teach them to identify only with boys, and that too with certain macho characteristics. This also means that we are constantly alienated from our real emotions. I want to bring value to things that society dismisses as girlish. Rosa may live in her very pink universe, but it is as important for boys to identify with her,” she insists.

From Kolkata, If only Rosa could do Magic moved to the Hyderabad Children’s Theatre Festival. Lindeberg says she worried that her young Indian audience might miss the Norwegian cultural nuances in the show. But her fears proved unfounded. “It’s always pleasantly surprising when you see how similar we all are. My Indian audience did not miss a thing — children are the same everywhere.”

Jennifer Kishan is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in Kolkata

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Published on January 08, 2020
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