Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Couple of clowns turn their tea party into a participatory affair

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In the whimsical 2 for Tea, you can count on your genial hosts, James and Jamesy, to serve a fresh-brewed cuppa and a tasty side plate of physical comedy.

What might curl the stiff upper lip of some in the audience is being pulled up onstage to play one of four characters. The threat of audience participation can scare off some patrons -- a risk some performers are willing to take for the unpredictability these wild cards can inject into a show.

Both Aaron Malkin and Alastair Knowles are highly trained Vancouver-based clowns. Impulsive comedy plays an integral part of their performance style.

"As clowns, we foster connections by pulling people onstage," says Malkin, 35. "We saw a Second City show two years ago do it and it was so alive. I wanted to push the boundaries of how much we can involve the audience in the show."

That means the pair recruits someone to be a British army general, a doctor and even their parents. They even involve the whole audience to take part in a family photo. None of it should ruin anyone's enjoyment of their tea party.

"We have quite a bit of experience interacting with audiences and the selection process," Malkin says. "We don't want to have somebody onstage that doesn't want to be there. We want people to feel safe coming to our show. If you don't want to be in our show, you won't be. We shop for people who look like they want to play."

The last thing the performers want would be for it to get around that they are embarrassing their patrons or forcing them to huddle in the back of the theatre out of fear of being dragged onstage.

"I'd love to find out from people who have been in our show if anyone regretted that experience," he says. "I doubt it."

2 for Tea grew out of an eight-minute sketch the pair developed last year when they were part of the clown troupe Poupon Parade. It featured two men with a close but awkward relationship who came together for a weekly tea party. Spectators were intrigued by the odd couple and producers asked repeatedly for the sketch to be extended, first to 15 minutes, then 25 minutes, until Malkin and Knowles decided to turn it into a full hour-long show.

The evolution was easy. James was the straight man who was drawn to how Jamesy could take the mundane from his sheltered life and make it magical.

"I'm a hermit without realizing it," says Knowles, the 26-year-old former Winnipegger who graduated from Kelvin High School in 2004 before going away to school. "My world exists within my home and those tea parties. Everything is particularly placed within my home. I'm excessive-compulsive without knowing it."

Knowles hit upon all these quirky personality traits for Jamesy from watching Malkin.

"In many parts of my life, I'm quite meticulous," Malkin says. "I do things just so and Jamesy takes that facet of me and amplifies it tenfold."

Knowles and Malkin were also part of the Super Hero Band, known for developing immersive environments around its shows. The group would encourage its fans to turn up to their gigs in superhero costumes -- and many of them did. For 2 for Tea, the pair wanted to create an atmosphere that extended before the curtain went up on it.

"We loved the idea, naturally, to have people sip tea in the audience," Malkin says. "Audience members can have a cup before it starts. It makes them ripe for something to happen."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 23, 2013 C5


Updated on Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 8:52 AM CDT: adds link

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