How the Canvas Clown Idea Was Born

The idea for the Canvas Clown was born when Karen Halperin was in her 3rd year of college at New College of Florida, a small school where students are to conduct independent original research and write a baccalaureate thesis as a requirement for graduation.

The long story involves some then-unfortunate events in which Karen's original thesis idea (to work with post-traumatic stress patients in Israel and Gaza) fell through. She found herself in Boston for the summer before her 4th year, taking a statistics course at Boston University and walking around the city for leisure.

One one such day, Karen and her friend Elizabeth were passing through Quincy Market--the historic downtown area connected to Fanneuil Hall--when they happened upon a man dressed in a sparkly silver shirt holding  a small girl upside-down and shaking her pockets for change. A small crowd of people were already stopped around him, and the circle continued to grow as this man (soon to be known as Peter Gross) proceeded to use slight of hand to steal another spectator's watch and perform (as he calls them) "other suspect activities."

Karen and Elizabeth were quite entertained--but even more so, were in awe that such things could be happening in public without anyone getting upset. Shaking children for coins and stealing watches is certainly unacceptable in most public settings, and yet this guy was out there making people come together, shock them, captivate them, leave everyone laughing.... AND! get them to pay him for doing it.

Instead of just dropping a dollar in Peter's hat, Elizabeth suggested they invite him to have a beer. He agreed, and through the next half hour, Peter shared a bit about his life... He told them about a whole community of street performers in Boston and across the world who did this kind of thing for a living.

Karen, who was studying communities and networks as part of her major in anthropology decided immediately: THIS is what I want to study for my thesis... I want to study street performers... Who they are... how their community is structured... what they bring to cities and to the public... what public service they offer... what roles they play, now and in history, in relaying information, spreading news.... how their presence changes the social environment or social space in urban areas... how their very existence is in itself a statement .... but of WHAT??

She called her thesis advisor and he agreed ...(wow).

Karen then spent the next three months of the summer among the street performers in Boston and Cambridge. There were jugglers, musicians, variety acts, mimes, statutes, magicians, and one particularly stand-out puppeteer. She interviewed them, filmed their shows, tracked audiences, researched historical files, and even became an apprentice to the puppeteer...but something was missing... Observation was great but Karen wanted to participate in her own way.

The problem was that Karen cannot juggle, can be rather shy for speaking, and had no particular skill for music. The living statues were really cool (there was an awesome "Bride" named Amanda, and an "Angel" named Blake), but Karen wanted to be at least somewhat interactive with the crowds.

The idea for the Canvas Clown did not come until she was back in Sarasota, in her living room still trying to juggle. She was listening to her roommate Shannon's "Joy Division" CD and something in the song must have triggered the idea:

Dress in white, stand really still, and let the audience paint on me... They'll be the performer, then... They'll be the activity... I'll be blank and the participants will create me new each show...  There will be motion... in eye contact, invitations to paint, but the main event will be that of trust, and connectedness... and creativity...

Karen went out and bought some white clothes and non-toxic washable paint. She got a long purple-wig, braided it, and found a crate to stand on. Elizabeth was there for the first show. It was in front of Ben & Jerry's in St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota. It was scary for Karen, and thrilling.

It's working! They're getting it!? I can unnerve people by making them think I am a statue and then moving!? Shy kids are watching for a while and then feeling comfortable enough to paint! People are actually paying me for this!?!

Things progressed from there... in terms of shows, parties, technique and philosophy. After graduating from New College, Karen moved back to Ft. Lauderdale and continued to develop the Canvas Clown. A few months later, she got in her car, piled her belongings into a pod on the roof, and set out alone to drive around the United States and Canada, doing shows from city to city and festival to festival, and earning enough to keep herself and Canvas going....

Today's biggest update is about Karen's sister Lauren. She's taken up partnership in the Canvas Clown Company and is keeping Canvas alive in Los Angeles, California. In March 2006, Lauren filmed an appearance as Canvas Clown on Paris Hilton & Nicole Ritchie's "The Simple Life" television show. We'll keep you posted on what happens from here!



EMAIL: laurenhalperin@michael-davis.ws

California:(310) 867-9474
Florida: (850) 528-3871

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