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While showing a recent work — "Totem (1)," in which a torrent of little Anderson blobs (heads and faces culled from ads) shoots endlessly from the ground in a scene spanning three flat screens — he looks to the future. "I intend to do a couple more in this vein," he says. "Somebody asked me about the possibility of doing this with 50-inch plasmas. That works out to, like, 13 feet tall." He flashes a quick expression of muted excitement at the prospect.
-- By Chris Packham
When she puts on the nose, Heidi Van is free.
"Clowns make the rules," Van says. "They have the authority to change those rules. They can die. They can come back. They can look out at the audience and say, 'You know what? I'm an all-caps CLOWN!'"
Van makes rules, too. The pixie-ish native of Kansas City, Kansas, is as comfortable farcing it up for the New Theatre's dinnertime crowds as she is gliding through dark, experimental, movement-based clown extravaganzas like The Coppelia Project.
In the latter show and other shows like it, Van and her Hybrid-theater cohorts have achieved, through clowning, a casual profundity — work that seems simple yet cuts deep.
An actress, director, teacher of incarcerated juveniles, and manager of the Fishtank theater at 17th Street and Wyandotte, Van buys the freedom to clown through labor that's mundane (sweeping the Fishtank, painting its walls), instructional (guiding artists interested in a Fishtank show through the process of writing proposals and estimating budgets) and managerial (gathering the team to nurse an idea into a fully realized performance). The effort is also altruistic: By keeping the Fishtank alive, she gives Kansas City a space where the unlikely flourishes — where other performers are free to put on the nose, too.
Still in its first year, the teensy theater has hosted local and national performers putting on work old and new. It has given us Lisa Cordes' series of living-news performances in which motley casts declaim the writings of Sarah Palin or Carrie Prejean. It has mounted one-woman shows from out of town as well as locally cast plays that otherwise wouldn't have been staged here. It has put on a citywide show-and-tell, and it has dared improvised comedy every Saturday and themed celebrations of new performance art on First Fridays. (At one show inspired by Union Station's Warhol exhibit, Van dressed as Warhol-shooter Valerie Solanas.) We've seen workshops, rehearsals and Peter Lawless composing and performing music in the windows.
Those shop windows overlooking Wyandotte Street give the space its name as well as its greatest inspiration. Fishtank founder Corrie Van Ausdal even hatched an environmental-theater breakthrough when she staged Dial 'M' for Murder entirely behind the storefront's glass. The Hybrid theater collective followed up this past fall with clown love story. Written by the group, it was a tender and riotous tale of a street-sweeping clown (Matt Weiss) who falls for a comically buxom baker (Van, padded à la Dolly Parton) whom he sees each day in a sweet-shop window. For most of the show, Weiss was outside looking in, just like the audience members, who sat in folding chairs out on Wyandotte.