INTERVIEW: Hilary Wear on her new video clown performance

Part of a digital showcase of Canadian clowns during the pandemic, Giishkiboojigananke features Wear’s delightfully headstrong character, Granny Kokum

Hilary Wear is a Métis theatre artist who specializes in clowning. In addition to her theatrical performances, Wear also works as a therapeutic clown in health care settings. In 2019, she received a Peterborough Arts Award for Outstanding Achievement by an Indigenous Artist.

Last year, Wear was invited by Morro and Jasp, a clown duo from Toronto, to create a video performance for their web series, Send in the Clowns. The web series is highlighting the work of Canadian clowns during the pandemic. 

With help from Laurel Paluck, who filmed and edited the video, Wear created Giishkiboojigananke, which was released by Morro and Jasp in December.

Peterborough Currents spoke with Wear about the film and its protagonist, Granny Kokum, the delightfully headstrong clown that Wear often plays.

Spoiler Alert: Viewing the film before reading is highly recommended — by both Wear and Peterborough Currents.

Giishkiboojigananke, created and performed by Hilary Wear. Filmed and edited by Laurel Paluck.

Peterborough Currents: The character you portray in Giishkiboojigananke is Granny Kokum, a theatrical clown character you’ve developed. What can you tell us about Granny Kokum?
Hilary Wear: Not much is known about Granny Kokum except that she comes from up North. She’s an old lady. She has opinions. She doesn’t really like to be patronized at all. She’s just like every other old lady, really. A little bit opinionated. She’s kind of a mixed bag.

PC: How did Granny Kokum’s personality develop?
HW: I trained in the Pochinko method of theatrical clowning. And through that method I developed my first clown, Tootah, who is a really gallant person who picks up garbage and eavesdrops on birds and is very innocent. I toured all the fringe festivals out West and developed Tootah just roving at festivals.

Tootah is very innocent. And because I have some life experience, her innocence doesn’t always allow me to tell the stories that I want to tell. So I was looking to develop a persona or clown character that had a little more life experience, which is why I went through the Pochinko method again to create a new character, who was Granny Kokum, as it turned out.

PC: When was that?
HW: Granny Kokum was developed in — I’d say 2016. I developed her with a specific application in mind. I wanted to perform something special for the Elders at the Elders Gathering at Trent.

PC: In Giishkiboojigananke, Granny Kokum encounters an arborist felling trees on her property. Why did you choose to tell that story?
HW: I live on a farm, and I’m an Indigenous person. So, because of my personal belief that plants and animals are sort of our seniors, if you will, our elder brothers and sisters, and deserve to be honoured, I thought, “Well, what’s the way that I could look at this problem, or this issue of humans putting themselves at the top of the chain?” And how can I look at it without, you know, just pounding people on the head with my opinion.

Clowns allow for “clown logic” — a different way of approaching a problem. So if the problem is the trees getting cut down, then a clown doesn’t try to hurt the logger, or try to change their business model, she hides all their chainsaws. And so it just allowed me to use clown logic in a kind of light, playful way to do a little bit of public grieving for all the trees that are lost for human consumption.

I’m a Trent alumni. I teach up at Trent. I teach a course in Indigenous theatre. I’m a member of the community there. And, you know, I think I still have PTSD from the day I woke up and drove down the road and all the cedars had been cleared [along Pioneer Road]. And those sorts of experiences just make me want to honour the trees.

PC: Can you tell me about the name of the film?
HW: In institutions, or health care settings, my clowns speak English. Because it’s about making connections with the clients and celebrating the client’s desires. But my theatrical clowns only speak Anishinaabemowin. 

And, you know, for most people that serves as gibberish, right? It allows for my clowns to express a little bit without getting caught in using English and using language, because oftentimes, I find when I use language, it takes me out of clown.

I persevere with Anishinaabemowin for two reasons. One is because it gives me a reason to keep studying and to keep growing my skills. The other reason is because while it works as gibberish for most audience participants, for a speaker who is in my audience, I’m giving them private jokes. So that’s just an added layer.

PC: Has Granny Kokum taught you anything over the years?
HW: Granny Kokum, like I said, she has some life experience. She’s a little bit suspicious of other people’s motives, and she is certainly capable of becoming angry and just openly expressing that. 

For me, personally, I don’t know if it’s just my training as a woman, or my age, or my generation, but anger is something that I struggle with expressing. Granny Kokum is able to do so freely, and to end up not wounded by it. She puts her anger to good use and makes it work for her, you know, she finds a solution to her problem. That’s a lot of fun for me.

Clowns are different from humans. They approach things in a different way. So I learn a lot from what comes through the clowns and the clown writing process. And, usually, it’s stuff that supports my own personal resiliency. So I’m always grateful for the chance to learn through clowning.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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