Clowns are supposed to wear their feelings painted on their faces. But for Wendy Ramos, a Peruvian actress who has spent more than two decades performing as a clown both on television and in the theater, the inner life of a clown is much more complex. Ramos began her career with the group Pataclaun, formed in Lima by university students who reinvigorated the art of clowning for the Peruvian public, first with shows in a small theater for 50 people and 10 years later on their television program that aired in the late ’90s. But part of Ramos’ mission as a clown has been using her work not only to entertain but to alleviate social problems.
Now Ramos brings “Cuerda” to Miami, a one-woman show which she has performed 74 times and has been seen by more than 44,000 people in Peru and other countries. The success of the show is that she reveals not just the complexities of being a clown, but also the complexities of being human. The show comes to Miami’s Teatro Trail on Aug. 25. We spoke with Ramos from Lima about her career and what to expect in “Cuerda.”
What made you interested in clowning?
It all started out of curiosity. I studied Communication at the University of Lima (Peru) and as a hobby attended acting workshops. There was one that appeared when I was about to finish my studies, it was a clown workshop, which changed my life and forever changed my way of seeing and understanding the world and myself.
Tell us about the ways you have been able to use your work as a clown to draw attention to social problems.
In 2001 I started a project called Bolaroja. Initially it was just a place to teach the type of clowning that had changed my perspective of the clown, but it opened a million doors to the infinite possibilities of clowning in the social field. There we began projects like Doctores Bolaroja, a program of weekly visits from hospital clowns to two public hospitals. Bola de Luna is a project where a group of clowns dressed in funny pajamas makes nightly musical visits to adult patients in order to relieve, calm and chase away bad dreams. We also have community interventions, where we visit high stress places like mental hospitals, prisons, slums, disaster areas or wherever we need to go.
The famous doctor and clown Patch Adams visited to help with the foundation in the “Bethlehem Project” in the Peruvian jungle. What was it like to work with him?
Patch first came to Peru in 2003 when Bolaroja invited him to give a lecture. We became friends and he would come back every year. That’s how we began the Bethlehem Project; we took a trip to Iquitos in the Peruvian Amazon and began a relationship with that population. We worked for ten years together on this project. It was a great experience, we learned a lot from that relationship.
You have acted in several films and also as part of the cast of “Mamma Mia.” How did you make the transition from clown to actress? How did your clown training help or hurt your work as an actress?
For many years I refused to act because I hadn’t studied acting and I have a lot of respect for the profession. Just like putting on a red nose does not make you a clown, standing on stage doesn’t make you an actor.
But then I started to realize that all that training I’d done in clowning and other many other workshops over the years (scenic fighting, physical comedy, singing, props) had been providing me with tools that I could use easily and the first time I agreed to work in theater was at the request of a director friend to perform a small role in a huge production. I was very scared, but everything went well and then they called me for another show and again and again and I haven’t stopped working as an actress for five years.
The main task of a clown is to bring joy, but in “Cuerda” your character travels through many emotions. Why did you want to show the other sides of the inner life of a clown?
I think the clown work is to inspire, be it to laugh, to cry, toward all emotions, to get the public to journey with you, through your story, but seeing their own landscapes. And to me that’s what “Cuerda” is, an emotional journey.
In recent years I have been working on the emotional side of my clown. After working on the technique, the humor and how to build it, to study the timing, experimenting with the components of comedy, I chose to go further and experiment with the emotional side from a place of honesty. It was very hard work, I took a lot of time and energy to do so and “Cuerda” is the result of all that work.
The word “cuerda” has many meanings in Spanish, depending on the country. Tell me about the “cuerda” in your play.
It’s funny, because there is literally a rope on stage all the time and as the word has a lot of meanings, so everyone imagines something different. “Cuerda” in the show works more like a symbol. There’s a rope tied to the clown all the time, it is a tie that binds you to something that at first you do not see and gradually you discover.