New clown school in the Townships

By Taylor McClure – Local Journalism Initiative

‘I want people to have an opportunity to have fun and freedom with feelings’

The Eastern Townships is getting its own clown school called L’École Brimbalante founded by Annab Aubin-Thuot from Sutton. After taking a workshop one summer for fun, Aubin-Thuot found a deep connection with the art form of clowning and made it her goal to share her experience with others. L’École Brimbalante will be offered on the grounds of Camp Garagona in Frelighsburg, a community organization that supports individuals living with a disability or who are on the autistic spectrum. With pre-existing misconceptions about clowns, Aubin-Thuot, working alongside other professional artists, wants to open people up to something new and to show the community what the art form is truly all about.

“We like to say it’s the very first clown school in the countryside of Quebec. There is another one in Quebec City, but there’s still very few offers for the students,” said Aubin-Thuot. “It’s an art form that is becoming more and more popular and there is no institution. Clown art is not taught at university or things like that. In the federal institutions, it is considered a minor art, but it is not true.”

With a history dating back to the 1800s, Aubin-Thuot said that people tend to connect clowns with fairs, children’s birthday parties, and festivals, but that it’s so much more than that.

“It’s a deep character with personality and history. Each clown has their own history and background, it can be something very deep, profound emotions, characters with texture, and there is a lot of sensibitivity and poetry,” she explained. “We see clowns as something silly and funny, it’s still an art of comedy, but it’s tragic comedy so it’s a mix of drama and comedy.”

“I was always very interested in emotional intelligence and the truth of emotions and it was just like okay, here I am, I want to share this experience. I want people to have this opportunity to discover their own inner clown, to express themselves with their bodies, which is not so much taught in school,” explained Aubin-Thuot.

After facilitating other workshops, Aubin-Thuot became a professional clown, moved back to Sutton, and founded L’École Brimbalante to give her own clown workshops. She will be working alongside 12 other professionals from all over the world who will come and teach clowning, puppeteering, acrobatics, and other skills.

“I just feel it’s a wonderful region. There are young people with dreams, and a lot of hope and light, so I think it’s the type of community to be welcoming for this type of project.”

Needing a space for La Brimbalante, Aubin-Thuot developed a relationship with Camp Garagona, who she said is already very open to the arts, and will be leasing a space from them, with both groups looking forward to a beneficial and special relationship.

“For the first year we have an exchange so we are going to offer their campers some workshops, animation, and clowning, but it’s about relationships and experiencing every day moments with them.”

“We are a community organization that has what other community organizations don’t have or very few others have, and that is a big chunk of land, buildings, and infrastructure that we occupy,” explained Nicholas Brien, executive director of Camp Garagona for the past 11 years. “It’s important I think, and the board of directors and members of Camp Garagona are with me on this, is that we be there to encourage other community stuff. They are not a community organization, but they are very innovative, they are offering a new service, and the territory is bigger than Brome-Missiquoi, it’s all of Quebec. It seems like a natural fit.”

Brien mentioned that sharing Camp Garagona’s property, as well as other things like its costume room, with L’École Brimbalante will help it better cover its costs and provide a unique experience for campers and the community at large.

“There’s a business base for this and we are going into business together as a landlord and tenant, but definitely, philosophically, Annab and I see eye-to-eye on social development and devolvement in the community,” added Brien. “We are doing things for people rather than a business transaction. There are lots of win-wins at the community level.”

L’École Brimbalante is offering two trainings sessions in the spring from May 23 to May 28 and again from June 6 to June 11. It will officially open at the end of August, 2022 and will continue throughout the year up until June 2023, when Camp Garagona starts its summer camp.

The training and workshops are open to all adults 20 years and older.

“You don’t have to be a professional artist, it’s for the larger public. I don’t want people to be shy to try something. We can also offer cabaret publique so we will offer some shows to the local population. We will do this on the side and present shows in the street, like a parade.”

Information and registration can be found on L’École Brimbalante’s website.

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