Clownery set an actor’s imagination free and helped her say goodbye to her inhibitions

Photo: Jonne Renvall

Laura Rämä finds that her joint degree in acting and theatre and drama research is a huge advantage in her work as an actor.

Curious, questioning and wondering.

These are three words actor Laura Rämä, 36, uses to describe the true essence of clowns. The words also describe her own persona as an actor.

Her journey to become a theatre professional who identifies with clowns took some time.

Rämä’s passion was sparked when visiting the theatre as a child: she was captivated by the atmosphere, excitement and darkness. An assistant’s job at Kouvola Theatre and admission to actor training at the University of Tampere five years later were important milestones on her path to becoming an actor.

The past seventeen years have included numerous productions, performances, work and study.

From a small country village to lecture halls

In 2001, Rämä walked the corridors of the University of Tampere as a young and curious 19-year-old. She had just started her studies in theatre and drama research and everything seemed new and wonderful. She had opened the door to a larger multidisciplinary world.

The multitude of new people and the abundance of life and excitement were amazing – but at the same time hard – for a girl from a small country village. For Rämä, university studies were an extraordinary time of learning.

“I used to open the doors of lecture halls and sit in the back row to listen to random lectures. No matter what the topic, they lured me right in,” Rämä says.

She started her acting studies in 2006, and her master’s degree in theatre and drama research had to wait during her acting studies, during which she found part of her identity as an actor.

Eyes opened to clownery

The acting students were encouraged to improvise and throw themselves into acting. Clownery was occasionally part of the training.

“Lecturer Hanno Eskola used clownery as a way to practise mental images, which liberated my imagination and released me from my inhibitions,” Rämä says.

Clownery continues to influence her work as an actor strongly, even in more traditional theatre. It has also opened up new job opportunities.

“Clownery has taken me to the strangest situations. It has led me to perform in market places and on the steps of the Parliament House. I’ve also performed a clown character whose nose is so big that it completely swallows her head,” Rämä says.

She points out that acting the part of a clown is not the same as being a circus clown. Performing as a clown has aroused questions about various taboos and the limits of humour and conventionality.

“Where is the clown welcome in this society? What happens when a clown comes to a funeral? I was once invited to a funeral as a clown. It seemed to me that with the appearance of the clown, the mourning relatives were also allowed to laugh and celebrate life from another perspective,” Rämä explains.

The role of the clown may also be assumed in surprising places. In 2011, Rämä started to perform in hospitals. Visits to hospitals are not based on a script; instead, performances are improvised to suit the situation.

“Sometimes something extraordinary is needed, and sometimes we just breathe with the child patients. The clowns help the nursing staff and bring instantaneous relief to the children. We try to provide moments of respite from the monotonous hospital routines”, Rämä explains.

Photo: Jonne Renvall

Solo performances as a clown are a part of Laura Rämä’s work. The Big Nose character has performed, among other places, on the stairs of the Parliament House.

Pole dancing in living rooms

A couple of years ago, Rämä received a three-year scholarship from the Finnish Cultural Foundation. The funding – for independent artistic work – has made possible several productions. Next autumn, she will be involved in three freelance performances.

At the moment, she is working on the first production of her own; a working group of five people will bring performances into people’s living rooms.

“The show includes pole dancing and Finnish folk traditions,” Rämä says.

Her work also includes other things than performances and productions. Rämä is one of the authors of a collection of articles on hospital clowns, in which she is able to air her own experiences. In addition, her workday may consist of supervising theses or giving lectures.

“My work is versatile, which feels great,” Rämä says.

Art and research support one another

Rämä graduated with a joint degree from the University of Tampere in the spring. The combination of acting work and theatre and drama research is rare, which Rämä says is no surprise.

“There is not much use for a joint degree on an actor’s CV. However, both of these studies have helped me to do the particular jobs that I am doing. After writing my thesis, I am better at analysing my own professional experiences,” Rämä explains.

Touch, which is the theme of her thesis, is closely related to acting and clownery.

She encountered philosophical thoughts about touch as she was writing her thesis. In participatory theatre, touch has a major role in highlighting the ethical issues of interaction in art. The issue of responsible behaviour is raised when Rämä ponders her identity as an actor.

“An actor creates a certain perspective of the world, and this comes with responsibility. That’s why I think that I am responsible for the choices I make and maintain as an actor,” Rämä says.

Text: Milla Pyyny
Photographs: Jonne Renvall