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Heather Marie Annis, top, is Morro and Amy Lee is Jasp.
Heather Marie Annis, top, is Morro and Amy Lee is Jasp.

The Insider

Clowning around with Steinbeck Add to ...

With Of Mice and Morro and Jasp, the sisters-in-clown duo Heather Marie Annis (Morro) and Amy Lee (Jasp) put a red nose on Steinbeck’s dust bowl novel. We spoke to Ms. Lee about tragedy, Charlie Chaplin and red-nosed mayors.

I think people have different notions of what clowning is all about. Do Morro and Jasp compare to Barnum & Bailey clowns, Cirque du Soleil clowns or are you closer in style to Canada’s Mump & Smoot?

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Heather and I trained with Pete Jarvis, who is better known as Silver Elvis. He does busking outside the Eaton Centre. He studied with Richard Pochinko, who Mump & Smoot also trained with. So, we all studied the same kind of clown, which is sometimes known as “clown through mask.” Some people call it Pochinko Clown.

As Morro and Jasp, though, you two are a little less intense than Mump & Smoot, aren’t you?

Well, Morro and Jasp have grown up over the years. And now with this show, we’re doing Steinbeck tragedy.

The reviews have been positive. One mentioned the “we laughed, we cried” thing. What’s to laugh about, and what’s to cry about?

That’s a great question. With Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, there is this amazing story of friendship, hope and, ultimately, tragedy. People laugh at clowns going through tragedy. They see themselves, and I think they’re happy it’s not happening to them. So it’s a laughter of relief. Or sometimes it’s the ridiculous situations we get ourselves into. People cry, not necessarily at the tragedy, but at the hope and joy in this show.

But Steinbeck is fatalistic. I would argue that any hope in Of Mice and Men is a hope against hope.

Well, the characters do have a dream and they’re very serious and practical about making the dream come true.

Charlie Chaplin said, “I remain just one thing, and one thing only – and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.” Can you respond to that?

I think our role as clowns is to point out all the insanity in the world, and the truth, that people sometimes don’t like to talk about. In terms of politics, Heather and I once thought Morro and Jasp should run for mayor. With recent events, it doesn’t seem all that impossible.

You see Mayor Ford as a clown?

I don’t know if we want to include him among our kind.

Maybe a red nose would help. It would at least relieve some of the tension.

Absolutely. The nose says to everybody “we’re playing a game,” and it makes everyone relax because they know we’re all in on the game together. [Laughs] So, yes, put a nose on him and everything will be okay.

Of Mice and Morro and Jasp, Jan. 29 to Feb. 8 (PWYC preview, Jan. 28). $20 to $25. Factory Studio Theatre, 125 Bathurst St., 416-504-9971 or factorytheatre.ca

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