Two clowns are better than one, say Luz Gaxiola and Molly Shannon of Duo Finelli, who’ll perform their slapstick sister act Friday, March 24, in Olympia. “Performing as a clown duo is really fun,” said Gaxiola, a familiar face on local stages. “It allows you to take more daring risks onstage and know your partner has your back. … Clown teamwork makes a show really kinetic and exciting.”
The Friday show is Shannon’s Olympia debut and the first local opportunity to see Duo Finelli, which has performed nationally and internationally. Also on the bill for the all-ages performance: Dulcito (aka Jonathan Anaya Paredes of Kent), a fourth-generation circus artist from Peru.
Duo Finelli’s debut will give locals a look at another facet of the work of Gaxiola, known for her accordion and her infinite variety of facial expressions as well as for her theatrical versatility. In the past year, she’s acted (in String & Shadow Puppet Theater’s Far Away and Hard to Find), directed (Olympia Family Theater’s Nyx & the Long Night) and written a play (for OFT’s Tales Told in Ten).
“Luz embodies the essence of clown,” said Shannon of San Francisco, who met Gaxiola at the San Francisco Clown Conservatory. “She is a true prankster at heart. She thrives in chaos and is ready to find the play in any moment. One of the most fun things to do is to watch Luz enter any space, with any group of people, and get a party started with her accordion.
“The most enjoyable part of performing for me is playing with a partner onstage,” Shannon told OLY ARTS. “In a duo, you have two clowns existing together in a world that has its own particular set of rules and logic.”
Friday’s show will find the twosome juggling, doing a bit of magic, and combining well-honed routines with the readiness to roll with whatever happens. But it’s not what they do that matters, Gaxiola said. “The funniest clowns I’ve seen have been really old people who’ve been doing it a long time, and they don’t really do anything,” she told OLY ARTS. “They just come on the stage and stand there, and it’s hilarious.
“We’re doing a show, but we’re also just hanging out,” she said. “We’re eating lunch; we’re taking a nap, A lot of physical comedy unfolds in that process.” Though the performance is happening closer to dinnertime, Gaxiola is not joking about the food. “I am pretty excited to do our cheese sandwich act,” she said. “That’s one thing I can’t do by myself. I need Molly for the cheese sandwich act.”
Duo Finelli’s slapstick physical comedy is in the mold of such classic twosomes as Laurel and Hardy. Like their inspirations, Gaxiola and Shannon find humor in their contrasting qualities — fast and slow, neat and messy, dressed up and relaxed. “Molly and I have similar senses of humor, but we are pretty different people, so we play up the contrasts in her our personalities for comedic effect,” Gaxiola said.
Though they often perform wearing red noses, the twosome aren’t the kind of clowns you might see in a three-ring circus, relating more to the likes of Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. “To me, the biggest difference between clowning and acting in a standard play is that there’s no fourth wall,” Gaxiola said. “The clown is always with the audience. A lot of plays create a world that the audience can peer into. A clown is the host of a world that they want to share with the audience.”
Among the audiences Duo Finelli has invited into its wacky world are communities in crisis through Clowns Without Borders. In September, the pair toured with two Mexican clowns in Puebla, Mexico, and Mexico City. “The focus of the tour was clowning for girls who had been victims of human trafficking,” Gaxiola said. “In some cases, the girls were not able to leave the shelter for safety reasons, so bringing live entertainment to them was a big deal.”
Duo Finelli with Dulcito
7 p.m. March 24; doors open at 6:30
Airbound Arts, 312 Columbia St. NW, Olympia
$5-$25 sliding scale at the door