Becoming Zombo (Theatre Bizarre 2013)

As the application period for this year’s Theatre Bizarre production nears its deadline, read about Mark Brown’s transformation into sinister Theatre Bizarre mascot Zombo the Clown and his duet with Roxi D’Lite.

If you want to apply to perform at Theatre Bizarre in 2014, you can find details below. Burlesque performers are considered alongside other variety acts, and those accepted will join an exceptional collection of all-star stripteasers who have joined previous Theatre Bizarre casts.

In 2012 I was invited to perform a couple of burlesque striptease acts at Theatre Bizarre. The experience was epic, of course. The Masonic Temple alone blew my mind, so adding the Theatre Bizarre experience on top of that made for yet another surreal moment in my career as a burlesque performer.

In 2013, Roxi D’Lite asked me if I would come back to play the role of Zombo the Clown in her new burlesque act in which she plays Zombo’s mistress in mourning. In my head I thought, why me? I mean yes, I do look like a skeleton, but surely there are many performers far more knowledgeable about the rich history of Theatre Bizarre that deserve this honour. The things is, when Roxi D’Lite asks you to perform with her there is really only one rational answer: ‘Yes!’

Mark Brown begins his transformation into Zombo the Clown at Theatre Bizarre 2013.  ©Mark Brown
Mark Brown begins his transformation into Zombo the Clown at Theatre Bizarre 2013. ©Mark Brown

I’d known Roxi for years. We’d been in shows together but this would be our first time doing an act together. So between Toronto and Windsor we created and rehearsed the choreography. I gathered as much info on the character of Zombo as I could but still felt like a bit of a fraud. It was like a casual Star Trek fan being offered the role of Captain Kirk. I believe that I’m good at what I do, but this was different. Surely the devoted Theatre Bizarre community would see right through this charade. Let me just say, thank God for costume and makeup.

Mark Brown continues his transformation into Zombo the Clown at Theatre Bizarre 2013. ©Mark Brown
Mark Brown continues his transformation into Zombo the Clown at Theatre Bizarre 2013. ©Mark Brown

The costume was custom designed by Dana McCombs. Then, on the night of show I had my makeup done. This was amazing. It was also when I realised that in the hands of these artists, even a tree stump would have made a convincing Zombo. With the costume on and after an hour of glue, prosthetics and air brushing, there was no trace of me left. I was completely transformed. The coolest part was that when I moved my mouth the prosthetic skeleton jaw moved with it. It was as if I actually had a talking skull face. Like Skeletor, but sleazier.

Mark Brown continues his transformation into Zombo the Clown at Theatre Bizarre 2013. ©Mark Brown
Mark Brown continues his transformation into Zombo the Clown at Theatre Bizarre 2013. ©Mark Brown

The only part that wasn’t ready yet was the hat. It still needed to have stripes painted on it.   Another actor was also dressed as Zombo and was popping up in various places around the temple interacting with guests. His hat had the stripes, so a couple of folks went looking for him so we could trade. But as showtime neared, they were unable to find him. I climbed into the box that would allow me to make my appearance from below the coffin. This part was a bit scary. I’m not super claustrophobic but being sealed into a wooden crate can bring out the claustrophobe in anyone. During rehearsal I really had to work at ‘not freaking out’ while I was in there. So this time, the lovely stage crew provided me with water, snacks and a flashlight! It doesn’t seem like much but it made all the difference in the world.

Transformation complete: Mark Brown as Zombo the Clown at Theatre Bizarre 2013.  ©Mark Brown
Transformation complete: Mark Brown as Zombo the Clown at Theatre Bizarre 2013. ©Mark Brown

With a couple of minutes before the act was to begin, the was still no sign of the other Zombo, so the stage manager started sealing me in. The top of the crate was piece of black fabric that was staple-gunned on. With seconds to go, and just before the last couple of staples were about to go in, he stopped. Suddenly I heard him yell, ‘Give me your hat!’  I yanked it off and pushed it through the remaining gap in the fabric. Another hat (this one with stripes!) was shoved in and then thunk, thunk, thunk, the last staples went in and the cart was rolled out. Talk about an Indiana Jones moment!

Roxi D'Lite with Mark Brown as Zombo the Clown backstage at Theatre Bizarre 2013. ©Theatre Bizarre
Roxi D’Lite with Mark Brown as Zombo the Clown backstage at Theatre Bizarre 2013. ©Theatre Bizarre

Inside the crate I reached for my flashlight and turned it on. Looking around it felt like being on a sleepover in a tree house. It was cramped, made of wood and all I had was a flashlight, some snacks and the Xacto knife that I needed to cut my way out when the time came. I actually giggled to myself and thought, ‘Is this really my life? Am I actually here, dressed up as skeleton clown, sealed into a wooden crate in the ballroom of the Masonic Temple, like a magician’s assistant, waiting for my cue to pop up through the false bottom of a coffin so that I can do a choreographed striptease with one of the best burlesque dancers in the world? My God, I’m lucky.’

Mark Brown

Want to perform at Theatre Bizarre 2014? Here are the sign-up deadlines. All wishing to be a part of this year’s event must register by the following dates:

*July 1st cutoff for Burlesque Performers.*
October 1st cutoff for Volunteers and Stage Hands.

www.TheatreBizarre.com



21st Century Burlesque
21st Century Burlesque

Quoted in major international newspapers and held in high esteem and affection by the international burlesque community, 21st Century Burlesque Magazine has documented the contemporary burlesque scene since 2007. Founded and edited by Holli-Mae Johnson.

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