An Exploration of Clowning and Gender

  • Leah Fisher

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


This thesis analyses the development of the relationship between gender and clowning from a historical context to a contemporary one. The purpose of this is to gain insight into the traditional clown figure which has become synonymous with masculinity, despite it being described as androgynous or neutral. The result of this has been that explicitly female clowns have come to be considered characters, and not valid clown performers. The analysis will be conducted using established principles of clowning alongside a gendered categorisation of otherness.

The analysis begins with a discussion surrounding two historic female clowns, Evetta Matthews and Lulu Adams, who performed in circuses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This chapter explores the idea that these women were used to play a clown character and not considered as real members of the clowning industry as a whole. As the thesis moves further into the twentieth century it discusses the work of French circus clown Annie Fratellini, who functions as a transitional figure between the historical and the contemporary. It argues that while her practice is heavily linked to traditional circus clowning, it becomes progressive in her sense of status within the role of clown and her work to provide opportunities in clowning to those born outside of the circus. Finally, the thesis analyses two contemporary clowns: Maggie Irving, a feminist clown; and Angela de Castro, a gender fluid clown. It is also at this stage where the thesis moves away from the circus and into theatre clowning. The aim of this final chapter is to demonstrate how practices have developed from the historical and transitional female clowns, through to the use of a feminist clown practice and an identity-based practice.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDave Calvert (Main Supervisor)

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