Actress Courtney Cunningham takes clowning around very seriously. And, rightly so…considering she’s been racking up awards and gaining tons of fan support for her solo adult clown show, “Poofy du Vey in ‘BURDEN OF POOF”.
Currently running as part of the Hollywood Fringe Fest, Courtney transforms into Poofy du Vey, a bundle of nerves with big dreams and even bigger fears. Poofy’s got a lot to say if she could only remember what that was. And, she’s not a clown for the kiddies, blurting out profanities, flirting with the audience and even attempting a striptease.
Courtney and her original stage show has earned rave review from critics and a slew of awards, including Best Show at London Fringe, Best Bet at Orlando Fringe, Audience Choice Award at Ottawa Fringe, Funny Face Award at Winnipeg Fringe and a nominee for the Golden Nose Award for Best Clown at the New York Downtown Clown Festival.
Courtney has studied with some of the top clown coaches, which lead her to develop Poofy in the neo-vaudeville scene in New York. She earned a degree in Classical Acting from Richmond University in London and is a graduate of the Dell 'Arte International School of Physical Theatre in California.
For her on-screen acting work, Courtney won “Best Actress in a Drama” at the 2009 Albuquerque 48 Hour Film Festival and was included in Backstage Magazine's “Casting Standouts of 2010”. She also appeared on the CBS series “Criminal Minds” and opposite John Hawkes in the 2014 Sundance Fest’s “Low Down.”
Behind the camera, Courtney made her directorial debut with the indie short, "The Bed Bug Thing," which racked up numerous festival awards including "Best Romantic Comedy" at the Atlanta Shortsfest. Last fall, she directed and starred in the comedy web series, “Act-Anon,” which screened at the 7-Waves Shorts-n-Stuff Film Festival.
We recently caught up with Courtney Cunningham to chat about “Poofy du Vey ‘BURDEN OF POOF” and more.
For those who haven’t seen it yet, tell us a bit about your solo show “Poofy du Vey in ‘Burden of Poof.”
COURTNEY: Well, the tagline of "Burden of Poof" is “Poofy’s got a lot to say, if she could only remember what that was”, which definitely sums up the action of the show. But what I will also say is that it’s not what a lot of people expect, or fear, a clown show to be. I talk… a lot. Which isn’t always expected. I also curse… a lot. Which is why it’s not for kids. The first 5 minutes of the show are so much fun for me because it’s where Poofy and the audience meet and suss each other out. It’s a bit of “You’re here. I’m here. Ok, let’s do this.” Every show is different for me because every audience is different. And I love that. The show is funny in some moments and darker in others. It’s a very honest ride and we’re all in it together which is why I keep doing it.
What was your inspiration behind this original show?
COURTNEY: Well, I always knew I wanted to create a solo show… I love to travel and solo shows are relatively easy to tour when compared to ensemble shows. Once I studied clown and realized how much I loved it, creating a solo clown show just made sense. Maybe not to my parents, but… they’ve come around.
I worked with several fantastic clown teachers during Poofy’s formative years and, whenever the conversation of creating a show came up, I was always asked the same question, "What do you want to say and how do you want to say it?" It’s a completely legitimate question when creating a show, but it also got me thinking, "What happens when you don't have anything to "say"? Is it enough to just want to be loved?" That question is what allowed the show to fall into place. That, and I really wanted to do a show where I got to eat a snack and do a dance number.
What do you hope audiences learn from “Poofy du Vey”?
COURTNEY: That we're all a bit spazzy and quirky and we all have our good and bad moments, but at the end of the day it really is ok to want to be loved, even if it scares the crap out of us.
Did you think you’d receive such a positive response or were you shocked by the audience and critics reaction to the show?
COURTNEY: I was definitely shocked. While putting “Burden of Poof” together, I created several stand-alone bits to perform at variety nights throughout lower Manhattan - to test them out and work out the kinks - so I knew those bits worked... but the show as a whole? I had no idea. The very first time I performed the show in its entirety was at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, one of the bigger festivals in Canada, and I was terrified. I had no idea what people would think. The Canadian Fringe circuit has a history of some fantastic clowns and I truly had no idea how Poofy or her show would stack up. So I can't even tell you how happy I was to receive such positive feedback. But the biggest compliment has always been how much people root for Poofy. The fact that people want her to succeed fills my heart and makes all of the work worth it.
Have you discovered anything new when performing it in other countries or even different regions of the U.S.?
COURTNEY: Thankfully, audiences seem to take the show in the same way. It’s getting them to actually see it where I’ve experienced the biggest difference. It has always been a bit of an uphill battle to get people to come to a “solo clown show” as part of a festival. And I totally get it. Before I studied clown I probably would’ve been just as hesitant. But it’s funny, in Canada, clowning is so much more a part of the culture these days… maybe because of Cirque du Soleil or because fringe festivals have been happening there for such a long time… that when I first started touring in Canada, part of the resistance felt like “Oh, really… ANOTHER clown show? Is it any good?” But after a few shows, good press and word of mouth, that got easier. In the States, I find people just look at you like, “Oh, that’s cute, but no”, because they think it’s for kids. Or better yet, “Seriously? Clown? I’m scared of clowns.” And I have Stephen King to thank for that. Except for Orlando! I had no problem the first time I performed in Orlando. There are so many performers that work at Disney that I suppose seeing a clown show is just part of the norm there. I loved that festival.
If you had to predict where “Poofy” (the character) will be in life 10 years from now…what would you say?
COURTNEY: Oh, geez. Well, my hope would be that she would be madly in love, eating an endless supply of chocolate cookies and having lots and lots of dance parties with her friends. My fear is that she will still be out on that desert road with all of her belongings, grumbling incoherently to herself.
Anything else coming up that you’d like to share with us?
COURTNEY: I would love love love for you to come to my show. Absolutely. I’m an actor and moved to LA for film and TV, but getting to clown and do a show that I created is what keeps me sane in this town. Having toured to so many different fringe festivals, I can tell you that the people who do these festivals, from the performers to administrators to the venue owners, do it because they also LOVE what they do. They love to play and get creative and share that with an audience. Festivals are rarely the place where artists make their bread and butter. But they are definitely the place where people get to pour their heart into their shows and do what they love. So please check out as many shows as possible. The cost of a show is comparable to a movie ticket or, in most cases, less. The Hollywood Fringe festival goes until the 29th, so there is still plenty of time to catch a bunch of shows and support live theatre. Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now. Oh, and go see Poofy du Vey in “Burden of Poof”.
And lastly, how can your fans keep up with your career?
Thanks, Courtney. Keep clowning...and we'll keep cheering you on!
Poofy du Vey in “BURDEN OF POOF”
The Hollywood Fringe Festival - June 14, 21 & 28
Schkapf aka Artworks Theatre - 6585 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets are $12 and available online at: www.HollywoodFringe.org