Tribe of Fools tackles sex ed through clowning

South Philly residents write and perform original work “Clown Sex Ed.”


Photo courtesy of Plate 3 Photography.

For most of us, learning about the birds and the bees was not a particularly pleasant experience.

Whether “the talk” was with parents, gym teachers or even nuns, most people can recall an awkward – and sometimes inaccurate – introduction to sex.

In its most recent original production, Tribe of Fools, a local troupe founded by West Passyunk resident Terry Brennan, is examining those infancy conversations with an unusual theatrical medium – clowning.

Both written and performed by company members Zachary Chiero and Tara Demmy, “Clown Sex Ed,” which is running at the Second Stage at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St., through Feb.17, is romping and revamping sexual education through the perspectives of red-nosed nincompoops.

“We had been thinking about the project for a while,” Chiero said.  “And it just seemed like the right time for it…it’s truly an epidemic – the misinformation that’s been out there for a ridiculously long amount of time – is frightening, frankly.”

Reflecting on their own flawed sexual educations, Chiero, who is also a West Passyunk resident, and Demmy, a former resident of East Passyunk Crossing, wanted to tackle the taboo topic for the company’s third springtime show, which is directed by Lexa Grace.

“Sex ed is something that we kind of noticed is universally inconsistent and inaccurate in a lot of different ways….We noted, upon talking about this, that we all have a shared trauma that came with any number of our sex ed experiences,” Chiero said.  “And we thought it was a really important and timely thing to be talking about at a time where things are so divisive and people are angry and secretive and afraid of emotion – we wanted to make a push for intimacy and communication and having two clowns figure out sex ed is like the best way to do that, isn’t it?”

Founded in 2003, Tribe of Fools, which exercises nearly every procedure of performance, such as dance, acrobatics, parkour and, of course, clowning, produces devised comedic theater but with a subtle thread of seriousness.

Addressing matters like gun control and learning disabilities in past productions,  “Clown Sex Ed” resumes the company’s mission to shed light on certain issues the best way it knows how  – through laughter.

“When people laugh, they open up,” Demmy said. “When people laugh, they open up in a way that then they are able to think about changing, I think.”

As the duo approached their first original written work for Tribe of Fools, there were a few core elements of sexual education they felt should be featured, including STDs, contraception and consent.

Photo courtesy of Plate 3 Photography.

The plot, which follows two clowns as they sit in on ordinary sex ed scenarios, such as lessons from gym teachers and nuns, aims to break down walls often built around these contentious but very real topics.

While sparking discussion, the thespians also poke fun at actual curriculums they’ve encountered, such as using clear tape to represent virginity.

“We take and reframe those general things that you got in your gym class, from your parents, that kind of thing,” Chiero said.  “But, I think the thing that we have tried to consistently push is the idea of intimacy and communication and how those can be healing, and also a path towards proper education.”

For Demmy and Chiero, using clowning as a lens to explore sexual education was a very conscious decision.

Existing in a world of connecting with their audiences, the naiveness and curisority of clowns’ nature serves as a metaphor for our own early – or perhaps current – approaches to sex.

“I describe clowns as their ability to see things for the first time like children…we examine nuns, gym teachers and parents,” Demmy said. “So, how can (clowns) take some of these models that we’re familiar with and see them in a new way? So, how can we create joy-based sex ed rather than fear-based sex ed – is like the underlying.”

Demmy and Chiero say the one-hour play is still a living, breathing piece of theater. They’re continuously revising the piece from show to show and considering feedback from audiences.

The team stresses that while they don’t necessarily expect to teach everybody something new, they hope it inspires theatergoers to talk after the show or, at least, attach a new, less tramuzing memory to sexual education.

If anything, it aims to teach people how to comfortably and openly explore their own feelings surrounding sex with partners and themselves.”

Photo courtesy of Plate 3 Photography.

“For me, that’s where the show lies,” Chiero said. “Being able to communicate with somebody and being really close to somebody and how that can be the best protection against many, many things besides just STDs or heartbreak.”

To purchase tickets, visit here.