Lisa Suitner has a kind of love-hate relationship with her life as a female clown – facing failure and celebrating it in order to touch people is considered a supreme discipline within the performing arts. And, because this particular globetrotter fears nothing and was even forced to confront death at an early age, bidding farewell, death and loneliness are important topics that she keeps returning to in her routines.
Lisa Suitner first stood on the stage at school where she also acquainted herself with competitive sports as a figure skater and volleyball player before entering the world of music and theatre. She was always drawn to the stage. She wanted to go drama school after finishing high school – but things turned out differently and, instead of the sensible career path that her parents had wanted her to take, she set off for India. She travelled, exploring the world and making a living from busking while living in hippie communes before meeting a young man from Spain along the way. They moved to his home when she fell pregnant. A friend from Germany visited the young family in the Spanish village and took along a clown’s nose as a gift. That was one of those moments – Lisa Suitner knew then that she wanted to train as a clown and health clown and travelled back and forth between Spain, Vorarlberg and Constance once a month for three years to study clowning.
Lisa returned to live in Vorarlberg when the couple separated but her ex-partner followed her to Feldkirch so that the family has remained a well-functioning unit. “We’re a good team and when I develop a new piece, I discuss it with him first. My son has now started to join in as well.”
The 12-year-old has been watching his mother performing on stage, accompanying her to festivals and listening to her busking since early childhood. So he’s developed an eye for dramaturgy and likes to contribute ideas. His mother doesn’t know whether he also wants to tread the boards when he grows up, “My son recently said to me that I needed to get a different job if I wanted to earn a lot of money.”She adds, “He’s absolutely right, of course.”
She’s nevertheless been freelancing since 2013. That was also when a director approached her and proposed a joint production for a solo piece. An encounter that resulted in Lisa Suitner’s first theatre production that was entitled, ‘Ablaufdatum – Geschichten eines Clowns’ (‘Expiration Date – Clown Stories’). The piece was about palliative care and was a success for quite a while. ‘Heute ist ein schöner Tag zum Sterben’ (‘Today’s a Good Day to Die’) was the self-explanatory title of her next own production. The central themes she tackles with both humour and the required depth include borderline experiences, friendships, loneliness and interchangeability. “Clowns generally fail in the small things. I love clowns who manage with just a few props. I like my routines to be able to fit into a single box if possible,” says Lisa Suitner explaining her approach.
She’s also been performing more regularly on stage in Vorarlberg for a while now. And she’s in the process of developing her fourth own production – in addition to the many joint projects that have been realised and enriching Feldkirch’s music school as a clown – that’s where the children learn, for example, how to overcome performance anxieties because Lisa stops them from focusing on their fear with her humorous interventions. She did, however, take a short break from building up her network in the region to go to circus school in Spain. “As a figure skater, I was in great physical shape and did somersaults and other wild stuff. I was young then. In 2016, I wanted to know what my body could still do at the age of 30 and I specialised in partner acrobatics and slack rope at the school. That’s a 12-centimetre-thick ship’s rope.”
It soon became clear that it wasn’t possible to reconcile the hard training with the demands of being self-employed and a mother – nevertheless, she’s a virtuoso in drawing on all the skills she’s acquired throughout her colourful life and plays an outrageously large number of instruments reasonably well and loves her work, which takes her to her limits. As you’d expect from a love-hate relationship.
The region’s performance venues have faced great challenges over recent months and the organisers needed to be flexible and creative – but cultural life in the Lake Constance region is as vibrant as ever and people like Lisa Suitner will always find a way to work even in difficult times. The interplay between wonderful experiences in nature, culinary highlights and an extraordinary density of cultural events will continue – with and without social distancing. The lively clown’s latest piece for the stage recently enjoyed its première at the Spielboden and, during lockdown, she simply turned her hand to busking. Lisa Suitner is an example of the inventiveness and adaptability of the region’s innovative forces. Life is beautiful precisely because things can sometimes go so wrong.