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September 6, 2022

Return to Clown Bar: Adam Szymkowicz on His New Sequel


Clown Bar 2 (US/UK) is a hilariously wackadoo sequel to the enormously popular dark comedy Clown Bar (US/UK). Playwright Adam Szymkowicz, author of Kodachrome and Marion, or the True Tale of Robin Hood, recounts the story of the show’s birth.

In 2011, Daniel Talbott told a bunch of playwrights if they wrote a play for the back room of the bar at Jimmy’s Number 43, he would produce them. A lot of playwrights who were much fancier than me said yes to this. (See the Cino Nights books, here and here, to read all the plays produced in that series.)

I decided to write an idea that had been kicking around in my head about some gangster clowns and called it Clown Bar. It was bonkers, but it was a play I wanted to exist and so I had to write it into existence. It had a cast of ten, was an hour long and had burlesque and four songs in it. In other words, it’s all the things you shouldn’t do if you want to get a play produced. You should have four actors, maybe two. It should be at least 90 minutes. Keep the number of prostitutes in it to a minimum and maybe don’t murder clowns.

But Daniel and Addie and Rising Phoenix said yes, they will do the play, ten people was fine, songs are good, we’ll put up some balloons, and they were into my idea about giving everyone in the audience clown noses. Kip Fagan, a genius, directed, we had an amazing cast, and it was a lot of fun and I assumed no one would ever do it again.

But I did send it around, and one of the places I sent it was Pipeline Theater in NYC. They did a reading, and the reading went really well, and the actors in the company were really pulling for it. So almost two years later, with a lot of people putting in a tremendous amount of work, it went up at Parkside Lounge, another bar in New York. Andrew Neisler, another genius, directed, and the cast was phenomenal, and it was a New York Times Critic’s Pick.

About a year after that, it was remounted in NYC at the Box with most of the same cast. Samuel French, now Concord Theatricals, published it, and Claire’s clown face was on the cover of the book, and I was overjoyed that it would go out into the world. Would anyone do it? Maybe so. Maybe not.

And since then, it’s had fifty-some productions, with new productions happening all the time. It’s been to Nashville and New Orleans. It’s been performed in Korean, in Seoul. It’s had productions in Austria and England and Canada. It’s run for three years in Turkey, in Turkish.

My dream was that it would have long runs in multiple cities. Majestic Rep, a company in Vegas, has come closest to that, producing the play three times and also taking it to the Viper Room in LA. A couple years ago, I sent Troy from Majestic a message saying, “Hey, if I had an idea for a Clown Bar sequel, would you commission it?” He responded that they had never commissioned anything but yes, they would. So he gave me some money and then I had to figure out how to write what happened after the events of Clown Bar.

Writing Clown Bar 2 was a lot of fun. Again, people don’t generally write sequels to plays. And most of the characters die in Clown Bar. It’s like writing Hamlet 2. But I reread the play and started writing and it was surprisingly easy to get back into that world. It had been almost ten years, but it was like the bar had been waiting for me all that time. The Clown Bar is a joyous place to be and it’s a little outrageous and hopefully more than a little funny. There were lots of new characters and they were clowny and Petunia and Popo were still there and it’s really their play.

It was supposed to go up in 2020 at Majestic Rep but then there was a pandemic. It finally did go up this summer and I was there to see it and to tinker and rewrite. Troy deeply understands the wackadoo world of Clown Bar and he made the sequel very funny. Unfortunately, that production is over now, but you can still read it and do it yourself.

It’s made to be performed in rep with Clown Bar, if you wanted to do that. And many characters who have minor parts in one play have bigger parts in the other. I have not yet seen them one right after another, but if you do that, please invite me to come see it.

I am deeply proud of my Clown Bar franchise. It is not my most-produced play, but it is the play people think of when they think of me, for better or worse. The photos from the productions are very evocative and are all over Instagram and the show happens around the audience so it’s a unique experience.

If you are afraid of clowns – and I have learned a lot of people are – there is no reason to subject yourself to my clown plays, although I assure you, they’re harmless. Even though people like to do Clown Bar around Halloween, these clowns are not scary clowns. They are murderous gangsters and dangerous prostitutes, but they bleed glitter. No harm will come to you.

To purchase a script or license a production of Clown Bar or Clown Bar 2, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header Image: 2022 Majestic Repertory Theatre production of Clown Bar 2 (Chase Stevens)