Meet Cellist And Clown Karen Hall

Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?

I’m a cellist and clown. It took more than a few years of doing both before I believed the two worlds could co-exist in a state of play or professionalism but, here I am. Both my parents are pianists and I grew up surrounded by music and music education. When I was in 3rd grade I started playing the cello and, as most people could guess, being a cellist requires a lot of discipline and focus. I’ve spent thousands and thousands of hours in rehearsals and practice rooms refining my skill.

LA has been mostly good to me and my music career. I was the cellist on Glee for four seasons, I’ve played major venues like the Hollywood Bowl, and TV spots like the American Music Awards, and been able to maintain a steady resume of both classical and commercial work.

I found clown after a few months in the improv program at Second City when a classmate connected me to an indie improv/clowning duo that often had musicians sit in with them. I began playing 20-minute sets with them in these tiny comedy venues around LA that were just torture for me as a classical musician. It seemed an impossible task to sit on stage without feeling held to the standards of the instrument or my training. Thank God they stuck with me and I stuck with them because after a few years I settled into the state of chaos, uncertainty, failure, and eternal hope that the clown lives in.

I went through the programs at Second City, iO West, and Groundlings but became more invested in the clown world. Currently, I’m performing the third Sunday of every month at the Elysian Theater with a Fluxus-inspired, avant-garde clown troupe that performs 26 pieces of performance art in one hour. It’s called The Nonsemble Presents: The Month Long Ham Festival and the show morphes every month into something new.

What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?

I’m sure there are other cellists out there in the world who are fusing music and comedy but I’ve come to discover more and more what my unique voice as a clown is. I’m undoubtedly a sad clown and find my sets greatly draw on pathos and exorcising the feelings of perfectionism and pressure I think everyone struggles with.

The cello alone seems to be a symbol of these ideas and yet, I completely love it at the same time. I’ve found a lot of ease and freedom in sliding into these spaces that most people try so hard to avoid or hide.

Audiences seem to respond really well to watching the poise of a 5’10”, blonde, classically trained cellist crack and fall. I’m aware that sounds like a rational human’s worst nightmare but I hope all my students and audiences come to find they have permission to sit with those feelings too.

Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.

I knew fairly immediately I was going to play the cello and I knew fairly immediately I was going to be in comedy. They were just these bizarre “wand chooses the wizard” type moments where it all made sense. Fusing them together has, honestly, been slightly terrifying. There’s so much weight and internal passion behind it that it amplifies the feelings of fear. What if nobody likes what I’m doing? What if everybody likes what I’m doing? What will I do afterward?

2021 was a year of pretty continuous hardship including a tailbone fracture that left me in bed for five weeks wondering what the other side of this injury would look like. Would I have chronic pain when sitting? Would cello playing become unbearable? Would movement be limited? Just this crippling anxiety on top of a global pandemic.

Coming out of the injury my career has actually been even better and yet under that is now a drive that if I’m not doing the thing I was born to do, getting up on stage, telling stories, playing, moving, sharing music, then what’s the point? Having it taken away was far more anxiety-producing than the anxiety of putting it out into the world could ever be.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?

Well, I sort of just answered this. I highly, highly advise against fracturing your tailbone, not having good medical coverage, going through extreme family stress, financial stress, a global pandemic, physical therapy, mental therapy, a breakup, and a re-closing down of all work, shows, and venues within an eight-month period.

I think I’m going to be processing 2021 for the next ten years of my life… I spent a lot of time learning about suffering during that time. My pastor has said before, “God is more interested in your character than your comfort.” I’m not always sure if that’s a comforting thought. It’s one I definitely wrestle with daily and vocally. What I do know is that I am in control of who I become.

There’s always “the other side” to everything we go through and we get to choose who we are in that space. I am in control of who I am on the other side of my challenges. I’m in control of the way I tell the stories and I hope that someone else relates to a part of it and is inspired to a more positive place in their journey.

Who are the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could elevate your career or business? Why these specific individuals?

I want to play a viola/cello duet with John Oliver. So many performing arts groups struggled through the pandemic and I’d love to collaborate on some fundraising for musicians in need.

Similarly, I know Rachel Dratch played cello way back in the day. She did a blackout on the Second City MainStage in Chicago that I watched on DVD out here and it changed my life. The whole bit didn’t even last two minutes and it completely made me believe I could do anything I wanted in comedy using what was already available to me. If she wanted to produce my show, I wouldn’t say no.

The third, is probably Weird Al. I started out writing a lot of parody and I will never give up on the dream that he and I will work together someday.

Drop your social media links.

Vianka Petines
Vianka Petines
Vianka is a bright, savvy, and capable marketing publicist. She brings a breath of fresh air with a very sound approach to strategy and campaign development. We're excited to have her on the team :)

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