One of the Bay Area's most beloved actors and clowns has died.
Joan Mankin was 67, and was suffering from early dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) when she passed away on Saturday at home in San Francisco.
Mankin worked with Bay Area theater companies, large and small, from her debut in 1970 with the San Francisco Mime Troupe to more recent gigs with the American Conservatory Theater and California Shakespeare Theater, where she was a company member, to the tiny, Oakland-based Stagebridge troupe .
Mankin began her career as a pioneer female clown, inventing the comically self-absorbed character Queenie Moon for the now defunct Pickle Family Circus.
“She has empowered so many young women around the Bay Area to do physical theater,” said fellow Pickle clown Jeff Raz, who admired Mankin's commitment no matter how small or large the project. “When she worked with people, she was all there.”
Mankin taught physical acting and clown arts with Raz at San Francisco’s Clown Conservatory. “You’re talking about one strong woman.” Raz said. “She used to make our young virile clown students feel really bad when she would hold a handstand longer than anyone in class by a factor of three.”
Mankin also taught at Dell'Arte International in Blue Lake in far northern California, where Producing Artistic Director Michael Fields says she performed and taught classes in mask and a blend of martial arts and physical theater.
"Joan was this amazing, volatile force of nature," Fields said. "She leaves behind a great mark as an amazing actress, but on top of that, was a tremendous spokesperson for women and justice."
Jon Moscone, the former artistic director for the California Shakespeare Theater, recalls her work just as vividly.
"She was no mere mortal," Moscone said. "She was probably the most present individual I’ve ever met. She looked at you, when she performed, when she talked to you, and she was just connected.