Stars of the AVT #40: Hilary Chaplain

Photo by Nelson Bakerman

This post is one of a series profiling the hundreds of performers I’ve presented through my American Vaudeville Theatre in celebration of its 15th anniversary. Don’t miss the American Vaudeville Theatre’s 15th Anniversary ExTRAVaganza in the New York International Fringe Festival this August!

I’m proud to have presented Hilary Chaplain many times over the years: in 1998 at Surf Reality, in 2002 at New-York Historical Society, and at 2008 at Theeater for the New City.

I first knew her as a Big Apple Circus hospital clown (she’s worked there since 1987; I was there as an administrator in the mid 90s), and she’s also a founding member of the New York Goofs, whom I’ve raved about here. She was an original cast member in Bill Irwin’s Largely/New Yorkand appeared on Broadway and at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park as the Goddess Ceres in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of The Tempest directed by George C. Wolfe. She played a featured role in the movie Forrest Gump, and a lawyer on Law and Order Criminal Intent.She is currently touring the globe  with her award winning solo show A Life in Her Day.

Hilary is one of the few artists I know who actually resembles the people she cites as influences and inspirations. That is, she emulates them SUCCESSFULLY. While many women go into clowning, fewer of them go in for slapstick per se. Hilary is a master at it. Thus it is not surprising that Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett and Imogene Coca top her list, nor, truth to tell, Charlie Chaplin, Sid Caesar or the Three Stooges. She also cites some “clownier” folks: Tony Montanaro and the Celebration Mime Theatre, Bill Irwin, Avner the Eccentric (Eisenberg), Ronlin Foreman, Bob Berky, David Shiner, and Swiss clown Gardi Hutter.

And here she is, being her own inimitable self, in my 2008 revue No Applause, Just Throw Money:

To learn more about vaudeville past and presentconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.

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