Okay — clowns are seriously intruding on my consciousness lately. So many pieces of clown fluff have been floating my way, I thought it would make sense to paste them altogether into one monstrous post .
First, over the summer I had the honor of working for John Towsen, author of the seminal book Clowns (pictured above), writer of the physical comedy blog All Fall Down, and the organizer/ facilitator of the weekly NYC Physical Comedy Lab.
The big news from John at the moment (other than that you should read his book and blog and go to his workshop) is that he has been working with Italian clown Angela Delfini on her “3/4-woman show” Angela Delfini Explains It All For You. There is one more performance in the Brick’s NY Clown Theatre Festival this Sunday, September 23. I have seen clips, and she’s great! You should check it out. After this run, the show is touring the U.S.
Third, who did I stumble across at the Irish Rep’s 30th anniversary block party the other day but Bill Irwin! I was privileged to watch him do his thing with a crazy small audience, for free, on the street. I was like, “H’m…this should be a $75 ticket!” Anyway, Irwin’s doing a special original work at the Irish Rep called On Beckett. Previews open September 26, and the show will be open through November 4. I’ll be doing a feature on this show, as well. Look for it in the NYC Community Media family of papers in a couple of weeks.
Nextly, my good friend the kind-hearted clown Becca Bernard (with whom I closely worked for several months in 2014 in Dick Zigun’s Dead End Dummy at Coney Island USA and La Mama, see above) is embarking for Puerto Rico, where they badly need a laugh, through Clowns Without Borders. I think so highly of her for doing this, and wish I was going with her! The cause deserves your support. Here is a Crowdfunding page where you can do just that.
Nextly, clown/scholar/lawyer/author David Carlyon (author of the what will probably be the definitive book on Dan Rice for all time) has written a suis generis new book about his young clowning days. Published by Palgrave MacMillan as part of their Palgrave Studies in Theatre and Performance History, the new work is called The Education of a Circus Clown: Mentors, Audiences, Mistakes. Part history, part memoir, part unexpurgated diary, Carlyon takes us through a period in his young adulthood when he learned he’d passed the bar exam even while he was studying at the Ringling Brothers Clown College! And then he takes us past the fascinating period of his studies as he becomes a First of May, i.e. rookie clown, with RBBB’s blue unit for a season.
Now that RBBB has closed shop for good, Carlyon’s reminiscences have gone up in value like diamonds from a spent mine. It’s a valuable historical document to be sure, with lots of detail no outsider could ever dream of providing. Some of the writing is unexpectedly, even unnecessarily excellent, the sort of sentences and sense impressions one is more accustomed to coming across in fiction and poetry and “literary memoir” than a circus autobiography (that’s a thing, btw, i.e. circus autobiography. I’ve got a mess of ’em in my library!)
The book has given me an odd feeling of peace. When I was fresh out of high school (and even not so fresh), I agonized between two unorthodox possibilities for my post-secondary education. One was a theatrical conservatory at my local regional repertory theatre. The other was Ringling Bros. Clown College (that is, if they would have me). I chose the former. About a decade later I met so many graduates of the clown college, not just among circus people but among avant-garde theatre folk, that I really began to actively doubt the wisdom of my decision. Training in experimental theatre began to seem like preparation for a lifetime of penurious misery. Clowns, by contrast, seemed much happier. They had a trade they could use to confidently apply for work, and they always seemed to be working. But maybe the grass just seemed (and seems) greener? My big takeaway from Carlyon’s book was “Whew! Dodged a bullet! Guess I did the right thing!” The performance schedule is brutal and exhausting, the pay is low, the culture kind of hard and cold. I’m a private person; there’s no place to be by yourself in a circus. The accommodations are unclean and uncomfortable. Maybe I would have been okay when I was younger. Now, I’m like “No thanks!” I prefer romance. But Carlyon strips away the romance (even in the romance department!)
On the other hand, he did get to know, learn from, work with, some amazing people: Lou Jacobs, Bill Ballantine, John Camel, the King Charles Troupe, etc etc. Additionally there’s a handy helpful thumbnail history at the back for those who’ve never been With It to refer to. Get your copy of The Education of a Circus Clown here.