Wednesday, September 29, 2010

#10. Ringling Bros. Clown College

Ever since my professor of movement at Emerson College Sarah Hickler made me be a fish getting caught and flopping to death out of water, I've wanted to be a clown. But opportunities for clowning don't present themselves like other performance opportunities. Very specific kinds of people hire clowns. Also, most people hate clowns, and I never had the nerve or know-how to seek out those roles.

And then, while looking for jobs on Craigslist two days ago, I found an entry for clown college auditions with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth.

Well, shut the front door.

It was at TD Banknorth Garden, home of the Celtics and the Bruins and some other guys. I'd never been there before. I imagined a stadium full of jugglers and tumblers. Nope. It was a conference room with 17 people.

One girl came up from New York. One guy came from Vermont. Another guy came from Kansas City. I was almost intimidated. Stakes were pretty high. But then there was a guy from Jamaica Plains, and I felt better.

Most of them had bags, briefcases, and other obvious props suggesting that they had well-practiced routines. All I had was the prop I had most often used throughout my career at Emerson: a wooden, spouted ladle that I was forced to buy from a crafts store in Cape Cod because I nudged it off of a shelf.

We all started stretching and mingling. Then we watched a shtick featuring clown college alumni Bucky and Mike. Mostly they spun plates and were jerks at each other, which was awesome. Then we were given a crash course in basic clown body language from Karen Hoyer, a specialist in mime and moving. I learned the science of looking SHOCKED and walking around like a doofus.

After a while, I realized that I was getting a clown workshop for free, and that it was awesome, and really encouraging. I can't do a cartwheel, but I can invest tremendous importance in imaginary situations and smile as bright as daylight.

After a break we all were granted the option to perform a routine or just watch. There were some really great performances; not just skilled, but clever, and fun. We all just wanted each other to have a great time. As for me, I certainly had an IDEA for a routine, but I wasn't that sure of how far I could take it.

I had hoped to do some research the day before while on the Mega Bus back up from New York, Marx Brothers or Three Stooges bits, but the wi-fi wasn't working. All I could do for that four and a half hour trip, aside from play Secret of Evermore, was meditate. Did I have to search for a routine that someone else had perfected? Or is the routine already within me?

Wielding the ladle, I took my position in front of everyone, saluted, and stood en garde. I went through all the drills of footwork and defensive positions. Then, suddenly, the spoon is knocked away - an invisible attacker! I fake left, dodge right, somersault over my weapon and immediately stand at the ready, only to find out that I forgot to grab the spoon during my roll. I do the "Look! Over there!" gag, go for the spoon and, after a flourish of parries, deal the fatal thrust to my opponent, which immediately grosses me out. I withdraw, smell the contents of the ladle, presumably the attacker's innards, and hesitantly take a sip.

And that was it, only with bigger, clownish strides and more double takes.

I was among those asked to be spoken to after the auditions. I sat across a table from Bucky, Mike, Karen, and the director of talent, who told me that I had a good energy throughout the process, and that

"You've got a great body. You've got a great body for clowning."

That felt good.

He then told me that any positions that they were looking to fill were for a touring production at the beginning of 2012 that would start rehearsal at the end of 2011. Would I be comfortable with audition again in New York come spring or summer? I said that I would.

Well, one way or the other, I still have to solve the problem of what to do between now and then. But at least I had some fun and met some cool dudes. I'd like to think that I would've had a good time even if I didn't have a clown body.

A woman with was doing a piece on the audition. She asked me what I thought a clown was. I thought of advice that Chelsea had given me the night before while I was formulating a routine.

"A clown does simple things in an impossible way."

Clowns are putting themselves out there all of the time. That's why people think they're obnoxious and/or scary. But they're always honest. They're the pure essence of performance.

Well this one's a little scary though

No headshots remain.


I'm on


  1. Hey, it's Terry on the tee-vee!

  2. Hi There, If you are not with the circus, wanta come clown with We just moved to Boston and are looking for a few funny people with big feet.
    Come play with us. is my email. Check out