Friday, December 3, 2010

"What Was It Like To Become A Clown?...

Auditioning for Clown College was a focused crazy roller coaster for me.

I heard about the Clown College auditions in a local theatre magazine called "Theatre Bay Area". It had notices for auditions for plays. I showed my girlfriend, who later became my wife the notice, she thought I should do it.

The audition was pretty straightforward, movement, clown walks...things I had done in classes in college. By this point in my life, I knew I wanted to be a clown. I thought I wanted to be a stage clown. I was mad about Bill Irwin at this time of my life. He had won the Macarthur Genius Grant and he was from San Francisco I wanted to be just like him.

I received an application to fill out. Lots of questions, tiny boxes to fill in my answers. Plus, I had to have pictures of me. One picture in a bathing suit. I think about how confronting that might be to a lot of folks but clowns put it all out there! I took pictures in my boxers pretending I was naked!

I took the application process more seriously than any application I had ever done. There were question like what is your favorite move, why? How many brothers and sisters do you have? Pretty personal stuff. I made a copy of the application and spent nearly 3 weeks pouring over it, answering, then rewriting.

My favorite question and I almost missed this one, It was in the regular vital statistics section (age, height, social security number), a box to mark if you had served in the military. I had everything completed, when I noticed it said, if you checked no, why?

I loved these people. Because I had to really think about why I had not entered the military. It was one of the greatest questions I have ever been asked. Like they were paying attention. And I needed to really think about that one. I'm not a person against kids joining the military but why wasn't it for me? How do I say all my feelings in a sentence or two? That's clowning, how do you get a lot of story and emotion in a sentence of two?

That little moment of nearly missing that tiny question has framed my clown life. Number one, I tend to miss little details in my life and it's very frustrating for my family, I'm pretty oblivious to things around me. Two, I love thinking about odd details. Clowning is a never ending question for me of tiny details, how to stand? How to walk? How to enter a room? How to leave a room?

The day I learned I was accepted to clown college, I had stayed out late the night before. I was working in a theatre box office in San Francisco, I worked until the plays were done then hung out after. I was sharing this apartment with maybe 6 or more people paying $190 a week (ahhhh the days!). I was awoken by Steve Smith dean of clown college, saying in his wonderful voice, "congratulations, you've been accepted to clown college!"

Here's the hard part. I had also applied to a theatre clown school in Northern Northern California called the Del Arte School, a school that trains in the style of Comedia Del Arte. My heart sank a bit, I had to think about this. I stuttered thank you, I'm waiting to hear from The Del Arte School too before I know what I'm going to do.

Knowing Steve Smith's love of all things clown, this probably cemented me in his heart whatever I chose to do. I think it was obvious I was very serious about my training.

I went to work that day, talking to everyone, saying "I'm going to join the circus". It was perfectly weird for me. Perfect. It was a strange and exciting time, one way or another my life was changing for sure. From being on the fringe of the stage, college, box office, to being asked to train with Ringling Brothers. Wow, life was getting cool. I was really going to be in front of people performing.

When I returned from work that night, in my mail was the acceptance letter from both, clown college and The Del Arte School...

Talk about serendipitous!

Clown College had a fun envelope, it was filled with confetti. It was asking me to join the party. Del Arte, was more straight forward, an acceptance from a school.

I thought for a day and accepted Ringling. It was a gut thing, it was a money thing (Clown College offers free training, you just pay your food, lodging and transportation), biggest, it was that being part of the party! It was an elite party, few were asked to attend.

I really get chills writing about this. That phone call and letter shifted the direction of my life. I was thrilled and told everyone what I was doing, I didn't quite know that letter was The Good Witch saying "follow the Yellow Brick Road".

I was finding little bits of star confetti in that junky little apartment for months, I'm sure it still turns up. I can't see Mylar confetti without a very strong feeling, knowing something wonderful just happened.

Thank you Steve Smith, Thank you Ringling Brothers for a 23 year walk in Oz!

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