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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Clowning around » » Run away with the circus: Ringling Bros. Hold Clown College Auditions (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

Dynamike
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I noticed this article on the internet:

(Aug. 3) -- This could very well be my last article for AOL News. Because I might be running away with the circus.

That's because I, along with 16 others, attended the New York City auditions for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, held Friday under the big circus tent at Coney Island. It kicked off a nationwide search for Ringling's next group of clowns, which continues this week in San Francisco and Dallas.

All of us clown hopefuls were asked to show up as ourselves -- no costumes, makeup, red noses or big shoes were necessary.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
There are class clowns, and then there are classes for clowns. Last Friday, a group of 16 men and women hoping to become Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey clowns gathered at Coney Island to audition for Clown College. That's me, fourth from the right in the black shirt and green hat.


"We just want to see raw people," said David Kiser, director of talent for Ringling and Class of '82 Clown College graduate. "A clown is not an actor who portrays a clown. A clown is a clown from the inside out. What we're really looking for is the desire and the heart of a clown."

There was plenty of that gathered under the tent.

Take 19-year-old Andrew Hicks, who drove up from Goldsboro, N.C., hoping to trade in his job as a veterinary assistant for a spot with Ringling. "I can't express myself in any other way but clowning," he said. "This has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so I'm hoping to make it a reality."

Steve Smith, 34, traveled even farther, making the trek from Atlanta, where he's worked as a full-time clown for 11 years. "I got into clowning due to not doing well academically -- I suffer from dyslexia," he said. "So clowning was a door that was open and it's taken me to great heights."

Of course, local talent took advantage of the opportunity as well. Manhattan's Jordana Lewinter, 22, regularly performs circus arts at parties and conventions. "It makes me really happy knowing that I'm making someone else happy by doing some ridiculous thing, maybe just making a balloon puppy, or eating fire, or walking around 7 ˝ feet tall," she said.

As for me, well, I've also had a bit of buffoonery deep inside me. So I walked in with my bag of juggling balls, devil sticks and trusty yo-yo ready to let my inner clown out.
Marc Hartzman for AOL
Clown class is in session. A group of clown hopefuls practice a silly walk during the Clown College workshop.


Fortunately, my complete lack of performing experience was perfectly fine with Ringling. It's not looking for skills.

"You can teach people to juggle, you can teach them to tumble. But you can't teach people to be funny," said Ringling producer and executive vice president Nicole Feld.

"If they don't have a funny bone, they don't have it," she said. "And that sense of timing that comes with it is key."

While a clown's primary job is to make people laugh, that job description isn't limited to the ring. Clowns also serve as Ringling's ambassadors to the community.

"There's a spirit and a vitality that a clown needs to have because oftentimes when we play a city they're the first individuals to go out to the libraries, the schools, the hospitals, the community centers and make contact with the people in each city that we play," Feld said.

Since the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College began in 1968, it's graduated more than 12,000 clowns. Many have gone on to work with the circus, while others have taken on other jobs, from performing arts to neurosurgery.

Class of '72 graduate Janice Aria, who was on hand to observe the auditions, has been working with Ringling for 38 years. She had visited the circus as a New York University student to write a review and instead found a new career.

Marc Hartzman for AOL
Meet the professors. Tom Wheaton and Dean Kelley, two veteran Ringling clowns, performed briefly and answered questions about life as a clown.

"I visited backstage and the clowns were all so young and exciting and not what I had anticipated," Aria said. "So I auditioned for Clown College, got there, and really within one week said, 'I have to have this life.' "

Until 1997, classes were held at a specific venue. Since 1998, students have traveled with the show, learning from senior clowns and other mentors brought in to help guide new recruits.

The goal of the current search is to find eight to 10 new clowns to spend a year refining their skills through 80 cities, beginning in November. And unlike nonclown colleges, this one requires no tuition. All students are paid during their one-year apprenticeship and receive true on-the-job training by performing in shows."At the end of that year, we reassess what people's wishes, wants and desires are, how much they've grown and progressed," Kiser said. "And then we decide, OK, another year, or time to bring in some new and fresh blood."

Before the individual auditions kicked off, the group participated in an hourlong workshop led by Karen Hoyer, movement and choreographer instructor for Ringling.

We learned basic clowning gestures and expressions to communicate with the audience. Things like '"hello" and "goodbye" and "I gotta go to the bathroom." We roamed around the ring expressing joy, sadness, fear and anger by using body language, attempting to be as cartoonish as possible.

By the end, we were working in groups to improvise with and react to one another using our newfound skills.

Next up: audition time. But first we all took a brief break to prepare for our big moment. While others gathered their props, I tried to figure out what the heck I was going to do for the three- to five-minute tryout.

Fortunately, I was No. 15. That afforded me some much-needed extra time to watch others and develop a plan to impress the judges with my less-than-average skills.


As the candidates auditioned, it became clear that I was the only one who hadn't rehearsed a skit. I watched as others performed bits of physical comedy, hat trickery, unicycling and other stunts.

Some of these folks were pretty good. How was I going to compete with all these clowns?

Before I knew it, I heard "Marc Hartzman" over the loudspeaker. I grabbed my things and ran to the center of the ring. With all eyes on me, and nerves racing through my body, I began juggling three balls until I dropped one.

Rather than scoop it right up, I tried to use my new skills from the workshop. So I knelt down, made a face at the ball, and beckoned it toward me, trying to will it back into my hand. A clown doesn't make mistakes, he improvises to make a goof part of the show.

Next I moved on to my devil sticks, batting them back and forth and spinning them in the air. After dropping them a few times, I decided it was time to move on to the yo-yo. I wrestled it onto my finger, did a few basic tricks and set myself up for the grand finale.

It was an old trick I hadn't done in years: throw the yo-yo down into a spin, take the string off the finger, and toss it high into the air before catching it in my hat.

I pulled it off perfectly. Phew!

Once the group was done, the judges huddled for 15 minutes, looking over notes and chatting among themselves. Who was worthy of donning a red nose and big shoes?

Finally, they lined us up and called out numbers of those who would be asked to stick around for one-on-one interviews.

There I was, just a guy who liked to juggle for his kids, surrounded by a group of men and women who live to clown. And then I heard it: "15."

I made the callbacks.

They knew I was there to write an article. They knew I hadn't traveled hundreds of miles to realize a boyhood dream. But that, they told me, meant I came with nothing to lose and without any intention of securing a contract.

What they saw was someone just having fun, someone giving it 100 percent, someone showing the heart and desire of a clown. Plus, my juggling wasn't terrible.

"So what are you doing in November?" Kiser asked me.

The answer remains to be seen.
MT
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This sounds like so much fun!
Jim Sparx
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I would do this in a New York minute - but when they found out how old I was (73) it would be a no go. Every time Ringling and Clyde Beatty came to town I dreamed they would take me away from them. Instead, I joined the army the day I was 17. Maybe in my next life.
Et tu, Spartacus?
Decomposed
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Would be a nice way to travel around and meet new people.

Any updates on your selection Dynamike?
Dynamike
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No, sorry.
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