Arts in the Family: A Family of Artists Just Trying to Make a Living in the Wilds of Texas


Friday, March 4, 2011

Clown College Chronicles Part 10

It's time for the Final Exam show and a lot is riding on it for each and every one of us. In the audience amongst the friends and family of the performers will be the owner of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus , Kenneth Feld and his family, who would be deciding who gets a contract to work on the Greatest Show on Earth. We wanted it all to look great and go without a hitch as we would want of any show but the added pressure of competing for the limited spots open on both circus units made for some very active butterflies floating about our clown innards.

Above and below is the invitation for the show. An extra special moment that evening would be the presentation of a special award to the one and only Chuck Jones: creator of such classic Warner Brothers characters as Pepe Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. Clown College director Steve Smith, a fan of the Warner Brothers cartoons, made sure we saw as many Warner Brothers cartoons as possible to aide developing the kind of clown movement he felt would be most effective in a three ring circus. Click on any of the images from this post for a magnified view.

My Ringling clown costume a.k.a. my agent suit.

Press photos in costume and in my walkaround costume, "Lil Nessie" (the only one I got approved), that was included in the final exam show.

Article of the Final Exam show.

The first gag of the show was my baby, "The Dawn of Comedy".

Keith Alexander as an old lady and myself as a self defense instructor in "Kung Phooey".

My seahorse, "Nessie", in action.

A Jay Stewart fish gutting-soap gag titled " Something Fishy", with Jan Lee Marshall and myself basically using a fish as a magic production box producing, among other things, fish guts, fish bones, an octopus, a kitchen sink and (naturally), King Neptune.

The best moment of the evening: receiving my diploma from Kenneth Feld. The crazy ride was almost over.

After show group picture. They should have included all the teachers and crew in the photo. I know, I know, it's our moment.

My diploma signed by Kenneth Feld, Tim Hoelst and Steve Smith.

A close up of our class photo on "The Two Hemispheres" circus wagon. I'm at the top of
the wagon by the Mexican flag.

(Above)Chad and I the morning after the Final Exam show on the grounds of the Circus World Museum. That morning all the students were gathered together around 9.m. to find out which of the thirty graduates would be awarded contracts to go on that road with the circus that winter.

There were a total of ten contracts awarded that year. Seven of us would be going to the Red Unit joining them on the "
Rodeo Route" while the remaining three would be joining the Blue Unit at Winter Quarters to rehearse their new show. Karen Rylander (Now Mrs. Desanto), Sasha Brietman and Tim Grandia went to the Blue Unit and joining the Red Unit were: Myself, Chad Miller, Lisa Chapman, Keith Alexander, Aaron Schettler, Benny Schultz and Edzui Szumoski. More than that deserved to be on the show and I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when they were deciding who the lucky ones would be.

Whatever the reasons, those of us that made it on the road that year realized it was a unique moment in our lives where we would be a part of the very special, almost mythical world of the circus. We also knew that we could also continue to grow as performers taking every opportunity to learn that was afforded to us.

Almost seventeen years later, most of my classmates continue their performance careers around the country and the globe. There have been reunions of all the classes over the years but Pammy and I haven't been able to go. The closest we came was our last time with the circus in 2001 when we were in Winter Quarters so we were a little busy. Once on the road though, we had a few smaller reunions as we crossed the country. There are a few classmates that I haven't seen or spoken to since 1993 but know if we ever crossed paths it would be as if only a day or two had passed since Clown College. And I know that if asked if would do it over again every last one would say, without hesitation, " Absolutely!"

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