Note from the editor: Today we conclude our series on clowning. Professional clown and New Vic Teaching Artist Christina Gelsone tells us about life as a clown. If you think clowning might of interest to your family, plan a trip to see Bello Mania this April, or have your kid try out our Circus Kids Week.
I've got purple hair. It's been that way for 17 years, with maybe a lazy brown spell of a few months here and there. People often say, "Wow, that's great, but I could never do that. You know, my job wouldn't let me."
I did all of these jobs because I knew someday it would be worth it. Someday I would be a clown.
If I didn’t lose you before, now I’ve really got you cowering. I know, because adults often blink and say “You don’t mean that” or “I was a clown in high school, too” or “You pay your bills with that?” or, my favorite, “I hate clowns.”
Usually, I start asking questions about the other person, and avoid the conversation. (Corporate accounting and distribution is pretty interesting, too.) But today, I’m going to answer all of those comments that I usually avoid.
1. Yes, I do mean that. I’m a clown. I make people laugh every day. I can pass seven clubs, I can jump rope on 3 foot stilts, I can fly on a trapeze, I can hold a 280 pound man on my stomach, I can climb invisible ladders, and I can fall into a backwards roll while holding a cup of coffee and not spill it. Okay, well, maybe spill a little.
2. Yes, you were a "clown" in high school, but I went to school specifically to be a clown. First Princeton (go ahead, think those thoughts... clowns can be valedictorians, too) then a specialized physical theater school. My husband even has a master’s degree in this stuff. Clowning needs a mastery of many different disciplines, an intense awareness of societal behaviors, and a lot of work.
3. Yes, I pay my bills being a clown. I’m a freelancer, which means I don’t always know where my income is coming from next month, I pay higher health insurance premiums, I don’t have a matching 401k and I pay double in taxes - though I do get to write off business expenses, so it’s not all bad. But the unpredictable nature of my job has its pay-off. One year I worked in 13 different countries. One year I was performing with the Big Apple Circus. Every Thanksgiving I stilt walk in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade - which is the only time my family, back in Texas, gets to see me perform. Most of my job is spending time looking for jobs, but my husband and I apply to hundreds of festivals every year, and that’s just the summer season.
4. Yes, I know you hate clowns. It seems to be the fad these days. I’m right up there with politicians and dentists. The only time this really bugs me, though, is when a child is happily connecting with me, or looking my way, and their parent grabs them protectively and says histrionically, “He’s afraid of clowns.” Because that kid is actually not afraid of someone who is smiling and interacting with them, it is the parent teaching them to be afraid of clowns.
Someday it will be cool to be a clown again. Maybe Neil Patrick Harris will get an Academy Award for remaking a Jimmy Stewart movie about a doctor/clown. Maybe Spongebob will get trounced in the ratings by a red-nosed tree pirate. Or a rap star will dress as a distinctive clown for a video.
I’ll still be here. Still falling down, still bouncing on my butt, still spitting water, still stomping like a samurai, still distorting my face, still kissing complete strangers. Still making people laugh. Because there is nothing better than feeling waves of laughter steamrolling at you, connecting an entire audience in a single moment, or making someone ordinary brave and powerful. Because I love my job. I’m a clown.
Christina Gelsone works with her husband, Seth Bloom, as the Acrobuffos. Since becoming clown partners in 2006, they have created 5 shows together, competed in international circus festivals, performed in over 20 countries, juggled on Letterman, were featured in The New York Times, and headlined recently at the Big Apple Circus. Their websites are acrobuffos.com and acrobuffoscircus.com.