Note from the editor: Today we continue our series on clowning. Professional clown and New Vic Teaching Artist Skyler Sullivan tells us about his journey toward becoming 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 was a classic kid who did not fit in anywhere. When I discovered art and performance, I finally felt like I belonged. I taught myself to juggle at 13, and the circus was already pulling me in. I wanted to attend Clown College all through High School. I knew that offices were not for me. I continued to study performing arts, and found clowning and physical performance. It just was a fit. I was able to express myself in a new way that felt real. It kept leading to more opportunities.
Today, I work professionally as a clown; as an artist. A day in the life of an artist is a fun and challenging one. Lots of time goes into finding a job. It's not like an office job where you know where you will be and how much money you will make. There is usually some kind of work out, to keep yourself in shape. Then a rehearsal. This could be trying new material, or brushing up old stuff. But there is a lot of fun to be had using your skills to create a piece of art. I find it more fun to work with friends, I am funnier with a good partner. Some days you get to perform. Those are the best days.
A big part of being a clown is being fearless. Not being afraid to try new things, and make yourself look stupid. People love to laugh, so being able to laugh at yourself is key. We understand just how silly our society is by exposing the truths in a heightened way. Anyone can be a clown, you just need a desire to tell a story, express how you are feeling, and want to spend time getting better at it.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions I encounter as a clown? A lot of people think clowns are scary. There are a lot of types of clowns, and styles. The "Ringling" way is just one. I am not a huge fan of that style either. It's similar to working in dance. There are many different kinds of dance -- one performer may be a Bolshoi ballerina, another might be a street dancer. People also think we are drifters that don't take life seriously or act immature. I prefer to think I have found a path that suits me, my interests, and my personality.
I found it rewarding when I perform or teach, and when people make a connection to what I am doing seeing my jokes or behaviors in themselves. I tend to teach clown more than I perform these days, so I get inspired when someone takes a risk and learns something about themselves, or life, through the art form. I would like kids to know: It's ok if you don't want to do what everybody else is doing. Clowning is a fun way to meet new friends, and express yourself. I would like parents to know that whatever your feelings are about having your kid do circus stuff, you will notice a positive change in the way they take risks, try new things, and collaborate with others that can only bring on excellence later. Many times I have witnessed those beautiful moments while parents watch their child perform and they realize, "Wow, my kid is independently discovering who they really are, and that they are destined for amazing things."
Skyler Sullivan is in his seventh season at The New Victory. He started off acting at Emerson College where he earned his B.F.A. His love of movement theater and circus landed him in San Francisco where he worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and trained at the Circus Center. Now living in Brooklyn, his work has been seen with such companies as: Bread and Puppet, Sesame Street, National Theatre of the Deaf and the American Mime Theatre. He also loves teaching in the NYC schools, and has an ongoing residency at the Lexington School for the Deaf. Skyler also worked as the acting coach on the current series The Electric Company on PBS He has his M.F.A. from Brooklyn College.