Want to be a clown? Rule number one: stop acting a like clown.
Because to the pros, clowning around is tough work.
I found this out the hard way last Friday, when, along with 16 other hopefuls, I went to Ringling Bros.’s open clown tryouts in Coney Island.
“There’s no room for sarcasm,” warned Nicole Feld, the show’s producer. “We’re looking for people with that inner desire and passion to entertain people.”
Still, I was excited to don my finest clown blush and puffy shoes — but Ringling Bros. asked that all applicants not wear costumes. And my amateur juggling abilities or any traditional circus skills were optional.
That’s because, according to the masters, the mark of a true clown lies deep within.
“It’s about having fun and making a connection with the audience,” said veteran Ringling Bros. clown Dean Kelley. “You have to control your body and endear yourself to everyone from the first to the back row.”
With Kelley’s words in mind, we entered the ring, where instructor Karen Hoyer led us through a series of non-verbal exercises and improvisational scenes. Talent scouts watched with eager eyes as we acted out caricatures of emotions like “I’m in love” and “I have an uncontrollable itch.” Every motion, we were told, must be over-dramatic, as audiences can see right through efforts that give less than 100 percent.
Passion burned fiercely in the hearts of my fellow auditioners, for whom a chance to perform with Ringling Bros. would be a dream come true.
“It’s so much fun, just absorbing and learning,” said 32-year-old Daniel Cinfuo, who left a banking career behind to pursue clowning full-time.
At the end of our hour-long workshop, we broke pairs. My partner, Jordana LeWinter, and I created a non-verbal scene for the judges, with a beginning, middle and end. We decided on a tale of desperate love. I got down on both knees, with outstretched arms, begging her to accept my advances. Jordana was nervous and backed away, but I was insistent, and ultimately we embraced lovingly at center stage. It was a glorious moment, and the other auditioners clapped with approval.
But did I have what it takes to make it to the Greatest Show on Earth?
“You were good for an amateur, but you kept dropping out of character,” said Feld afterwards. “You showed courage, but you must work on losing your inhibitions.”
And with that, my dreams of becoming a professional clown were extinguished. Unless I can find a way to lower my inhibitions before the next tryout…
Jack Daniels, here I come.