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I was a drama student in college when I auditioned for Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus. I was tired of doing Shakespeare and jumped at the chance to join the circus!! My parents told me I couldn't audition, but I did anyway. What a rebel! I showed up at the audition in hot pink spandex leggings, and a bright blue shirt I had glued sequins to. The audition was So fun! Lots of improv games. I waited breathlessly for the month or so after the audition and was so excited when I heard I had been selected along with thirty two other people (24 guys and 8 girls) from the rest of the United States to go to Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Clown College.
Clown College was held in Baraboo, Wisconsin and lasted eight weeks. It started in August, and was so hot and humid in Wisconsin. All of us clowns got the entire floor of a nearby hotel, and caused havoc every night when we got back home. Running up and down the halls, throwing things, jumping on eachother's beds, etc. What would you expect from a bunch of clowns? We traveled back and forth from the Circus World Museum, our Clown College headquarters, everyday in a red and white Ringling Bros. bus. Every day was broken up into seven different classes, just like school!! The classes included improv, skills (which consisted of stilt-walking, juggling, rola-bola, unicycling, fire-breathing, rolling globe, trapeze, and rope climbing), dance, acrobatics, make-up, mime, and slapstick comedy. We had some of the best performers in the U.S. as our teachers!! Additional instructors, including Bill Irwin, were brought in from all over to give us special lessons in gag creation, movement, and character development.
It was a great time, and I wish I could do it again!! We had performance nights each week where we would perform an original skit we'd been practicing. At the end of the two months, we put on a huge show for Kenneth Feld and a bunch of other important executive circus people, who selected the new clowns to join the show. We all went home and waited to see who would be picked!!
I was chosen to be a clown in a new project called the "Ringling Adventure". It focused on improv and interaction with the audience rather than performing in the ring during the show. It was also a program that allowed the audience to come down to the circus floor one hour before the show began and mingle with the performers!! The four of us (me and three guys) that started as "Adventure Clowns" were shipped to Miami to join the show and got to live in hotels rather than on the circus train, which was great for us, because the rooms on the train are about the size of a closet, with one shared kitchen and two tiny bathrooms per train car. With my tendency to exercise constantly and eat enough fresh produce for a giraffe, I don't think I would have survived on the the circus train!! Instead, I had a super roommate, got to stay in fun hotel rooms across the country, and lugged an enormous ice chest full of fresh vegetables with me.
There were around 320 performers, animal handlers, and other circus workers that traveled all together from town to town, most of whom lived on the train. I loved living in the hotels because I could jump on the beds, turn my music way up, go swimming, workout, and get the bellboys to drive me to the grocery store! We got money every day for food, and I never spent all of it, plus the fact that we were always working, so I was able to save up quite a bit of money that year!
We usually did shows twice a day Wednesday through Friday, then three (ugh!!) shows on Saturday, and two on Sunday. We'd break everything down Sunday night, and leave at one or two in the morning for a new city. We'd drive all day Monday, and usually have Tuesday off to explore the city. We'd open again on Wednesday. I was on what they called the "rodeo route", where we went to over fifty little towns all over the U.S. We also went to Mexico City for a month, which was super fun!!
There was a lot of down time backstage when I would be waiting to go on, and I usually painted, either on clothes or making comics, or jumped rope. The only food available (excluding the arena food upstairs) could be bought at the "pie car", a little espresso sized stand with a mini kitchen in it. It was so greasy!! The cook was very nice about creating veggie stuff for me, but it was usually still awfully oily. I had a heck of a time lugging my ice box from town to town and keeping vegetables fresh in it!! It was a tricky lifestyle for a vegan!! Ha!! Especially a super health nut. Most of the performers live on top ramen, coffee, barbecue, and cigarettes!! Even the dancers and the acrobats!!
I was friends with all the riggers, audio engineers, and the lighting guys, and I hung around with them most of the time. We all lived in the hotels together, and we'd go dancing, explore new cities, and do lots of fun stuff!! The clowns all stuck together, and they thought I was a little weird because I did strange things like paint flames on my spandex, jump rope continuously, and draw comics. The dancers also took a long time to talk to me, and although many of the act performers were very nice, there's a distinct hierarchy within the circus, where most groups only hang out with each other, like highschool.
I was very sad at how the animals are treated. The tigers had the smallest cages to live in, and the elephants were never unchained. The animal handlers were often just men the circus hired when we came to a town, and could be criminals or anyone!! Someone told me that the circus is working to improve living conditions for the animals, and I hope it's true. I honestly think the circus would be better without the larger exotic animals. They could just keep the dog and cat (monkey and bird?!) acts where people perform with their pets, and I think I'd be just as fun to watch.
I was with the circus a year, and I left to finish college, and get my B.A. in Interdisciplinary Visual Art. Even though I was having a great time, I wanted to work towards doing my own funny videos. I think I miss the traveling the most, and the fact that there was always something exciting going on!! If I was feeling hyper (which was most of the time) I could go jump on someone's bed, run stairs at the arena, explore a new city, or ask another performer to teach me something. For more Clown pictures and clown videos, visit my clown site, Candy Clown.