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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Uncle Moments!

Last night, we all went out to Applebee's to eat, partially for ourselves and mostly for Dad. When my nephews had to go to the bathroom, the duty (heh- I said "duty") of escorting fell to my brother and me because my brother-in-law was trapped on the inside of the booth. Since we passed the boys over the table, I held onto my younger nephew and kept holding him aloft, flying him to the bathroom.

This occurred two more times and I was pretty sure that the last one was just because he wanted to fly. A couple of times, I felt I had to fly him backwards just so he could fly like Powdered Toast Man.

Flying outside to the car, he saw another child and proclaimed: "A girl! Look, Uncle Gregory: a girl!" It was then the other nephew's turn to fly a bit.

They love flying the friendly skies!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gone, Lady Gone

Earlier today at a few minutes before 4pm CDT my mother, Charlotte Ann Jones Parks, died of multiple health complications that culminated in a bout of hepatorenal syndrome. She let go as my younger sister and I were holding a hand.

When I was nine years old, the September 1982 National Geographic World magazine – now NG Kids – featured a cover story on Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, then under the deanship of Ron Severini. Any clown geeks might also recognize this as the class that spawned Jon Weiss, formerly or RBBB and The Amazing Race, currently on Circus Vargas and seen on screen currently in Water for Elephants. At any rate, that was it; that was the one thing that changed my world and eventually my future path. I had never thought of being a clown before and this new idea that there was a place that you could go to learn to be one and maybe get a contract with RBBB just blew my head wide open.

As a child, I was one of those gifted students. Reading came early and easy and I seemed to have a propensity to learn easily and quickly and a lot. I liked big words, I liked showing how smart I was, and I liked the praise and attention. Normally a kid like that is supposed to do something brilliant, maybe something scientific. Somehow I knew intuitively that a gifted kid was not expected to "waste" his potential on something like becoming a clown. Throughout my later years, I actually fought this and went through periods of denying that I really wanted more than anything to become a clown. Not just a state-fair, dunk-tank, or birthday party clown, but a Ringling Brothers circus clown. I was supposed to be an engineer or maybe a doctor like my paternal grandfather. At the very least, I was supposed to be some type of scientist, I thought.

I remember going to my mom a little bit after having read that article – which I had kept for years and then threw away with other archival items in one of my greater teenage periods of denial and now regret having done – and asking her flat out:

"Would you be embarrassed to have a son who was a clown?" Or maybe it was "Is it all right if I want to be a clown?" I don't remember the exact words she told me, but I do remember the spirit and sentiment I received as my reply. I received a motherly smile and a hug and assurance that I could be whatever I wanted to be and that as long as I gave it my best and wasn't doing anyone any harm, she would be proud of me no matter what.

And she always had been. Thanks, mom.

Creative Process

Well, one week down at Circus World Museum and there's not much freaking out. Okay, so a guy who's a really knowledgeable clown resource and a phenomenal clown to boot saw my solo gags, one of which featured a breaking prop and the no-real-ending ending I currently have, but the other audience members were really reacting to my gags. I've even got some ideas on tweaks and additions, so instead of being terrified and disheartened, I'm inspired.

Now that Neal has arrived, we've been working our duo material, which is the bulk of the work for this summer. Each day has found me adjusting the one-man-band rig in one way or another. My main problem right now has been mounting the drum solidly and getting the string to pull the kick drum beater consistently. The latter is very much a work in progress, but I think I've figured out the former.

However, I still need an ending to my microphone gag. If I just put in the time, keep trying things, and consult my friends, mentors, and associates, that problem should be solved eventually.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Rewards of Daring

There are many times when I just don't feel like trying and it's honestly because I don't feel like dealing with the possibility/probability of failure. Then at other times, I press on despite my fears, hesitations, misgivings, etc. and it doesn't work out and I wind up feeling like a failure or wind up the bad guy/sucky guy in someone else's eyes.

But sometimes it works out!

The truth about the world I inhabit as a clown and improvisor is that I can't afford to pay too much credence to the doubts. The truth is that if I don't jump, I won't ever fly. Falling sucks, but damn, do I like to fly! Most of all, I like to have people there to witness it. I flew a little bit today. Okay, I glided. But I didn't fall!

A couple of years ago at a clown festival in Shanghai (to which I've not been invited back, which to me means I stunk) I did this bit with a microphone on an elastic cord. I liked the idea and have ever since, but I've not been able to make it a longer piece or even set the beats. After much fretting and hesitation I decided I'd use it as my second solo piece in the Circus World Museum circus show. Up until the spot came up in the rehearsal, I didn't have an ending and I openly admitted it to the director and the music director. The gag was short and simple and basic in premise. The ending was just resigning to abject failure.

The Russian kid laughed some and afterwards in my trailer as I was tweaking the foot pedal for my one-man-band rig – a very basic, first draft rig – he was outside entertaining me with his mimicry of it. If a circus kid likes it, that tends to be a positive thing. The only prop modification is to find supplies to make the bungee longer and to carve another plug for the end that looks more like a microphone plug.

It's not longer than a couple of minutes, but it's got legs now. It very well may be a gag that I have in my pocket that will have to always change aside form the premise. However, I'm glad I did it, found the little success, and accepted the support given me by the musician's improvisation and openness, the director/ringmaster, and the little Russian boy.

And now, I have ideas to spice it up a little. I just need to be patient now. I'll get my chance again after this weekend is done. And I'll have time to prepare – and hopefully to fly.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Playing Ketchup (Catsup?)

I've been very remiss despite having internet in my apartment.

After thinking about this and myself a lot, I realize that I tend to think that if I'm not off touring somewhere, I have very little to blog about. I've also realized that this is not true. I've had quite a few small adventures and slightly larger ones, all of which have happened in the seven months I've been back in the states, none of which - save the new car - have made it here on these pages.

That said, I have some catch up to do and tales to tell.

Let's start with right now: I'm in Baraboo, WI for the summer. "Why," you may ask, "are you in the middle of Wisconsin for the summer?" It's easy: my friends Neal and Jessi suggested me for a job that I accepted. I'm working with Neal as a clown at Circus World Museum through September. That means three-and-a-half months of daily shows working on stuff and hopefully developing and becoming a better clown and performer in general. I hope to achieve what I haven't yet done in the last six months, which is develop more material and get some of it on its feet so I can have something videotaped to send out and secure more work in the future.

I arrived here Sunday evening and started moving in and cleaning up. Fortunately the house is in somewhat better internal shape than it was most of the last few times I saw it. Monday featured more cleanup, setting up of clown alley and buying vacuum bags; making peace with spiders, spiderwebs, and Neal and my separation from our girlfriends, waging war on accumulated grime, spiders, and spiderwebs. We have a trailer just out in back of the hippodrome with a working record player and an air conditioner that will come in handy as the weather starts acting like summer.

I have yet to tweak some props, finish some sewing, and figure out a one-man-band build. Making props to this degree is a new experience for me and it's taking some innovation. The up side is that I have resources at my disposal and I should have a more extensive rig by the end of the summer. The plan is to put it to use well after this gig, hopefully to the additional promotional benefit of a couple of local organizations that I'm involved with in the Twin Cities. I have even more plans to learn to play ukulele and clarinet. I had held off on the uke for a while because it seems like everyone and their grandmother is learning uke, and not just in the clowning world. I have found my own spin and angle on it and I'm going to pursue that and have less fear than I did of being another person standing still with a uke and playing songs with an "aren't I quaint?" air about them. I openly admit to liking The Gooch on "Scrubs". Uke can be as entertaining as it is ubiquitous.

Ambition, time, and a bit of prejudice seem to be my fuels.