Every since I was a kid I have always loved the circus and would go whenever we could get dad to take us. I even played a trimmed down “Bailey” in the play Barnum.
When I was in college I took a theater class and then later a class in clowning and performed at churches, festivals and such for over ten years.
I remember going to a clowning convention one time and saw a fellow walking in that outshined the rest of the professional clowns at the convention.
When I asked, “Who is he?” I was told, “He is a Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey CLOWN.” The words were spoken with a touch of awe and you could hear the “caps” on the “HE” and the “CLOWN.”
The Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey clowns are known as the best of the best. Their timing precise (it has to be in such a huge production) and their performances polished to a brilliant perfection.
After covering the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey Circus recently I had the pleasure of meeting a few of the clowns and other performers and spending a few hours with them during their down time before they headed off to their next stop.
Even though Sondheim wasn’t referring to circus clowns in his song, I had to use the title for this article as it seemed too appropriate. If you think about it, it should be no surprise that clowns are an important part of the circus emergency crew.
The many acts of the Circus are truly Death Defying acts as they proclaim in their patter. The performers are tops in their field so the emergencies are far less common than say, if I were to jump off a trapeze, but emergencies and equipment failures do happen on occasion.
If a piece of equipment breaks down or if a performer twists an ankle they can’t just put up a “Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By” sign. So when these things do come up, they send in the clowns.
They have a special tune they play when something occurs requiring the clown cr,ew and when it plays no matter where they are, whether offstage changing or resting between sets they know they have to get out into the arena as fast as they can.
Once they are out, they spread out and provide entertainment on all sides of the arena while other crew members are clearing things up.
If it is taking a long time they will rotate and start fresh again with a new section of the audience.
When all is said and done they tear down and head back to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey train where they settle into their mansion-like accomodations.
I was honored to have gotten a brief tour of a train car and even went into one of their mansions. The person that showed me their place went inside and I followed in after them. Well actually, I followed them in after they stepped back out so I could fit inside.
As their train went off that evening I found myself having an even deeper respect for the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey Circus clowns and their commitment to their art.
My heros have always been Clown-Boys!
Ok, maybe not quite the title of the Willie Nelson song but my hat, er wig, is off in honor of the many men and women of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Bailey Circus!