By MIKE CHAIKEN
It’s kind of like the circus version of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
Are clowns born or are they made?
The people most in the know to answer that question are the clowns themselves.
And as luck would have it, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus’s “Built to Amaze” is coming to Bridgeport from Oct. 23 to 26.
Prior to their arrival with the circus, Taylor Albin, head of the Clown Alley for “Built to Amaze,” and Ben Macon, one of the newest residents on the Alley , spoke about their own journeys toward becoming clowns.
“For me, honestly,” said Taylor, “you make a clown.” Taylor said you can put a costume on someone and call him a clown. However, is he really a “clown” through and through? No, said Taylor, “It’s something that’s inside.”
A clown, Taylor said, is someone whose heart wants to give joy to the families and children who come to the circus. A clown is someone who wants to see the audience laugh, he said.
“It’s something you’re born with,” said Taylor.
“A clown is born,” said Ben. But, a clown also has to be made.
Many clowns, such as himself, have attended workshops and have attended Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s clown college to hone their skills.
And how did Ben and Taylor find their way toward being a clown? Was it something they had always wanted to do?
“You know,” said Ben, “I didn’t think it was possible to be a clown for a long time.”
“I wanted to do it,” said Ben, “but I never really tried.”
However, Ben said, a couple of years ago he went to see Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey and he decided to go for his dream. He began taking workshops for clowns and he began networking within the clown community. And now he has reached the major leagues of circus, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.
Taylor said, “I actually grew up going to (circus) shows my entire life in Texas… I knew at a young age I wanted to be a clown.”
Taylor said when he was around 5 years old, he saw a husband-wife clown team. He saw how they made the crowds laugh. A light bulb went on in his head. “This is what I want to do. This is what makes me happy… I want to bring joy (to others),” said Taylor
Taylor said his long-term goal all along had been to join Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey . When he got to college (regular college not clown college) in 2009, he attended an audition at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
In 2010, Taylor said, he learned he made the cut. “I was the happiest person on earth,” said Taylor.
“There’s a video of me freaking out,” said Taylor. “I was in (Washington) D.C., running up and down the street [when I learned I had made the cast as a clown].”
In terms of his own clown ambitions, Ben said he never had any other goal except to join Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey . He was a clown for one summer at an amusement park, but that wasn’t the same thing for him. And he knew he didn’t want to be a clown working at birthday parties.
Finally, Ben said, he auditioned a year ago for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey when the circus was in San Francisco. He was picked. And the current tour is his first ever with Clown Alley.
Prior to joining Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Taylor said his own skills as a clown were pretty much self-taught. But the circus also holds a clown college, where a few people are selected to attend each fall, he said. At the clown college, the prospective performers learn about slapstick comedy, how to fall, how to apply make-up, how to develop your character, the history of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and the importance of traditions in the circus.
Ben did attend the clown college. There, he said, he learned circus movement— tailoring his actions to translate to an arena setting. He also learned to fall because you really do fall as a clown but the key is doing so in a way where you don’t hurt yourself. Also, he had to learn a lot about improvising a performance. If one of the circus acts can’t make a performance, it’s up to the Clown Alley to help fill in the time. “You’re just sent in.”
As for Taylor’s and Ben’s long term goals as clowns, they are both more than happy as performers.
“I’d love to stay as long as I can,” said Taylor. “This is the Cadillac of clowning.”
But the opportunities beyond the circus are many, said Taylor. Those who have chosen to leave Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus have gone on to work for Disney, or gone into theater, movies, and television. There also are opportunities beyond performing such as costuming and make up.
“Once a clown leaves, he goes on other adventures,” said Taylor.
Asked to provide advice to young people interested in becoming clowns, Ben said they should reach out to into the clown community. Many performers are excited when you get in touch and you show interest in their talents, he said.
That’s what Ben did. “By the time, I auditioned, (the circus was) well aware of who I was.”
And if you’re interested in becoming a clown, Taylor said the circus is always looking for people with huge hearts.
“We want passion and desire… if you really want it, we’ll look at you,” said Taylor.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’s “Built to Amaze” comes to the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport (a city where circus founder P.T. Barnum once served as a mayor and state representative) from Oct. 23 to 26. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.
For more information, go to Webster BankArena.com or Ringling.com.
By MIKE CHAIKEN