Clowning Around: I'm going to clown school!

In late 2007, thanks to the efforts of Dr. John Epley, I recovered from years of dealing with a debilitating chronic vertigo battle. I went from having difficulties working, driving and leaving my house, to wanting to get out in the world to experience new things. I read, in early 2008, about the Portland Rose Festival initiating a Character Clown Corps, with people from the local community participating in a "clown school" and then going on to perform as clowns at various events during the historic annual festival. Applying to be a participant in such a program would certainly be a "new thing."

Throughout my career I've often been called a "clown" - I was excited about the possibility of actually being one. Unfortunately, several of the required activity dates conflicted with events already on my schedule, including speaking at the 2008 HOW Design Conference in Boston.

Boss clown Angel Ocasio on the high wire

I've always liked clowns. I can remember going to the Shrine Circus as a child, with my grandfather, and being fascinated by the clowns. In addition, the Portland Rose Festival had been a part of my life since I was just a kid. I have great memories of attending the evening Merrykana Parade (the Mardi Gras-like predecessor to the Starlight parade), numerous in-person Grand Floral Parade viewings over the years, and once even cheering on my sister as she rode on a float as a Junior Miss.

Multiple visits to the Portland Rose Festival website finally resulted in learning that the Character Clown Corps would be recreated for the 2009 festival. Without telling anyone, I began to make plans to submit my application for consideration. When I finally told my spouse, Ed, he simply smiled, shook his head and walked away.

My greatest fear about the whole process was having no talent. As a potential clown, if my application was accepted, the audition process required the exhibition of some form of talent. I have not performed on stage since I has a non-speaking munchkin role in a second grade production of The Wizard of Oz. A one-night guest "walk on," 13 years ago, during my direction a Portland production of the play Party! just didn't seem to count as "talent." In elementary school, I did play the trombone - miserably - for part of one year, but music is just not my thing. I decided, if I even got an audition, that I would tell jokes - jokes from kids I knew.

A couple weeks ago the call came from Angel Ocasio, special projects manager for the Portland Rose Festival Foundation and a professional clown. Ocasio (photo above), a graduate of the now-defunct Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College and professional clown for nearly 30 years, called to inform me that I had an audition for the Character Clown Corps. He will teach the three-day "clown school" for the Portland Rose Festival in preparation for a number of public appearances.

Panic immediately set in. I called my "advisory committee" of seven to eleven year-olds for joke input. My initial call to my young friend Harrison resulted in no help at all. His response to my request was "Why would anyone want to be a clown?"

I told him I felt being a clown would be "an interesting life experience."

"No, not that interesting," was his reply. He also told me that his older sister was too busy to be bothered with my problem.

Contacting my young friend Tate was much more fruitful. He actually thought the idea of being a clown was "cool." Still, he felt he and his sister Tess needed to have a meeting with their dad to determine what jokes would be best for my purposes.

Later that night, via email, I received jokes for my consideration. The message included some funny typical kid riddles and one joke about Jesus playing golf with Moses and God.

As I sat in the lobby of the Portland Rose Festival the next day, watching a very animated guy juggle through his audition, thoughts of "oh my, what have I gotten myself into" went through my mind. Just by auditioning I was putting myself way outside my comfort zone.

Angel Ocasio immediately put my at ease as he backed me up against the wall for a digital photo. I sat down and we talked about life, Jeff Fisher LogoMotives, how he became a clown, our common interest in writing and much more. I joked about having no talent and then told the jokes provided by my young friends. Ocasio asked if he could tell the one about Jesus golfing at his church the following Sunday. I realized that I really wanted to learn about being a clown from this guy.

In discussing my business, Ocasio mentioned that he really liked the cleverness of my LogoMotives identity. I explained that I had always liked trains and thought I might enjoy developing a railroad-related clown persona. He then excitedly told me that the Character Clown Corps had just learned it was to be sponsored by Amtrak Cascades and the first public appearance would be at Portland's Union Station on National Train Day.

I was somewhat stunned.

It was then that he looked at the clock and realized that my 15-minute scheduled audition had expanded to over an hour and 15 minutes - and another person was to audition in a few minutes. I left feeling really good about the whole experience.

A few days later, Ocasio called to let me know that I would be a member of the Amtrak Cascades Character Clown Corps for the 2009 Portland Rose Festival. To say I was excited is an understatement. I hung up the phone, ran into the living room and exclaimed to Ed, "I'm going to be a clown!"

He looked up from his reading, smiled and quickly went back to his magazine.

Watch for more "Clowning Around" as I blog about going to "clown school" in late April, share a schedule of events at which the Character Clown Corps will appear, and reflect on my public appearances as a genuine clown.

Photo: Courtesy of Angel Ocasio's Comedy

© 2009 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives


Winnie Lim said...

Congrats Jeff! It is definitely a big step out bu am sure you'll reap the benefits in the long run. All the best with clowning!

Isle said...

After deliberation and consultation with my advisers, this no-talent girl went to clown school. When folks ask you, "Why Clown?" you can share the the advice that I received from one of my favorite clowns, Steffon Moody, that clinched it for me and sent me off to school:

"Clown is like...infinite. It is probably the least respected of the performance arts (after mime of course), but probably the most difficult to truly do well. Becoming clown is actually becoming yourself...which is no easy trick. It's the opposite of acting. It's vulnerability, pure reaction, honesty and social presence.
"If you have the inkling...go for it! Just be open. Don't try to do it right. Make Failure your bread and butter and you'll be fine, because that's what a clown lives on."

Chris said...

Jeff - that is so COOL! I am really happy for you because I think it is a really good fit - you just seem to me to have the "right stuff" for this - and you know I know whereof I speak!

And since you are being taught by a pro, I don't have to worry about you becoming a "greaseball"! (Ask Angel what that means - he'll know.)
Looking forward to hearing about your character explorations.
Chris B from Florida

Brochure Design said...

Playing as a clown for events is not that easy. It takes a lot of effort to make people laugh. Congratulations for a job well done.