Ladies and Gentlemen, a small hiatus

Why, hello there. It’s been a while since I’ve written to you as Editor of The Carlo Connection. Exciting! Let’s dive right in.

The Carlo Connection‘s first birthday is just peeking over the horizon. And that kind of milestone also makes it convenient to look back at what’s been accomplished. Here’s a brief rundown:

  • Over forty weeks of Dell’Arte International alumni shows being promoted and cross-promoted, with succinct (and accurate) box office information
  • A handful of essays from Dell’Arte alumni and current Dell’Arte students on their artistry and perspectives
  • Promotion of training in similar pedagogies from all around the world (which alumni have utilized)
  • Promotion of employment using Dell’Arte training (which alumni have secured)
  • Engagement from national and international theatre festivals, ensembles, and companies
  • A growing social media audience of alumni, current students, and non-Dell’Arte artists and producers
  • Zero impact on people’s inboxes by being an online resource people can visit on their schedule

It’s been great. It’s also been hard (this is a one-man enterprise, after all), but I like to focus on the “great” part. But “hard” is starting to eclipse “great,” and it’s increasingly likely that The Carlo Connection will close its doors come January 1, 2017. Until then, the blog will be in a suspended hiatus while reviewing different strategic plans and use-case scenarios. If you want to be part of that conversation, boy howdy, you are more than welcome.

This blog has also existed alongside Dell’Arte International’s own alumni blog, at least one Facebook group that’s outside of Dell’Arte International’s control, and a private email list-serve that’s powered by Yahoo. The heartwarming point is that all of these channels seek the same things: connection, support, promotion, encouragement. And each of them succeeds at ticking at least two of those boxes.

The more-sobering point is that none of these channels are perfect. Any public email distribution list is prone to spam abuse, any private social media platform is limited to the users (or countries) who want or are able to opt-in. Even editorial control is a lose-lose situation; too much editorial control risks alienating readers, and too little editorial control risks sacrificing quality and consistency.

It’s a jungle, y’all.

So here’s my question to you, reader: what do you want this space to be? Because it can be anything, really. It could solely promote shows. It could be a space for essays and writing. It could be an interactive map of alumni around the world. It could be a rehearsal and production photo album. Or, it could just float off to the big trash can in the sky.

As you roll around this wild world, feverishly devising the theatre of tomorrow, what’s that magical unicorn of a resource you wish you had but don’t? Because this can totally be that unicorn.

It’s been my privilege to have been at the helm of this imperfect creature over the last ten-or-so months, and to have hopefully made your day or your career a little brighter at some point along the way. If I do close up shop come December 31, 2016, it won’t be bittersweet at all. This has been awesome.

Until then, though, here’s one last effort to see what’s still possible. Shoot me your ideas at editor@carloconnection.com.

Christopher Kehoe
PTP 2013, MFA 2015

Clown Dimitri dies at 80

Clown Dimitri, a Swiss clown and mime who studied under Marcel Marceau and who commanded a career spanning six decades from Broadway to Congo, has passed away on Tuesday, July 19, 2016. He was 80.

Dimitri died in his home in Borgnone, Switzerland. The cause of death was unknown, but he had not been previously ill.

In a country with four official languages, the mute Clown Dimitri spoke to audiences by combining naïve, bumbling humor with acrobatics and acumen with a dizzying repertoire of musical instruments. Shunning modern, high-tech theatrics, Dimitri’s work was elemental, no-frills, old-school clowning, and his legacies and pedagogies will live on with his theater, school, museum, and troupe “La Famiglia Dimitri.”

Jakob Dimitri was born in 1935 in Ancona, Italy, and by age 7 knew that he wanted to become a professional clown. In 1958, he studied under and befriended the French master Marcel Marceau–Dimitri’s self-proclaimed idol–and performed his own show a year later.

With his signature bowl-cut hairstyle and gap-toothed grin from a mouth stuffed wide with ping pong balls, Dimitri was best known as a solo performer. He eventually established a family troupe and, in 2009 in New York City, “La Famiglia Dimitri” staged well-regarded, family-friendly shows featuring juggling, cycling, singing, high wires, tight wires, and slack wires.

Three years later, Dimitri launched a new solo repertoire.

“I am a rather positive, optimistic, and gay clown, without being superficial,” he said in a Swiss television interview. “I don’t fit with the cliché of the sad, melancholy clown with tears–even if I do have painted tears under the eyes.”

Dimitri was also involved in humanitarianism. As an ambassador for UNICEF, he traveled to war-battered Sarajevo in 1995, and in 2010 he traveled to Congo with an anti-torture human rights organization.

“I am still young in my mind. And my body…,” he trailed off in a 2015 Swiss broadcast. “Clowns are immortal, everybody knows that.”

Dimitri had a busy schedule through the rest of 2016, and performances around the world were booked into 2017. Musing on the likely impact of his strenuous work onstage with his longevity, Dimitri quipped: “I weigh 60 kilos. I lose a half-kilogram every time [I perform]. You can do the math yourself: How much time do I have left before I disappear?”

He is survived by his wife and his five children.

Saying “Yes” to “No”

In January, The Carlo Connection ran an exclusive excerpt from Jeff Raz’s forthcoming book Building a Clown: A backstage tour of Cirque du Soleil and The Clown Conservatory (working title). In response, we received a request from David Carlyon, another professional clown, to run an excerpt from his book–The Education of a Circus Clown: Mentors, Audiences, Mistakes–as a companion piece on the value of live mistakes in clowning.

David’s story centers around a Ringling Brothers performance in Detroit, Michigan, during the “Come-in”: a standard twenty-minute meet-and-greet clown preshow before the “Opening.” “Walkaround” and “Finale” are terms also used below, and denote other parts of a Ringling production.

If you like what you read, you can purchase The Education of a Circus Clown on Amazon.com, or learn more about David Carlyon by visiting davidcarlyon.net or connecting with him on Facebook.

This was more than interaction, it was exchange of energy. I started the ball rolling; I was the clown, after all. But I couldn’t have sustained my excited enthusiasm from the first weeks, and eventually, I fed off the energy that audiences brought. I’d heard about using audience energy but dismissed it as show-biz flummery. Now I’d learned that, for me, it was literally true.

Yet as I dug into this improvisational impulse, I violated the rules of improv. In improv, you’re supposed to say “yes, and…” because denying what the partner says can sap the comic impulse. But I denied all over the place.

So improv-sue me.

But my “no” didn’t stop things, it propelled the comic impulse. Saying “no” tugged people out of the expectation that I’d do vaguely amusing things and that they’d vaguely laugh. I’d discovered that no one older than seven expects clowns to be actually funny. But my contradictions got them wondering, opening the possibility of genuine comedy. It cracked the carapace of clowning. Saying “yes” to “no”–my audience and I both had a voice. I went where we implicitly decided together to go. To the romantic part of my soul, it felt like democracy.

Before a show one afternoon in Detroit, a kid waved me over. Holding his hand flat, he said: “Gimme five.” I swung my hand down but he pulled his hand away and laughed. I pretended to be vexed. Making a determined face when he held out his hand again, I tried again, and he pulled away again. I had to leave but in Opening I ran over to him. Would he recognize the running gag? He did. Again, he pulled away at the last minute. Great; he wanted to play.

I headed to the same corner for Walkaround. The kid saw me, put down his flashing red light, and handed his cotton candy to his dad. Clearing the decks for action, he held out his hand. I swung, and he pulled away, laughing, and I acted consternated. People were watching now. When my partner Dean got there, I motioned him over to show him. Again, the kid held out his hand; again, I swung and he pulled away.

Then he held out his palm for Dean. This was an important moment. If the kid pulled his hand away from Dean, it’d be cute but ordinary; another youngster turning a joke on clowns. And Dean might pull his own hand away–a cheesy thing for a clown to do, but it worked for him. Moment of truth: the kid kept his hand there while Dean smacked him five, and the kid smacked back. Together, they made me the butt of the joke. Great! Then the kid turned back to me and held out his hand. He felt the timing of joke, as if he and I were a comic team improvising our rhythm together. I peered at him with suspicion, then at Dean, then back at the kid. I raised my hand, letting it hover there as I considered the situation. The kid, a picture of innocence, kept his hand steady. I swung, he pulled away, and laughed and laughed. Tricking the trickster. Frowning, I laughed on the inside.

One of the skills I’d been learning was to make the other person the star. Part of my fun was doing it so those watching didn’t realize I’d framed it, thinking instead that I was surprised or baffled.

Throughout the show, the kid and I repeated our routine: me pretending increasing frustration and more people watching. But what would the kid do in Finale? By now the whole section anticipated my arrival. He held out his hand. I held up mine, then hesitated. Would he pull away again or recognize we’d been building a routine that needed a conclusion, a blow-off? He waited. I swung down, he kept his hand there. Slap! Then he slapped my hand back. Perfect!

I loved that kid.

I loved these crowds.

I loved Detroit.


David Carlyon, The Education of a Circus Clown, published 2015. Reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

So, it’s a blog?

When I graduated from Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in 2015, I believed (and, for a forty-year-old school, rightly so) that a vast network of alumni and conspirators would be waiting for me–that La Familigia was alive and well and ready for whatever adventure I could fathom.

My reality was a little different. While I caught glimpses of the 40th Anniversary celebration on social media during the summer of 2015, I was finding it hard to connect with alumni in my native Minneapolis. In fact, it was more of the opposite: I felt myself falling into pre-Dell’Arte habits of navigating a cutthroat industry alone and without much sense of community–the complete opposite of what Dell’Arte afforded me. What good were my three fantastic years in Blue Lake if I could so easily abandon them in under a month?

Yeah, there’s a private list-serve for Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre alumni. And yeah, everyone’s on Facebook. But I have a confession: I absolutely despise social media. The digitization of my social life skews my perspective and expectations of the very real people and places around me. Leave me alone for five minutes on Facebook or Twitter and you’ll come back to someone angry, jealous, depressed, hurt, disappointed, embarrassed, or some combination therein. But never proud.

Where is the space for pride in all this modern, “connected” rubbish?

This has been my guiding question in trying to assess myself and my relationship to Dell’Arte post-graduation. More than anything, I wanted an industry resource for myself, my ensemble-mates, my friends and family, and the general public that I could be stupidly proud of; something that wasn’t hidden behind a login or a paywall, or flanked by misspelled memes; something that could hold a space for critical dialogue and unpopular topics; something that wasn’t concerned with recruitment and admissions; something that had an editor at the helm who could pace out content and tactfully correct misspellings and grammatical mistakes.

Essentially, something that took the very best of us and collated it, packaged it, and put it out there for the world to see. No hype, no spin, and no strings attached.

I didn’t have that. So I’m trying my hand at making it.

In addition to the never-ending queue of auditions, training opportunities, and other news items from the world of physical and/or ensemble theatre, I’m hoping The Carlo Connection can be a meeting place of perspectives and philosophies from alumni, current students, faculty, and more. Of course, columns will shift and new ones will spring up as the audience of The Carlo Connection develops. So…stay tuned, I guess. And if there’s something you want to see, I’m only an email away.

To echo my artistic life as a student at Dell’Arte International, I don’t know what this is just yet. Twelve months from now, I could either be hiring part-time writers or putting carloconnection.com back on the open market. I don’t know how this ends–I only know I’m excited for it to begin, and that anyone who wants to come along for the ride is more than welcome.

You know, like devising theatre. Except it’s a blog.

Christopher Kehoe (PTP 2013, MFA 2015)
Editor-in-Chief, The Carlo Connection