Images: The Circus Goes to the Carnival

These are more images that did not make it into the lobby display.

Director Sara Holdren took a few of the actors to the Dogwood Festival carnival in late April, and this is what ensued This is but a handful; the entire album can be found here:

All photos by Scott Keith.















































Images: Inspiration

Here are some of the images that did not make it into the lobby display.

This batch is taken from director Sara Holdren’s photostream on Picasa, and it was a collection of images used for reference and imagining what HE could become. This is but a mere handful; you can find the entire album here:

































































Images: Russian Circuses, Late 1800s and Early 1900s

Here is a collection of images from Russian circuses in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Female stunt-rider Olga Sur, late 1800s.

Olga Sur, Late 1800s












Male stunt-riders, late 1800s.

Male stunt-riders, Late 1800s









Female stunt-rider V.S. Bondarenko, early 1900s.

V.S. Bondarenko, Early 1900s












Male stunt-rider N. Ferroni, early 1900s.

N. Ferroni, Early 1900s












Traditional musical clowns, late 1800s.

Traditional Musical Clowns, Late 1800s












Traditional clowns (not marked in the captionas “musical” despite the presence and playing of musical instruments), early 1900s.

Traditional Clowns, 1900s












Two clowns evocative of Tilly and Polly, year unknown. The caption reads: “This was the only case in which a red-haired young man chose the clowning profession. Savelii Krein was the name of this pupil of the technical college of circus art. While he worked, he changed partners several times, also changing his costumes, props, and comic method. But his passion for classic clown buffoonery remained immutable. In this picture, Krein is on the right with his partner Gorin, who was also a pupil of the technical college of circus art.”

Two Russian Clowns, Year Unknown










Pavel Brykin, clown, early 1900s.

Pavel Brykin, Early 1900s











Lavrenty Lavrov, clown, early 1900s.

Lavrenty Lavrov, Early 1900s












Testing new clowning waters, year unknown. The caption reads: “Both new and experienced clowns turned to such classic pantomimes as “Boxing”, discovering every time new possibilities for the exposure of peculiarities of the artistic gift. As performed by Konstantin Musin, this little scene became one of the best in the gifted artist’s repertoire. In the photo is Musin (right) and his partner, Baidin.”

He Who Gets Boxed?, Year Unknown







A brief tutorial in the art of Russian clowning, year unknown. The caption reads: “Social themes were not the only themes subject to the clown’s denunciatory laughter. Following the tradition of the great folk jester Vitalii Lazarenko, the clown-satirist Andrei Ivanov continually included in his clowning repertoire the denunciation of our political adversaries.”

Clown Face Tutorial, Year Unknown












No Russian circus would be complete without an act on ice; year unknown. The caption reads: “A new thing. Of course, shows on ice couldn’t have worked out without bright actors. In order to create the appearance of unlucky hunters in the program ‘Winter Fantasy’, the artists had to master the profession of figure skating.”

Russian Circus on Ice, Year Unknown

The Clown Egg Registry

Sara Holdren, the play’s director, casually dropped the phrase “clown egg registry” into one of our production meetings back in late March. For a dramaturg, this is gold, because it’s the kind of thing that essentially requires you to drop everything and find out as much as you can at that very moment. I was not surprised to find that there are virtually no scholarly resources on clown eggs; like so many things circus- and carnival-related, it’s nearly impossible to ascribe anything permanent to the clown egg phenomenon, and wild and varying tales abound. Nonetheless, some common threads do run through the story of these fascinating little monuments.

Essentially, when a clown finishes clowning school and assumes his or her clown identity, that clown registers himself or herself with one or many of the clown registries in existence. Included in that is the makeup that the clown wears, which at that moment is considered trademarked to that clown and cannot be used by anyone else. The makeup is then painted on an egg (blown-out, of course), giving physical evidence of the clown’s existence, and entered into the Clown Egg Registry.

The Clown Egg Registry is kept by the organization Clowns International in Great Britain, which touts itself as “the oldest established organization for clowns in the world” – it was founded in 1946 under the name “International Circus Clowns’ Club”. It changed its name to Clowns International in 1978, and has affiliated members worldwide. It keeps a museum near Wells in Somerset at the delightfully named “Wookey Hole” entertainment center, which contains the Egg Collection depicting the faces of members of the club.

I really, really wanted to include images of the eggs that I found on the Internet in the dramaturgy display, but they are all copyrighted to their photographer, and as such, I had not the time to obtain permission in time for opening night to use the images. But, you can view them on the photographer’s photo stream on Flickr, linked to here:

More information on the eggs can be found here. Since that site is a bit hard on the eyes, I’ve reproduced verbatim the site’s page on clown eggs here; what follows in quotation marks is their work, not mine.

From :

“The tradition began in the U.K. around 1946 at what was then the International Circus Clowns Club but is now called Clowns International.

A member named Stan Bult started recording clown images on chicken eggs with the insides blown out. It started as a hobby, and, like many hobbies, it just grew.  Mr. Bult kept his collection at home, occasionally loaning it out for show, such as at the 1951 Centenary Exhibition of the Crystal Palace.

The collection continued to be lent out after Mr. Bult’s death but sadly most of the eggs were destroyed in an accident at one such exhibit around 1965.

Clown Bluey became chairman of Clowns International in 1984 and resurrected Mr. Bult’s practice of recording clown members’ faces on eggs. This time a professional artist was used and the faces were painted on china-pot eggs instead of chicken eggs. Over the years, many of the lost older eggs have been reproduced, and new eggs are added frequently.

The current U.K. egg artist is Kate Stone, from Bournemouth, and the collection ion display, with clown-associated pictures, portraits and artefacts at Wookey Hole Caves near Wells in Somerset. Further information may be obtained from the Curator, Mattie Faint, Tel. 0207 608 0312. (UK Phone number)

According to Clowns International, ‘The eggs are not just a record of the clown’s facial makeup, but an actual portraiture in miniature.’ In addition to paint, the artist uses samples of the clown’s costume material and wig-hair to produce an eggs-act match. A photo of the egg collection may be seen at the Clowns International website.

About twenty-five years ago, Leon ‘Buttons’ McBryde heard about the British practice of registering clown makeup using eggs. He and his wife Linda eventually met the caretaker of the British clown egg registry, and around 1979 started a similar registry for clowns in the U.S. This collection now includes over 700 eggs, covering clowns of all types from around the world. Linda McBryde is the artist and co-creator of the registry.

In the U.S. collection, the faces are hand-painted on goose eggs (more durable than chicken eggs), and decorated with various materials (such as clay, wire, felt, tiny flowers, glitter, etc.) to obtain as accurate a representation of the clown face and costume as possible.

Though not an official registry, the collection is meant to preserve the uniqueness of each clown’s face makeup. Quoting from the Department of Clown Registry information sheet: ‘It is an unwritten law among clowns that one must never copy the face of another.’ Linda McBryde told us, ‘Although this is not a legal institution, the collection is a record of the person’s name, the makeup design, and the date it was submitted. In one case that I know of, a person used the registry in a court case in which someone was infringing on his makeup design.’

The U.S. egg collection is currently in storage.   Pictures of the UK collection, however, can be seen at the International Clown Hall of Fame.”

The McBrydes live not far from here, about 90 minutes southwest off I-81. Attempts to contact them to arrange a viewing of the egg collection were unsuccessful, as one might almost expect – this is carnival life, after all… !

The Circus in Russia and France

Y. Dmitriev in The Circus in Russia notes that like the theater, the circus began in public squares for the enjoyment of the common folk. This dates back to the early 11th century, when Russia was a newly-christened country, so the art form has a long and storied history there indeed. An attempt to adequately address the entire millennium of Russian circus history is beyond the scope of this particular project, so this post will concentrate on the circus contemporary to Andreyev.

Clowns at the end of the 19th century tended to be joke-tellers more than anything else, since they possessed little to no proclivity (or capability) for physical feats. (Sample joke: Clown cries. “Why are you crying?” ask his fellow circus-folk. “How can I not cry, when after a long and difficult illness my aunt…” he pauses. “Died?” “No, got better.” This dark humor isn’t exclusive to clowns, though.)

Eventually they evolved to be more musical, and more physical, especially during Andreyev’s time when artists began to be censored. Censorship did not exclude circus performers and clowns, an as their jokes fell by the wayside, they concentrated on the more ‘traditional’ aspects of clowning that are familiar to modern audiences. Yet there was still an edge of the forbidden in their work; clowns in Moscow continued to tell political jokes knowing full well the punishment for offending a government official who might have happened to be in attendance.

In 1905, circuses started kowtowing to Tsar Nicholas II, and soon became known as vehicles of bourgeois art; the very word ‘bourgeois’ was scorned, so anything bearing that label was shunned. The circuses became watered-down, in a sense, and pursued “clean entertainment”. By 1913, the journal Organ was asking in editorials why audience interest in the circus was falling.

While audience interest in the circus was falling, the intelligentsia’s interest in the circus had just been piqued. In 1909, Filippo Marinetti published some contentious articles in the Italian newspaper “Figaro”; he was a key figure of Italian futurism, and he got quite a bit of attention in Russia in 1914 when his “Manifests of Futurism” were translated into Russian. In the manifests, he agitated against war as “the only hygiene of the world”, expressing a desire to raise “love for danger”. Music halls – especially those connected with circuses – were the first to heed Marinetti’s call; they were seen as “schools of heroism”, especially circuses, because they put forth a “strong and healthy atmosphere of danger”. Critics said that the circus stunts showed the greatest character of circus art because of their daring and nerve. The intelligentsia saw this and immediately paid attention; here, perhaps, was something new and exciting to breathe fresh air into stale art. Pantomime and clowning – two things essential to the circus – interested the intelligentsia the most, since they offered the greatest opportunity to mock the regime and agitate ‘safely’. Art had to progress as part of the sweeping changes occurring across the country, and the circus was no exception.

This might explain why Andreyev chose the backdrop of a circus as the vehicle for telling HE’s story; in exploring a world of myth and fantasy, misery and beauty, pain and pleasure, he could use the circus as a setting for these risky exercises in liminality. (“Liminal” refers to a person or thing that is caught between two worlds; that space is magical in Russian culture, and imbued with all sorts of meaning and superstition. The circus might have been such a space for Andreyev, given that it is neither of the outside world nor completely apart from it.)

Wikipedia – ever that fount of well-sourced knowledge – notes: “In 1919, Lenin, head of the USSR, expressed a wish for the circus to become ‘the people’s art-form’, given facilities and status on a par with theatre, opera and ballet. The USSR nationalized the Soviet circuses. In 1927 the State University of Circus and Variety Arts, better known as the Moscow Circus School, was established where performers were trained using methods developed from the Soviet gymnastics program. When the Moscow State Circus company began international tours in the 1950s, its levels of originality and artistic skill were widely applauded, and the high standard of the Russian State circus continues to this day.


My history of the French circus is brief, especially as it pertains to early 2oth-century circuses beyond the posters and programs seen elsewhere on this site. The first ‘closed’ circus (i.e. in a tent or other enclosed space, as opposed to outdoors) was started by an Italian in Paris in 1782. Following that, French circus artists generally followed the trends of the circus in the rest of Europe, which meant that by the early 1900s their main attraction was equestrian artists. Exotic animals had been introduced to French circuses in the early to mid-1800s, but were overtaken in popularity by the equestrian acrobats in leaps and bounds. But, as the automobile began to replace the horse, the equestrian artists started losing ground to the exotic animals and their trainers, as well as acrobats, aerialists, and clowns, who had re-gained the upper hand in popularity by World War I.