"History is a ribbon always unfurling. History is a journey. As we continue our journey, we think of those who traveled before us, and we see and hear again the echoes of our past." -- Ronald Reagan, Second Inaugural Address, January 1985
This Friday evening, October 1, the International Clown Hall of Fame will be inducting Chester "Bobo" Barnett. This is the first induction ceremony in six years. Barnett will be the 69th clown honored with induction into the ICHOF. I have been a supporter of the ICHOF since the beginning. I believe that it is an important resource for clowns because it is preserving information about our past and reminding us of important people who have come before us.
I like Ronald Reagan's metaphor of an unfurling ribbon because of its image of history continuing. Too many people think of history as a book that has been written and closed. However, history is part of today and the future.
The past is something that can inspire and guide us today. We can use the ideas and knowledge of past generations of clowns. I saw something similar this past weekend when I took my grandson, Jackson, on a Cub Scout camping trip. During the campfire I saw cub scouts performing skits that I had performed in the 1960's when I was a Cub Scout. They have been handed down from Cub Scout to Cub Scout through the years. Some of them had been changed, but many of them were still basically the same. They have endured because they still get laughs from an audience of Cub Scouts. Some of the skits used by Cub Scouts are based on ones that have been performed by circus clowns. For example, I learned the Busy Bee clown skit at the first campfire I attended as a Boy Scout. This weekend, Jackson and his best friend, Jacob, needed a skit that could be performed by two people. So, I taught them a routine called Dead & Alive that has been handed down from clown to clown since 1860. This 150-year-old skit got a lot of laughter when performed by two Cub Scouts this past weekend. (Dead and Alive is described in Creativity For Entertainers Volume Three: Creative Routines.)
At the recent Circus Fans of America Convention, I saw two performances by Julius Carallo. He has a very distinctive appearance. While talking to him at the banquet, I learned that his appearance was inspired by George L. Fox, a nineteenth century clown who has been inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame. Carallo has been fascinated with Fox and researched his life and career. Every time he puts on his costume he thinks about Fox and his contributions to our art. That echoes in the current performances by Carallo.
Not only is the past part of what we do today, but what we do today is part of the future. Our ideas and knowledge can inspire future generations of clowns. We think of historians as those who study the past, but those who document and preserve what we do today are also historians. What we do today will eventually be the past that those who come after us will study. To me that is both a privilege and a responsibility. What I do in my own performances and what I do to encourage or discourage those around me might influence the future of clowning. I want to be a positive influence. The 2010 Circus Fans of America Convention participants were hosted by the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. We got to go on a back stage tour and visit with performers before the arena was opened to the public. Larry Clark, a clown currently touring with the RBB&B Circus, recognized me. He said that I had gone out to lunch with him at the 1994 Circus Fans of America Convention and answered his questions about my experience as a circus clown. He said I gave him the confidence that he could do that as well. He was hired by a tented circus where he gained experience and now he plays a prominent role with the RBB&B Circus. I am sure that others are inspired by watching him perform. It was encouraging to me to hear that I had played a tiny part in what he has accomplished.
How can you be inspired by those who have gone before us? How can you help preserve the present art of clowning for study by future generations of entertainers? What kinds of contributions are you making to the future of clowning? How can you make sure that your contributions are positive ones?