‘FOOLISHNESS’ WITH LARRY PISONI

23 Nov

By NANCY WOZNY 

Larry Pisoni returns to Houston to reprise his role as the fool in Revels Houston’s production of The Christmas Revels, a medieval celebration of the Winter Solstice. Pisoni, a renowned clown, has performed with Circus Flora, Circo Zoppe Internacionale and Cirque du Soleil, and along with such luminary performers as Yo Yo Ma, Bill Irwin and Geoff Hoyle. He’s the founder of the Pickle Family Circus and is also a nationally known circus educator. Pisoni fills us in on life in the clown lane. 

Nancy Wozny: Can you give us some historical background on the fool in this production? 

Larry Pisoni: The fool would be the guy that showed up on market day to perform for people. He was unkempt, a loner and probably lived in the woods in close proximity to women who were considered healers and witches. He juggled, did acrobatics, a touch of magic – a little bit of everything. He was also probably a little raunchy and bawdy in his humor.  

NW: You were the first fool in The Christmas Revels

LP: Yes, I originated this part in Cambridge in 1996. At first, the character was written with dialogue. I suggested that we perform him mute, which is really my forte, although I am a trained actor. It’s not mime, though. I just don’t speak, so it’s more like a silent movie. The fool can speak, he just chooses not to. At least that is how I am playing it. 

NW: What’s the juicy part of the role for you? 

LP: Well, all Revels plays are celebrations of the Solstice, and I participate in that. But it’s the relationship between the Fool and the King that is intriguing. The King tolerates the Fool and reminds him of his place from time to time. Similarly, the Fool reminds the King that he is mortal. So they have this symbiotic relationship. 

NW:  What keeps you reveling? 

LP: I always enjoy the lovely dancing and music, which is part of every Revels show. I also appreciate the audiences that Revels attracts, which include people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. The cast mixes amateurs and professionals, another highlight. 

NW: What brought you into the clown world? 

LP: My grandparents performed in vaudeville shows, my grandfather as a comic and my grandmother as a dancer. She started a dance school that I got dragged to in Long Island, NY. I was the kid in the back who did not want to shuffle off to Buffalo. I learned some acrobatics. What five- or six-year-old wouldn’t want to do that? From ages 7-11, I performed in a comedy and acrobatic act at state fairs. During the 1960s, I audited some acting classes at New York University. I caught the acting bug, and before long I was performing with Geoff Hoyle’s troupe, Circo del Arte. I have since performed with The Pickle Family Circus, Circus Flora, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey, and many other shows. I performed my own solo show, Clown Clown, Clown, Clown, Clown, Clown, Clown, for several years. Oh, and I did one movie, Popeye. It bombed, but still, it was directed by Robert Altman. 

NW: Even a bad movie by Altman is exciting. 

LP: That’s what I thought; he was terribly interesting to watch work. Plus, the screenplay was by Jules Feiffer. 

NW: Can you give us a flash history of clowns? 

LP: I think of a clown as a verb, not a noun. Clowns go back to pre-history as long as humans have been alive. The literary clown goes back to the Greek playwright Menander. The clown tradition that most of us work from today stems from Commedia dell’Arte, more specially Pedrolino, who evolved into Pierrot. Joseph Grimaldi originated the circus clown we are familiar with who wears the wig, garish make-up and outfits. Today, a clown should be able to do a little bit of everything. I trace my roots back to the fool in the marketplace. I am from that lineage. 

NW: Any thoughts about returning to Houston? 

LP: In addition to performing this same Revels show a decade ago, I came here with Circus Flora and with San Francisco Mime Troupe. I met lovely people and I look forward to seeing them all again. 

Larry Pisoni performs in Revels Houston’s The Christmas Revels production on December 12-13 and December 19-20, in the Wortham Theater, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts, at the University of Houston campus. Call 713-669-9528 or visit www.revelshouston.org.

 

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