This year marks 250 years since the start of modern circus. It was in 1768 that Philip Astley began his circus entertainment in Waterloo in London. To celebrate, here's the latest in our new series of pieces from circus performers explaining a little about the history of their discipline. In this blog, Cirque du Soleil's Gerald Regitschnig explains the art of clowning.
When I was 12 years old, I went to see a show from Circus Knie in Switzerland. I saw a clown called Dimitri and fell in love right away with clowning. I then told my parents that one day, I’d like to be the clown for that same company. At the time, my mum was a bit sceptical and didn’t know how serious my wish and dream was.
Eight years later, I was performing in Circus Knie! I first went to a theatre school in Zurich and in 1989, Circus Knie was casting clowns for the season to come. They approached me and I ended working for them. That’s how it all started.
A few years after, Knie and Cirque du Soleil did a co-production together and that’s how I got my first contract with this company, which I didn’t know much about at the time. In 1998, Cirque du Soleil approached me to star in a dinner show called Pomp Duck and Circumstance and I ended up performing with that show as a clown for six years. Then I worked on Dralion for another six years and I went on the road with that show before I stopped for a few years in Spain, did my own circus projects and spent time with my family.
I perform as a clown in Cirque du Soleil’s OVO. OVO is a show happening in the world of the insects. Different kinds of bugs – doing different circus disciplines – living altogether and I’m Master Flipo, who is the father of this community. This is my role as a clown in the show – I take care of the harmony in this eclectic group and I look after all of my insects.
Of course, my real job is to make the public laugh at the same time as I’m leading the story with my two other partners. I work with two other clowns in the show: François-Guillaume Leblanc from Canada – playing the Foreigner and a very energetic fly – and Neiva Nascimento from Brazil – performing the role of the lovely Ladybug. Together, we are doing a lot of physical comic scenes and we have a lot of fun on stage.
When I started to perform as a clown, my first inspiration was definitely the theatrical clowning. Then more and more, I studied circus clownery which has definitely inspired my style.
For me, since I joined Cirque du Soleil, the clown roles have become more like acting roles. I feel more like a comedian who plays a clowning role than an onstage clown. Clownery is more contemporary than it was before. But I’m definitely having the same fun on stage.
Gerald Regitschnig is currently starring in Cirque du Soleil's OVO at the Royal Albert Hall which runs until 4 March. The show then tours to UK arenas from 16 August to 7 October.