I Tumble. Occasionally I look back through time’s foggy filter at those 52 jokers; memories from four decades past. We worked in groups, rotating every few hours. We acted like animals, like statues, like furniture. We mimed. We made costumes and built props. We put on makeup, and for months we learned from the masters.
Clown College, convened in Venice Florida, in a building resembling a vintage airplane hanger. The inside was retrofitted with seating and 3 rings, every inch reeking of historic circus lore. If Harry Potter had lived, you’d have met him here. In the fall of ’74 each member of our circus faculty was an artistic master of his or her craft, unselfishly gifting us a lifetime of experience. Managing us like like feral cats, they focused our instinctive energy, trained us, and rewarded us with new found talent. They were older clowns, jugglers, prop builders, balancing experts, mimes, costumers and a retired flyer who taught tumbling. Daily sessions of learning and passion looped and lingered as we consumed each craft with attention to detail and persistent practice. We were lions on raw meat. Talent was requisite, but instinct and raw gumption was paramount.
Still, insecurity was a caged companion, pacing and persisting, demanding attention. Its morning roar screamed ‘success is not in your arena.’ It’s purr whispered a murmuring interrogation. “When will these incredible trainers realize that I don’t belong here? I’m not that good. They’ll probably set me free and send me back home.”
But schedules allotted no time for the precarious thoughts of self doubt. Clowning was too physical, too frantic. This was circus! Don’t think! Move! I still tingle in fear and wonder at recollections of old man Guyona. “You do eet. Fleep!” he’d say in heavily accented English, but before you could say,”I don’t know how to do a flip …” he barked “Do EET!” And suddenly, a fearful impulsiveness would cause you to “Do EET!” …. and like the lion from The Wizard of Oz … you ran, you rolled, you dove, and you flipped and right behind you was the next person, and then the next, on mats on a mini trampoline, over each other, off each other. Success wasn’t pretty, but “You deed EET!” Such is my warm recollection.
Old man Guyona, by-passing logical mind harnessed the fight-or-flight instinct. He had passed this training on to his family of flyers who risked their lives on the trapeze each day doing doubles, triples, and double doubles, with a net beneath meant only to catch them when the act finished. Mistakes were not in the program.
Now he was training us. His magic? A simple mantra. “Do EET!” “Do eet again. Eeets OK, next time …” Tumbling was more than technique, it was a command. You were told to do it, so you did it. You succeeded because no one suggested that you fail. As though you’d always known but nobody ever told you. Old man Gayona simply said it, and it was so. He gave you power; permission to succeed. “Get out of my way, I’m going to dance the jig on the top of this flagpole. “I do EET!”
Sure, I remember nearly breaking my ankle trying to do a flip while dismounting from a unicycle in Dallas two years later. I never did learn that trick. Instead I learned to keep moving. Stop and the next thing in life’s line is going to land on you, to crush you. Don’t think, roll out of its way. When the cast got wet in the shower I cut it off. I deed it. On with the show.
Daily life is a 3 ring circus, a new and unscripted show, complete with daring, danger, and adventure. My collars are no longer stained with a greasepaint halo, but a red nose is a permanent attitude that cannot be erased. My heart no longer pumps slivers of sawdust, but a trained lion doesn’t forget. My folded feet now fit into smaller shoes, but a painted smile shows no fear. And I ready myself to collide with clown characters daily as I look in the morning mirror. A voice, a voice, strong and clear shouts “You DO EET!” There is no choice. Today is here. The lights are on. Get ready. Perform. “Do EET!” Agree to succeed. To run. To balance. To roll. Fly.