Clown hopefuls audition for a spot in 'the greatest show on Earth'

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus stops in Chicago for open tryouts

August 30, 2012

Cassidy Herrington

(WBEZ/Andrew Gill)
Circus hopefuls audition in Chicago at the Joffrey Ballet facilities for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Clown College 2012.

Eight clown contenders now have a chance to join “the greatest show on Earth.” Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus was in town Wednesday to hold its first open audition in Chicago in four years.

The day started with 26 clownish people who answered the audition call and tried out in front of a panel of giggly judges at the Joffrey Ballet dance studios. One of the judges and Director of Talent, David Kiser, was in stitches throughout the audition process.

“It’s not every time we have an audition that everyone has a moment of brilliance,” Kiser said. “And I can tell you today that everyone had a moment of brilliance.”

The tryout consisted of an hour-long clown training, partner skits and solo auditions.

Karen Hoyer is a mime and movement instructor for Ringling Clown College. Hoyer coached the candidates through an intensive, hour-long Clowning 101 class. Her clothing punctuated her mime expertise -- black tights, a black-and-white striped shirt and black Converse sneakers. She instructed her pupils to sneak, strut and act “clown-esque.”

“They have to be able to use their entire physicality because we are performing in gigantic arenas,” Hoyer said. “They have to be able communicate what they need to communicate all the way back to the very tip-top row.”

Some candidates traveled from as far as Florida and New York City for this rare chance to show off their juggling and mime routines.

Margaret Lute took the Greyhound from Akron, Ohio, because she thought the tryout would be “an adventure.” She lost her job at a children’s theater company just over a month ago.

“I’ll get to travel, which is what I love to do,” Lute said. “And I’ll have a great story for to tell my grandkids someday that grandma got to run off to the circus at 25.”

Unlike other performers who brought music or props like a leaf-blower, Lute’s audition was silent. She specializes in mime. The judges picked her for the final cut.

“I am very excited, I can’t believe it,” Lute said. “Honestly, I was not expecting this at all.”

She and the seven other finalists will attend the circus’ two-week Clown College in Rosemont. The top performers there actually get to run away with the circus.