Monday, October 14, 2013

Humor Abuse

For about 20 years we lived in a neighborhood in Sacramento called Curtis Park.   About a year after we moved into the neighborhood the local school closed for earthquake safety reasons.   The moron city councilman at the time suggested that they convert the facility into a drug rehab center - and the neighborhood rose up.   He eventually became mayor but the locals stopped his nonsensical idea.

The neighborhood had an odd mix of people - tradespeople like carpenters and plumbers and heavy duty political types.   Ultimately, the school was acquired by a newly formed 501c3 called the Sierra Curtis Neighborhood Association and was rehabbed with sweat equity.  The people who knew the building trades helped the rest of us paint and plumb the place and when we needed political activity (some idiot opposed a beer and wine license) those of us in the political trades scared the hell out of the thumper who wanted to oppose our request for the license.   At one point a group of us sat down with the pastor who was opposing our liquor license - arrayed against him were the lobbyists for the ACLU, Standard Oil, the independent colleges and the committee consultant for the Governmental Operations Committee - we growled at him and he folded.  Such were the resources in the neighborhood.

But in order to fund all the improvements we did a series of fund raisers.  We got Taj Mahal to come and present a concert in the 200 person school theater.  We also developed something around Halloween called the pumpkin toss where people built catapults to hurl pumpkins.   But the major fund raiser for three years was the Pickle Family Circus.  It was a one ring circus that was started in San Francisco by a guy named Larry Pisoni.   His son, Lorenzo, developed a one person show called Humor Abuse which is a superb retrospective on his experience growing up as a clown.  Lorenzo started with the troupe very young and eventually became a regular performer - ending up at Vassar and then in a career that has been mostly in show business.

The Pickle Family Circus was formed in the mid-1970s and lasted for a while and then became a permanent part of a center in San Francisco on circus skills.   They worked with community groups like Sierra Curtis.  The deal was simple - they got the gate and the neighborhood group got the concessions.  If you got a good crowd - and it was on the group to raise the crowd - you got a lot of people frequenting the concessions and you made dough.   In one year the Sierra Curtis Association made more than $30,000 over a weekend.   Lorenzo started as a clown when he was about 2 and performed actively all across the country and in a few venues outside of the US until he was about high school age.

Humor Abuse is a series of personal reflections but also a set of five or six extended skits - one on how to fall down stairs; one on timing (where he walks through the stage while a group of 30 pound sand sacks drop very close to him); one which is a reprise of his father's opening routine which uses a series of helium balloons; and one of a clown diving from a high ladder into a bucket of water.   Each of the skits uses pantomime with great effect - but the commentary is also very interesting.  The performance was special to us because my wife was one of the coordinators of two of the Pickle Family performances for Sierra Curtis - but Pisoni is such a gifted entertainer that even if you did not know the history - it would be an enjoyable 90 minutes.  We did know the history so it was extra special.

Pisoni is also doing a Kickstarter which has six days to go but has been successfully funded.  The goal is to produce a video of the performance.  At the higher levels you actually get the ability to download a video of the performance.

The performance is being presented at the Mark Taper forum in LA until early November, where we saw it last night.  Pisoni is a gifted clown but an equally talented story teller.  If you are in LA you should try to get tickets; if not you should support the Kickstarter to get a copy of the performance on video.

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