Growing up, Chris’s parents Julie and Ed Fowler would take him to see the Ringling Bros. Circus every year. Chris always found the clowns to be the most entertaining of all the acts.
This past year, the sixth grader from Nebbie Williams Elementary School found himself throwing on some face paint and clown shoes for the opportunity of his life – to train in clowning with a renowned Ringling Bros. Circus clown!
It all started with a project Chris had to do for his fourth grade class last year. For the project, Chris was asked to do a presentation on a famous Texan. Naturally, he wanted to spotlight a famous clown from the Lone Star State. After conducting some research, he decided on a well-known Ringling Brothers clown named Nick Rainone.
Nick comes from a family of famous clowns. His parents John Rainone and Valentine Burton performed as the clowns “Bonkers” and “Poppy” in the kids TV show Club 27. The two appeared in approximately 1,000 episodes from 1988 to 1991.
After interviewing Nick for his project, Chris received an invite from Nick last summer to train with him at the Lone Star Circus School in Dallas. The school is the only professional circus training program in the state. Nick provided Chris with props, outfits and even his own trunk in which he carried all of his clown equipment when he was a boy.
Tricks of the Clowning Trade
During the past year, Chris has learned all about the basic methods of clowning from Nick and the other Lone Star coaches. He has learned how to juggle, how to balance objects on his head, and about the different types of clowns.
“The leader of the clowns is the Whiteface, the next one is the Character clown, and the last one is the Auguste, which is the type of clown that I am,” Chris said. “So like in the show SpongeBob, Patrick is the Character, SpongeBob is the Auguste and Squidward is the Whiteface. I’m kind of like the Character and the Auguste at the same time. I like being the Auguste because they’re small and crazy, and I love crazy.”
Chris said it took a while to learn all the different tricks of the trade. But he’s gotten a lot more confident this past year with his juggling ability. One trick in particular he likes to do is called “Knee High,” where he bounces a ball off his knee. Another is “Tennis,” where one ball travels back and forth over the others.
“There are lots of different juggling tricks, but those two are my favorites,” Chris said.
‘Gisbo the Clown’
After a year of training, Chris has officially become part of a Clown Alley – a group of clowns who perform for a specific circus – and attends rehearsal at Lone Star Circus once a week. Chris performs as “Gisbo the Clown” during the transitions between acts, either by himself or with two other clowns. The name “Gisbo” was his dad’s nickname for Chris from when he was a baby.
“We thought that was a really good name for a clown,” Chris said.
Apart from circus shows, Chris also likes to do volunteer performances for local groups, charities and events. Earlier in the spring, he entertained guests with his eye-catching tricks during the Aspasians Marketplace. Then in June, he provided a fun performance for the seniors of the Fate Senior program.
This fall, Chris will perform in a couple of skits including a show at the Arborteum on Sept. 7 and the Cirque Glam Gala Night benefiting the Lone Star Circus School on Oct. 12.
“I love hearing the laughs from people who watch me perform,” Chris said. “It just makes me feel good.”
By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News. Courtesy photos.
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