Charlie The Juggling Clown
Creating Happy Memories that Last a Lifetime
Rone and Gigi --
with very large ears stand on stage, each reading a page from the newspaper.
Suddenly the short fat one accidentally tears his paper in half.
His tall thin partner tries to copy him, but only manages to tear a small
piece off the paper. The short one
tears his paper in half several times. The
tall one tears another small piece off and then manages to tear it in half.
Excitedly he repeatedly tears his paper.
The short clown then restores his paper revealing that the name Gigi is
spelled across the center in large red letters.
The tall clown tries to restore his paper, but it is still in small
pieces. When Gigi begins to laugh at
him, he throws the wadded up newspaper at him.
Then he gets a sign announcing that his name is Rone.
Gigi grabs his sign pulling it away from him revealing that he has a
second smaller Rone sign that had been hidden behind the first.
Gigi grabs that sign, and Rone tips his hat allowing a banner with his
name on it to unfurl. Gigi tries to
hit him with the signs, but he ducks and accidentally hits Gigi with his hat.
Rone runs around behind a waist high wall set up across the back of the
stage and descends an escalator. Gigi
tries to follow him but gets onto a conveyor belt that does not descend.
Their chase scene behind the wall includes walking down stairs, riding
the moving slide walk, ascending and descending escalators, and going up and
down in elevators. At the end, Rone
pulls an overhead chain and as the sound of a toilet flushing is heard Gigi
spins around as she is pulled down.
the signature piece of Rone and Gigi, the Open Sesame theatrical clown troupe
Rone and Gigi
Illustration by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson
I had the
pleasure of appearing in a show with them at the 1997 U-W Clown Camp ®. I
spent the rest of the week looking for the Japanese men to tell them how much I
enjoyed working with them. It
wasn’t until they returned the following year that I learned two beautiful
young women were behind the male characters.
Chizuko Hashimoto. She began
clowning when she attended the first session of the
from a theatrical family. Her father
was a Kabuki actor. Rone was an
actress appearing in straight plays, musicals, television, and movies prior to
“I was a lazy student at
“There are three approaches to being a clown.
You can approach it as a business. You
can approach it as art. You can
approach it as a caring clown. All
three are okay, but our approach is to try to combine clowning and art.”
by a performance in
addition to the language barrier, the duo faced the food shortage caused by the
break up of the
first we were both goofy characters,” Rone said, “but that didn’t work.
Then Gigi created her new character.”
first character was a silly girl,” said Gigi.
since created younger characters with more exaggerated Auguste make up including
their trademark big ears attached to skull caps.
Gigi constructed a fat body suit that she wears with both of her male
characters. They perform most often
as their Big Ears characters, but still use their original old men in some of
their clown plays.
recently created even younger characters, two little children.
They strap shoes to their knees and perform while kneeling to make
themselves shorter. That allows for
some amazing lean effects. In one
very charming scene the children are in a day care center waiting for their
mothers. At first the two
children do not get along, but they end up becoming friends. The highlight of
the scene is playing a song together on bells.
the duo went to
training is evident in their wall routine.
While the mechanics of their mime illusions are simple, the details they
have added are what makes it effective. For
example, the mime elevators stop with a little bounce.
They practice yoga and work out at gyms to maintain the strength and
flexibility necessary to perform their routines.
just one basis for their comedy movement. Clowns
have been described as living cartoon characters. Rone
and Gigi studied Tom and Jerry cartoons to learn more about comedy, timing, and
gags in the Tom and Jerry cartoons are punctuated with sounds.
Gigi and Rone do the same thing in their live performances.
Using a collection of sound effects recorded on a mini-disc Cathy, a
third member of their troop, provides the sounds in synchronization with their
actions. They rehearse extensively
to perfect their timing. However,
even when they improvise, Cathy is able to anticipate their actions and provide
the appropriate sound. Rone said,
“Cathy knows how we prepare for a hit. We
never just hit each other. We always
prepare. (Rone demonstrated how she
draws her arm back before moving it forward in a slap.)
Also, Cathy observes our breathing to know when we are going to do
rehearse, they make extensive use of video tape to see what they look like
because they do not work with an outside director.
Gigi directs their performances as well as those of their students.
(Gigi is the artistic director of Open Sesame while Rone is the business
manager.) She takes her role
seriously and her students joke that she always says “one more time please.”
desire to do clown plays has come true with several full theatrical performances
complete with sets and special lighting effects.
One of their plays told the story of two old men checking into a
sanitarium. In another the clowns
are tourists traveling on the Titanic. Members
of their ongoing professional clown classes fill out the cast of their plays.
teaches clowning three nights a week at their
Gigi choose Open Sesame as the name of their troupe because it is known in
they spoke very little English at the time, Gigi and Rone attended the
Rone have taught the core of regular Clown Camp ® instructors how to
communicate more effectively with students from other cultures.
One of the keys is speaking slowly so they can distinguish between words
and have time to think about the meaning. Another
key is writing things down because people can often comprehend print better than
spoken words. Also, letting somebody
mirror something in hands-on training allows them to understand without words.
their first year at Clown Camp ®, Rone and Gigi impressed everyone with their
skillful performances during Open Mike. Richard
Snowberg, the director of Clown Camp ®, invited them to return the following
year to perform one of their clown plays. I
was seated next to Lee Mullally, Clown Camp ® Assistant Director, during that
ninety-minute show. Suddenly he
leaned over to me and said, “And they come here to learn from us!”
Everyone was amazed by their outstanding timing and exceptional technical
skill combined with clearly defined characters and dramatic conflicts.
and Lee work hard to find staff members for Clown Camp ® who are adept both at
performing and teaching. Performances
by the Open Sesame students were testimony to the effectiveness of Rone and Gigi
as instructors, so they were invited to teach at Clown Camp ® –
also part of the Clown Camp ® program at the 2005 World Clown Festival in
clowns were initially silent, but as she has learned more English, Gigi has
become more vocal uttering sounds and short sentences.
Their acts and skills continue to evolve and improve.
entertainment excellence was recognized in 2002 when Clowns International named
them as the Best Clowns in the Non-member category.
A year later they won the second place award at the prestigious 2003
International Clown Festival in
“Winning awards is important because they give us credibility in
This article originally appeared in The Funny Paper magazine
Volume 7 Number 1.
This article originally appeared in The Funny Paper magazine Volume 7 Number 1.
Copyright 2007 by Bruce "Charlie" Johnson. All rights reserved.
Following the Earthquake and Tsunami in Japan in 2011, Rone and Gigi started Big Ears 4 Kids, a project to bring clowning into the areas hit hardest by the devastation. They have taught clown classes in one town and are raising funds to perform a series of clown shows in the area. For more information go to