Bruce Johnson

Charlie The Juggling Clown

Creating Happy Memories that Last a Lifetime


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Clowning in Discover Stars on Ice

By Bruce “Charlie” Johnson

The 1998-1999 American tour of Discover Stars On Ice featured a return to the tradition of clowning on ice.

Steven Cousins, wearing white overalls, portrays a comedy janitor throughout the show. He starts with an audience warm up before the show actually begins, and reappears between many of the numbers. In one scene he refuses to leave the ice, so one of the other skaters brings out a vaudeville hook to pull him off. The hook snags his overalls which break away leaving him in comedy underwear. He tries to cover himself up, and then quickly leaves the ice.

In one scene he has a spray bottle and rag. He stands in one corner of the ice, acting like he is cleaning a window. He squirts water from the bottle so that some of the spray drifts onto audience members. He apologizes to them, and moves further onto the ice. He sprays water again, and a cracking noise is heard. A large jagged line representing a crack is projected onto the ice near the other end of the arena. He gets a bucket of slush to fill in the crack. Then Tara Lipinski brings him a giant carpenter’s level to check that the ice is smooth.

Suddenly Kristi Yamaguchi appears in a clown fat suit and the music begins. This begins a twelve-minute long production number featuring the entire fourteen-member cast in a clown act choreographed by Olympic Gold Medal ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, and directed by Sandra Bezic.

The majority of the cast then joins Kristi on the ice. They don't wear any make up, just a sponge ball nose. Their costumes, designed by Jeff Billings, use a lot of black and white checked material, or black plaids. They each wear a coat or vest that is red, blue, or yellow trimmed in primary colors. Their costumes all incorporate patches in some way. They all wear white dickies, and wigs. Most of the cast also wear a hat.

The cast spreads out around the perimeter in duos or trios performing comedy bits. Russian pair skaters Elena Bechke and Denis Petrov do a mouth coil routine. Most of the others do some type of physical comedy.

Then Scott Hamilton bursts through the entrance blowing a whistle. He is dressed in black plaid pants, long red coat with a sunflower on the lapel, red wig, red nose, and yellow bowler hat. The rest of the cast begin to minimize their actions so the focus goes entirely to Scott. (The entire production number is an outstanding example of controlling focus.) Scott races across the ice, trips, stumbles a few more feet, and then falls down.

Tara Lipinski enters. She is dressed identically to Scott except she doesn't have a red nose. She isn't a clown yet, but wants to be one. She imitates Scott hoping that will make her a clown. Scott gets up, and skates toward one side of the ice. Tara follows him, copying his actions exactly. They stop to adjust their hats. Scott turns around and skates to the opposite side of the ice followed by Tara. He acts like he hears somebody in the audience tell him Tara is following him. He looks over one shoulder, but she leans in the opposite direction so he doesn't see her. He turns around, but she skates in a circle staying behind his back. Scott skates off, and then stops suddenly. Tara lays down on her back and slides between his legs. As soon as she is clear, Scott spins around without "seeing" her. She leaps up and follows him.

Scott is the boss clown. He blows his whistle and all the other clowns form a line behind him. They skate along flapping their arms in unison with their feet apart. Then Scott leans backwards until he is laying on the lap of the skater behind him. That skater. leans back onto the lap of the person behind him. This continues until every person, except for the last one, is laying on the skater behind them. The last skater stands up supporting the entire line. Then Scott slides down so he is laying on the ice. The entire line of clowns pass over him.

Scott gets up, blows his whistle, and the clowns line up behind him again with their hands on the waist of the person in front of them. Tara is at the end of the line. The line of clowns does a spiral move gliding on their left feet. Then they "crack the whip" sending Tara careening towards the edge of the ice. She steps up onto the rubber walk way surrounding the ice, and then tip toes back onto the ice.

While Tara is away from the group the clowns line up side by side. They begin a routine, based on a standard improvisation exercise called "build a machine," in which they each do a repetitive motion that is in some way connected to the movement of the person next to them. Ekaterina Gordeeva stands with her right arm straight out to the side. When Scott pushes down on her arm, her left leg raises. Elena pushes down on her leg which causes her arm to raise for Scott to push down starting the cycle over. After Elena pushes down on Ekaterina's leg she turns in the opposite direction tapping Kristi on the shoulder which causes Kristi to spin around, knocking the next clown over, who is caught and stood up by the next clown. The movements continue down the whole line of clowns. Tara joins the group, skating between the clowns, but can't find a way to fit into the movements.

Scott blows his whistle, and the clowns break up into little groups. Scott skates along one edge of the ice, and his sunflower begins squirting water. Scott returns to the center of the ice, jumps over one clown laying on the ice, ducks under Kristi being lifted by her feet and shoulders, and is caught by two male clowns who flip him up and over. Then he goes down to one knee and opens his arms wide as the music ends. Tara is right behind him copying his gesture.

The other clowns skate to the edge of the ice, stepping off onto the rubber leaving Scott and Tara on the ice alone.

Scott stands up, turns around, sees Tara, screams, and runs away. His scream scares Tara so she also runs away. They both stop. Scott isn't sure what he saw so he turns back just as Tara also turns around. They now start a Mirror routine. Previously Tara was behind Scott copying his moves exactly, i.e. doing everything with her right hand that he did with his right hand. Now Tara is facing Scott and mirroring his movements, i.e. doing everything he does with her left hand that he does with his right.

They glide towards each other, breathe on the "mirror" and wipe it off. They back up, and then skate in a large circle inspecting each other. • They stop, and Scott scratches his head with his right hand. Tara scratches her head with her right hand, breaking the image of the mirror. Scott stops and looks at his right hand. Tara quickly switches hands so she is back to a correct mirror image of Scott. Scott turns away perplexed. Tara also turns away, wipes her forehead in relief, and looks back over her shoulder to see what Scott is doing. Scott quickly turns back, puts his thumbs in his ears, and wiggles his fingers. Tara mirrors his movements. He turns away, lifts his coat, and looks back through his legs. They straighten up, turn towards each other, and skate forward. Then Scott makes wild gestures which are matched by Tara. Using big movements, they skate to Scott's right, stop, spin around, reverse direction, stop, and spin again. Scott is famous for his complicated straight line footwork. He starts doing some quick intricate steps, and Tara manages to match him. This display of technical skill brought applause from the audience. Scott and Tara stop facing each other, and mirror some more quick gestures.

Scott takes off his hat, and sweeps it around in a large circle at arms length. Tara copies him. He holds his hat in both hands. Suddenly he drops his hat, which rebounds because he is holding a piece of elastic attached inside the brim. Tara's hat drops to the ice because she doesn't have elastic in her hat. (This is the same ending performed by Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx in the "Lucy Meets Harpo" episode of I Love Lucy.)

Scott gives a little shout of delight and skates off.

The other clowns, returning to the ice, form a line. One by one Scott starts them spinning. He blows his whistle commanding them to keep spinning. He lounges on the ice, lazily tooting his whistle, while Tara dashes about giving each clown a little push to keep them turning. Finally Scott gets up to take a bow, and Tara collapses in exhaustion.

The clowns gather around Scott, as he produces silks tied in a line. Tara sits up on the ice, and looks forlornly at the clowns. Beautiful music begins playing quietly. Tara gets up, skates off, and removes her hat and coat. Dressed in plaid pants with suspenders, and a black long sleeve shirt, she skates gracefully around the ice.

The clowns turn their attention to her, moving slowly in unison as they watch. Realizing what they have done by rejecting her, they begin to cry. Kristi leaves the group, takes a heart off her costume, and attaches it to Tara's suspenders. Kristi guides her to another clown waiting with a bundle of balloons. Tara takes the balloons and starts to float away. (A bow holding the strings of the balloons conceals an acrobat's hand loop attached to a thin wire from a winch in the over head lighting frame.) The clown grabs Tara's ankles, pulling her back down. The female clowns each remove a patch from their costumes and apply them to Tara's pants. Male clowns give her a top hat and bow tie. Then Scott puts a foam rubber nose on her. Two of the men lift her onto their shoulders while the rest of the cast styles towards her. Slowly the men turn around so the entire audience can see her smile. She wasn't able to become a clown by copying their appearance and actions, but now that she has touched them emotionally they accept her.

A drum cadence begins as Tara is set down on the ice. It changes to jazz music as all the clowns form a circle and juggle three scarfs.

Putting their scarfs away, the clowns move into a square formation. They begin doing dance steps in unison. Maintaining their unison, they all stumble over something, turn around, find it, toss it over their shoulder, turn back around, stumble over it a second time, and kick it out of the way.

They resume their dance until they almost run into the edge of the ice.

Splitting up into small groups, the others form pyramids while Scott and Tara skate off together. When they are near the edge of the ice, Scott's flower squirts audience members again. Gathering speed they start down the center of the ice. Tara turns facing Scott as they go into a glide. Scott puts his hands under Tara's arms to support her as she bends her knees so they go between Scott's legs. Scott sits down on her knees in such a way that his knees go under her arms supporting her. They both lean back gliding along in this push-me-pull-you position that is traditional with ice skating clown duos.

They get up from their position, and each pick up a bucket. All the clowns, except Steven Cousins, gather around them as they skate to one of the ends of the ice. When Scott tosses the contents of his bucket at the audience, mylar streamers attached to the bucket come out. The clowns turn around and skate toward Steven. Tara and Scott are each holding the remaining bucket with one hand. Steven dares them to throw its contents at him. When they do, streamers come out. Steven gestures derisively with his arm. He skates a little further down the ice, turns to face the clowns, sticks out his tongue, and waves his hands. Suddenly a lot of water from an overhead dump tank falls on him.

Steven exits while the clowns line up for a bow, and go back to doing a dance step. He returns driving a miniature Zamboni with a sign identifying it as a Zamaguchi. (Kristi's last name is Yamaguchi.) Steven chases the clowns off the ice, does a victory spin, and drives off ending the clown act and the first half of the show.

The mechanical movements and those done in unison by the Discover Stars on Ice cast are an example of Henri Bergson’s theory that comedy is “something mechanical encrusted upon the living.”

(Originally published in The Clown In Times Volume Five Issue 3 Spring 1999.  Copyright 1999 by Bruce “Charlie” Johnson.  All rights reserved.)


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