WHAT COULD PROMPT an actor who?s attended the prestigious Eugene O?Neill Theater Center in Connecticut to run off to San Francisco to clown school? A love of the circus, boredom with standard stage work, and the archetypal allure of clowning itself. In the fall of 2002, 31-year-old Ricci, a native of west Texas, enrolled in a one-year course in the Clown Conservatory, part of the San Francisco School of Circus Arts?in the face of skepticism from bohemian theater pals. ?They asked me, ?What are you going to do with it??? says Ricci, laughing. ?But clowning unifies so many of the parts of my personality that it?s a natural. It?s great theater: Clown routines are short and distilled, so every moment is intense and powerful. And it?s a privilege to be the first performing artist that many children see.?
Clown training is no laughing matter: intensive work in Chinese acrobatics, a skills class (wire work, juggling, and other tricks with props) and ?Core Clowning,? which explores the great clowning themes and practitioners, from ancient Roman fools to Bugs Bunny and Mr. Bean. For now, Ricci spends most of her time at the school, hurrying home to her Haight district flat to collapse and dream of the not-too-distant day when she?ll take her place in the tradition of one of the world?s oldest, and funniest, arts.
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