As May graduation approaches, most seniors realize that they need to stop clowning around, but senior theater major Tim Simeone just began his clowning career. As he co-writes, produces and stars in the upcoming play Clown Logic: Truth is a Joke at Miami University, it seems he won’t be getting too serious anytime soon.
The recent clown school graduate and soon to be Miami University graduate spent last summer at clown school in New York City, paid for by Miami.
Simeone was awarded one of the competitive grants offered through the Undergraduate Summer Scholars Program.
“Summer Scholars is a nationwide program that Miami participates in,” said William Doan, associate dean of the School of Fine Arts. “Students from all over the university apply for the grants. It’s pretty competitive and departments are only given a certain allotment of money, depending on the number of applications. Last year, when Tim went, we gave out two (grants).”
With the money, Simeone attended a two and a half week summer intensive program at The New York City Goofs, advertised as America’s premier clown troupe.
The remaining funds were used on Clown Logic – a collaboration with three other theater majors – to write, star and produce a show that involves a lot more than laughs.
“Some people might think it’s a clown show we want everybody to laugh, but really we want everyone see a truthful event happen on stage,” Simeone said. “We want to inspire laughter, but really it’s about the truth.”
He hopes that perfecting his stand up routines will help him stand out. Simeone worked on everything from entrances, presentation, eccentric dance, physical comedy, to juggling during this time at clown school.
“What I wanted was to give my acting some expertise,” Simeone said. “Give my resume an extra boost from the rest of the pile.”
Clowning is more than fun and games – with face paint and a red rubber nose.
According to Doan, clowning has a long history, which plays an important role in understanding a country’s culture.
“I think historically the clown has been a social commentary in Western tradition, we find clowns as far back as the ancient Greeks, the clown represents the audience, the marginalized people,” Doan said. “The clown’s job is to critique the world. To make you think about the poor, the oppressed. As entertainers, they have to be the most skilled and accomplished.”
Simeone believes that clowning is truth, and this is evident in Clown Logic. The show is based on real and personal experiences of the four actors – Simeone, senior Darren Bailey, senior Beth Stelling, and sophomore Alex Homer, who is the “straight man,” or the non-clown actor in the production.
Clown Logic blends comedy with logic and events in the actors’ lives that are universally relatable, according to Simeone. It deals with issues of relationships, political convictions, religion, childhood memories, family and friends.
Bailey has high hopes for the performance.
“I would like it if the audience could relate to what we’re talking about and know that it’s OK to laugh at themselves,” Bailey said. “Too much of the time people are too reserved and don’t want to show their insecurities.”
Even the creation of a clown show involves a lot of serious collaboration and work.
“I learned so much from my classes, books … I had so much new information that I wanted to apply,” Simeone said.
Starting from scratch, the actors have been rehearsing for six hours a week since January.
The play incorporates the actors’ different strengths and Simeone and Bailey feel that through each rehearsal, the performance gets stronger.
“Tim’s always had a knack for physical comedy,” Bailey said. “I’ve been able to look at him and pick apart the physical things that he does. I’ve helped Tim take a step backalittle bit. We influence each other and each other’s performance.”
Simeone’s interest in clowning was sparked by a visit from clown Bill Irwin his sophomore year. Irwin, winner of a 2005 Tony Award, is proficient in both film and stage performance and has co-starred with notable actors and comedians such as Robin Williams and Steve Martin.
Simeone was an English education and theater double major prior to Irwin’s on campus appearance.
“After seeing Bill Irwin, I dropped my English (education) major,” Simeone said. “I originally thought I wanted to teach so I could make kids laugh – but learn too. When I was talking to Doan, I began to understand that I just wanted the attention – so maybe teaching wasn’t a good idea.”
The decisions to switch into solely theater would make most parents nervous, but not Gail and Lee Simeone.
“Talking to so many parents that are worried about having their kids involved in the arts, saying ‘Oh why can’t he go be a banker,'” Gail said. “And that might be true for their son. But it’s not true for ours.”
Simeone’s parents have been juggling his theatric personality for a long time.
“I could tell you that when he was a little kid in the backseat he needed a stage, he loved to make people laugh,” Gail said. “He could do it in lots of ways.”
Simeone jokes about the difference between graduating from Miami with a theater major versus something that leads to a high-paying job.
“It’s hard to hear that someone is going to work at AT&T right out of college and make 80 grand,” Simeone said. “I won’t make 80 grand in … I don’t know how many years but that’s the difference between an accounting major and a theater major. My parents keep telling me not to worry about the money, but it’s hard not to.”
As Simeone approaches his second graduation, he notes the significant differences.
“In college, you find out who you are,” Simeone said. “In clown school, I learned to laugh at who I am.”
He plans to move to Chicago and spend the summer working with Big Picture Group, which, according to its Web site, says its mission is to see life differently by using theater as a lens, through which the “dynamics of contemporary life might be brought into focus.”
After his time with Big Picture Group, Simeone wants to continue taking classes to keep the competitive edge.
“If you’re not working on your craft, you can be sure someone else is,” Simeone said.
Clown Logic starts at 8 p.m. April 19, 20, and 21 in Studio 88 in the Center for Performing Arts. Admission is free.