Juggling is an apt metaphor for a free-lance career, although the audience sees things differently than the juggler. For example, the audience for a three-ball juggling act set to a Bach cello suite experiences a beautifully structured routine with themes and variations weaving logically through a beginning, middle and end. From the other side, the juggler is mortified to drop a ball, annoyed at the cellist’s ragged tempo and blinded by the glare of the stage lights. This brief look at my freelance career is from the audience’s point of view; I trust that you will fill in the fear, stress and lack of clear vision.
With only a little finagling, my career fits neatly into six movements, one for each decade:
- The theme of the 70’s was circus, starting out as a street juggler then adding clowning and acrobatics to work with some small circuses. I topped off the decade with the Bay City Reds, one of the most successful juggling troupes in the country.
- Acting was a new theme in the 80’s as I studied and performed with Dell’Arte International and then joined the actors’ unions. Circus skills were still in the mix — I spent most of the decade with Vaudeville Nouveau — and it all came together on Broadway with a production of Comedy of Errors. Adventure was an exciting side effect with tours to the Alaskan tundra and 20 other states, seven countries in Europe and six months in the Canadian west on horseback.
- Writing took center stage in the 90’s when a five-month trip to Europe became my first play Father-Land. I wrote eight more plays before the new millennium, and directed many more, while performing with the Pickle Family Circus and acting in theaters around California.
- I co-founded The Clown Conservatory in 2000 and teaching was the dominant theme of the aughts. The highlight of the decade was a 500-performance tour with Cirque du Soleil’s Corteo, in English and Japanese, while still running the school.
- In the teens, my wife Sherry Sherman and I founded the Medical Clown Project to bring professional clowns into hospitals around the Bay Area. I also repurposed many of my performing and teaching skills to work with the global communications consulting firm Stand & Deliver and write my first two books The Secret Life of Clowns and The Snow Clown: Cartwheels on Borders from Alaska to Nebraska.
- As the COVID lockdown of 2020 eased, Stage Directing took center stage in Jeff’s career. Over the years, Jeff had directed many shows — his own plays, other scripts, circuses, devised theater — but writing, performing and teaching had always been his focus. When the original director of his play La Sirène went off to a Broadway job, he stepped in and found a new love for the complex art of staging a production.
Author: The Secret Life of Clowns and The Snow Clown: Cartwheels on Borders from Alaska to Nebraska