EXCLUSIVE: Clowning around with the Piccolini Trio (Part II)

The Piccolini Trio, featuring Joshua Shack, Joy Powers and John Stork

The Piccolini Trio, consisting of Joy Powers, Joshua Shack and John Stork, are ready to set up camp at the Canal Park Playhouse in downtown Manhattan, Jan. 7-29. Their clown act, cleverly titled Circus in a Trunk, spawns from the simple question: What should a group of performers do if the circus never arrives?

For more information on the show, click here. Tickets are priced at $20; performances run Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged e-mails with the triumvirate of talent behind the Piccolini Trio. Here, we present the second in a three-part series about the upcoming engagement of Circus in a Trunk.

The second installment focuses on John Stork, who began his career with Zina and Valodia Augustov of the Moscow State Circus. He has performed with Circus Smirkus, SeaWorld, The Midnight Circus and The Second City.

You all have varied circus careers. How did you come together and develop Circus in a Trunk?

Josh has been there since the very beginning of my career. When I was 15, the first week of my first summer at Circus Smirkus, even though he was a seasoned veteran and I was just a newbie, Josh took the time to teach me how to pass juggling clubs.

Now, 10 years later, we pass clubs in the Picollini Trio. He was a clown and I was strictly an acrobat back then, but we got along great right off the bat. We had a shared sense of humor and a love of great performance.

Josh must have seen some sort of comic potential in me because three years later, after we’d left Smirkus on completely separate career paths, he called me out of the blue. He had just finished writing the show that would become his directorial debut, Out of Orbit, and he wanted me to play one of the two main characters: a clown.

Although I had played comedic characters before, I had never made the jump to full-on clown. Josh took a big risk in casting me, but his vision was true and we collaborated beautifully.

Through his direction and encouragement, I was not only able to comfortably slip into the red nose and grease paint, but joyfully and successfully as well. It felt so natural and fulfilling. We were both very pleased with the results and the audience seemed pleased as well.

We did not get the chance to work together again until, another three years later, he called me about possibly understudying for one of the roles in his new show: The Piccolini Trio.

Could you describe some of the audience reactions over the years, and namely what you expect for Circus in a Trunk? I imagine the kids in the audience enjoy the clowning at one level, while the adults enjoy it perhaps for different reasons. How do you cater to both age groups?

As I’ve said, this is a new show, so “over the years” doesn’t exactly apply. Every crowd is different. With character work, comedy and clowning, especially when you’re working so closely with partners, time is the most essential ingredient. The more time we spend performing this show together as these characters, the more everything about it will develop and be enriched.

I think this show is still very much in its infancy, and already people seem to like it.

What’s the rehearsal schedule/commitment like for a clowning show like Circus in a Trunk? Sometimes there might be a stigma that clowning is all improvisational, but I imagine there’s hours of fine tuning and crafting of the performance. Could you explain?

I think many clowns would agree that all life is a rehearsal for clowning. And, whether you’re committed to it or not, like it or not, it follows you around wherever you go, making you crazy, for better or for worse, usually both.

Ideally, clowning is a craft where you are truly able to bring your whole life on stage with you. To make your life your performance … When you can make them the same thing, it’s genuine. By living and studying life as astutely, sensitively and passionately as possible, you try in a very personal way to learn about universality.

A genuine artist’s unique voice in the language of universality… That is what I think we all strive for, and to rehearse for that, you are always rehearsing, and rehearsal is your life, and that’s why an artist thinks life is beautiful. Clowns think life is beautiful and funny. They want to express it in more than words.

To answer the question more traditionally/specifically, yes; there are many hours of conventional rehearsing, together and alone, on a stage or wherever else we can find. Improvisation is a spice we love and are always on the lookout to use, within every second of our performance, but it is certainly not the meat and potatoes of what we, The Piccolini Trio, try to serve our audiences. (Sorry vegetarians.)

Our material is a solid, written and rehearsed structure that we have the flexibility to make improvisational riffs off of, but never completely abandon. The writing/creative process is collaborative, with Josh as director.

I have never had a more amicable working relationship with a director. Joy, Josh, and I (whoa… I just realized all our names start with “J”…) function for each other as our own harshest critics as well as our own greatest sources of encouragement and support.

Josh, in particular, is excellent when it comes to being encouraging and positive, especially when I have the tendency to get overly critical and angry with myself. In the middle of the show, he has often helped me turn my self-imposed war with the audience into peace. For that I am grateful, and consider him an outstanding general in the ongoing battle between us, the audience, and the great art of clowning.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com


  • In a couple days, we will have our final interview with the Piccolini Trio.

  • Click here for Part I.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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