Two years ago, Matthew Belopavlovich stood stranded atop a 25-foot tower while a handful of clowns, dressed as knights, circled beneath, trying to figure out how to save him. They couldn’t. Then, a very small man arrived, shimmied up Matthew’s hair and carried him to safety.
Welcome to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Matthew was living the dream, his dream: life as clown with the greatest show on earth.
“To be a clown, you need a big heart. You need an open mind,” said Matthew, now a Patel Conservatory theater instructor.
Matthew will be teaching clowning skills, like slapstick comedy and juggling, and passing along his experience with the circus in an upcoming clowning workshop.
For students in Grades 3 - 8
Feb. 7, 2015
2 to 5 p.m.
“I had a dream to be a clown since second grade. My parents took me everywhere there was a show,” said Matthew.
In “the Rapunzel gag,” he starred as the long-locked lass with about 30 feet of fabric “hair.” He was one of 12 clowns in the 120+ person cast, and learned a lot during his time in the magical world of makeup, costumes, high-stakes improv, unpredictable audience interaction and adrenaline-by-way-of-comedy.
A native of Wisconsin, Matthew earned his bachelor of fine arts degree in acting at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. After graduating, he auditioned twice for Ringling, and didn’t get the job. Instead of giving up, he took a piece of advice from a former theater professor: create your own work if there’s no work for you.
So Matthew staged two of his own clown creations, By the Time You Read This and LAUFFITI, the latter shown at Silver Meteor Gallery in Ybor City before going to New York City.
He auditioned again in New York for Ringling, who had set up an impromptu ring in Grand Central Station during the middle of the day.
“They said, ‘you should be able to captivate us, but can you capture the people in their day-to-day routine and bring them to the ring?’” said Matthew. “It was nerve-wracking. And awesome.”
The intensity of the audition spurred Matthew to step up his game, and that audition landed him a contract to travel with the circus starting in 2012. He was off to clown college, then into the show.
“To work with Ringling and the people on their clowning staff was heaven. I got to be in a clown costume and design my own makeup and be on the floor during clown college—that alone was a dream come true. I lived on a train, a real circus train! I went to almost every state, we did outreach in hospitals, with the Sunshine Kids organization and Boys & Girls Club. It was mind-blowing. It was everything.”
Matthew re-joined the Patel Conservatory theater department in 2014 after two years with the circus. (He also taught here from 2010 to 2011.)
“It was a whirlwind of experiences—so much more than clowning. I learned a lot about the circus, and I learned a lot about myself,” he says. “The Patel mission, to dream, reach, discover, create … I can speak to this mission because I did it. Nothing was handed to me, although I had a lot of love and support, but I made it happen. I applied myself to my career.”
Matthew will teach the upcoming workshop along with guest artist Dustin Portillo and student guest artist Wesley Williams.
Portillo is a highly skilled improv and comedy actor who toured with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for seven years. His performance credits also include work at Six Flags Great Escape, Busch Gardens Tampa and with the clown troupe, Aga-Boom.
Williams, adept at juggling clubs, knives and fire, recently completed his second summer tour with the Vermont-based Circus Smirkus.
During the workshop, students will learn basic slapstick comedy techniques, proper clown makeup application, balloon twisting, juggling and get an inside scoop on what it’s like to be a professional clown.
“For the students, I say to them: ‘I did it, and you can do it, too.”
For more information, or to register, call 813.222.1002.