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issue 4 || burners | caffeinated | eco-clowns | gandhi | nerdy-bars | tickle | trapeze ||

Clowns tackle environmental causes, tickle audiences

by Sydney Beveridge, Dave Burdick, Tom Davis and Matthew Moll

Looking more grunge than goofy, the Green Circus performers didn’t need big clown feet, puffy red noses and a fancy big-top tent to draw attention at a recent rehearsal.

Instead, the circus troupe entertained a small gathering in a windy park in Astoria, Queens, wearing flannel shirts, boots and a touch of face makeup while promoting the virtues of hemp – not the drug form of it – as a renewable resource.

There was “Hempy the Clown” who grows from 12 to 20 feet tall and – by providing food, fuel and shelter – saves the world from acid rain by leading “superhuman” attacks against power plants. His pal, also named “Hempy,” is a squeaky-voiced, hand-knit sock puppet whose favorite expression is, “Oh, no!”

Their nemesis? “Powee the Power Plant,” a walking pile of cardboard boxes – with the word “Powee” glued to his chest – who stumbled around Two Coves Garden like Young Frankenstein. But he was more Svengali than silly, destroying the environment by raising his arms and blowing invisible smoke into the air.

Video: Green Circus aims to help create a new generation of environmentalists who will value renewable and recyclable resources, and detest power plants and other polluters.

When they took their final bow, the performers drew hearty applause from the small audience who watched Hempy the Clown and “Psychic Fabulina” slay Powee the Power Plant and the sinister polluter “Smog Gog,” just as school buses belching exhaust passed a row of abandoned storefronts nearby.

“I used to work in a food kitchen, and I tried to bring free food to people but it was discouraging because people weren’t accepting it,” said Jason Rosenberg, the show’s director who plays “James Green,” a character who plants seeds everywhere that always grow to full size.

“But this way, I found out a way to help out the whole world – art has a huge impact,” he added.

The Green Circus – like some other performance artists – is trying to turn a gray area into something green with its own brand of hijinks. Through unconventional skits and clown acts, they provoke audiences to think, laugh and act to save the environment.

Saving the universe

The troupe’s motto is “saving the planet one clown at a time.” Like similar acts, the group seeks to perform in every bit of open space, hoping their pro-green acts will tickle children pink.

Green Circus trading cardsThrough skits and tricks, the group aims to help create a new generation of environmentalists who will value renewable and recyclable resources, and detest power plants and other polluters.

“It’s not like we do this Power Point presentation that Al Gore is standing in front of,” said Ezra Silverman, one of the members of the Green Circus troupe, referring to Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

This brand of clowning provides a comic counterpoint to the environmental doomsday books and documentaries with laughter.

“I was inspired by the Green Circus,” said Silverman, a sculptor recruited by mutual friends to play “Fun Gus.” a character who breaks down nutrients in the soil for plants. “It altered my perspective. It changed my way of thinking.”

While the Green Circus engages children and families, other acts provoke and play with the audience using a darker, more avant-garde style of performance. CONTINUED...

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As Earth Day approaches, two New York City performance groups tackle environmental issues. Sydney Beveridge reports.

Where to see the clownsPowee the power plant

Green Circus Shows:
Saturday, April 26
12 to 4 p.m.
Dope Swan and The Green Circus Present
“How to Build a Community”
Earth Day in Rainey Park
33-01 Vernon Boulevard, Astoria Waterfront

Saturday, May 3
1 to 4 p.m.
“Green Circus Rock it in Rockaway”
Rockaway Beach

Detritus Shows:
Tuesday, April 22 and Wednesday, April 23
8 p.m.
Prospect Theatre Company’s
Prospect Theater
Hudson Guild Theatre
441 West 26th St.

Saturday, April 26 at 2 p.m. and Sunday, April 27 at 6 p.m.
Six Figures Theatre Company’s
Artists of Tomorrow Festival
West End Theater
263 West 86th St.