Cue the clowns - Page 7

San Francisco's burgeoning indie circus scene revives and updates an old-time antidote for trying times
Photo by Tracy Bugni

"They're all just part of it," he said.

What they're all part of — Vau de Vire, Gooferman, Fou Fou Ha, and the rest of the Indie Circus folk — has begun to make a strong imprint on San Francisco nightlife and counterculture. From a performer's perspective, Boenobo said, it feels good. "Our local family is super comfortable with one another," he said, something he's never felt before after 25 years as a indie rocker. "It's rare to not have a lot of ego to deal with, and it's super rare with this kind of high-quality performance."

But they want more. As Flux said, "We want to take over the world."


Slowly, the circus collective members are moving toward becoming full-time freaks. Already, Mike Gaines said most of the 12 to 15 regular Vau de Vire performers practice their art full-time, subsidizing their performances by being instructors in dance or the circus arts.

That's not to say the parties, with their large number of performers, are lucrative. "With circus, you get a million more people on your guest list, so circus is complicated from a promoter's perspective," Joegh Bullock of Anon Salon, which incorporates circus acts into its parties, including the upcoming Sea of Dream party New Year's Eve. "But we love it and wouldn't do a show without it."

To pay the bills, "we also do a lot of corporate gigs," Gaines says, not proudly. Fou Fou Ha does as well, including performing at the Westfield San Francisco Centre this holiday season. They're all dying to take their show on the road, but that, too, takes money. "Sponsorship is the key if we're going to tour with 60 people," said Mike, who's been working hard on a deal and said he feels close.

Boenobo's latest plan is Metropolus, a circus-style extravaganza he's planning (along with Bullogh and Gaines) for next Halloween, hoping to ferry guests (using buses or perhaps even art cars from Burning Man) among several venues in town (such as Mighty, 1015, Temple, and DNA Lounge) and a huge circus tent he wants to erect in Golden Gate Park.

In addition to circus-style entertainment drawn from across the country, he wants to precede the Saturday night finale with three days and nights of workshops and smaller-scale performances. His goal is for Metropolus to because a signature event for San Francisco and the indie circus scene, the equivalent of the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas; the Winter Music Festival in Miami; or the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

The time seems right, with the current financial meltdown creating opportunities even as it makes funding their world domination plans difficult. "Each time you have a crisis like we're having now, it's a ripe time for circus," Jando said, noting that circus boomed during the Great Depression and after each of the two World Wars.

And after going through years of pure absurdity in Washington, DC, and on Wall Street, Raz said the clowns of the world — from Stephen Colbert's conservative television character (who Raz says employs clown techniques in his comedy) to a singer named Boenobo — now have a special resonance with people. As he said, "One of the things clowns do is they live the folly large."



I've been following Indie Circus for years, intending to add it to the profiles of various Burning Man subcultures (see that I've written for the Guardian, but my reporting on this story began in May.