S.F.-trained clowns return to Bay Area to perform in circus

Making people laugh is serious business for Jamarr Woodruff, a professional clown who perfected his trade at the San Francisco Clown Conservatory.

Woodruff, 27, is back in the Bay Area this week after touring Southern California and portions of the Midwest as part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s latest production, “The Circus of Dreams.”

“It’s been so wonderful being back,” Woodruff said. “I was on the Bay Bridge looking over … It's a great place.”

The contemporary-style performance features 85 performers, including 16 clowns, nine musicians and more than 70 domestic and exotic animals.

The circus is in San Jose this week with its all-new show. Replacing the three-ring setting commonly seen at circuses in the past, the new production provides a single 130-foot by 80-foot space where the storyline unfolds.

“For only a moment, people can take the time to forget and have a moment of enjoyment,” Woodruff said. “Life is too short. You have to live each moment to the fullest.”

The Atlanta native is the only African American in a group of performers traveling across America.

“Even though I’m the only African-American performer, it’s such a diverse group,” Woodruff said. “It’s a wonderful community. We all get along.”

The performers travel to their gigs across America on a mile-long train that is the longest privately owned train in the world.

Dan Berkeley, 25, is one of Woodruff’s clown companions and a fellow graduate of the San Francisco Clown Conservatory. He also graduated cum laude from Alabama State University with a degree in theater arts.

The six-year-old conservatory, which is the only one of its kind in the nation, is part of the Circus Center headquartered in the Haight-Ashbury district. It is partially funded by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Berkeley, who hails from New Jersey, graduated from the conservatory two years ago after getting a college degree in physics from Bates College. He had an internship at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center before he decided to make clowning his profession.

While the research was intellectually stimulating, Berkeley felt that something was missing.

“It wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.

When he started studying at the conservatory, the biggest struggle was to get out of his head and into his body, Berkeley said.

While physics is all about movement, even on thesubatomic level, it didn’t help much when it came to juggling, the one-time physicist said.

“The biggest problem with people is they take too many things too seriously,” Berkeley said. “You can always find the absurd, no matter how dire” the situation.

mcarroll@examiner.com

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