Cirque du Soleil actor talks about playing a clown in 'Dralion'
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Thursday, December 13, 2012
12/13/12 at 7:31 AM
In a career that has spanned nearly two decades, Canadian actor Courtenay J. Stevens has played an FBI agent, a Victorian-era street preacher, human and alien characters in some of the "Stargate" TV series episodes, and he even performed as 15 different characters in one play.
Being a clown, however, was something that never crossed his mind.
"Then I got a call from my agent telling me that Cirque du Soleil was conducting auditions and that maybe I should consider it," Stevens said. "Naturally, my first thought was, 'What would I do?' I'm not the sort to hang from ropes or anything like that. And I had no training in clowning.
"But I've done a lot of very physical theater in the past - mime and masque, commedia dell'arte shows, things like that. So I thought I'd give it a try."
Stevens went through two days of auditions, more to "see what Cirque du Soleil is all about" than anything else, he said. And it would be a year before Stevens would be asked to join the show "Dralion."
That was 2 1/2 years ago. Since then, Stevens has been one of the regular clowns in "Dralion," playing one in an odd trio of brothers who make merry and create havoc within the context of the show.
Stevens is Alberti, who fits in between the large and blustery Vicenti (Cachi Bratoz) and the diminutive Giovanni (Facundo Gimenez) in this madcap, ersatz family. The trio go to work in "Dra- lion" while the audience is still in the process of finding its seats.
"The idea is that the three of us happen upon this circus, and we keep trying to steal every open stage we can to perform," Stevens said.
"And Alberti is definitely not the brightest bulb in the bunch. Let's just say he wouldn't get too far if he was on his own. He very much needs his brothers."
The clowns typically have four segments on their own in the course of "Dralion" that include showing off some surprisingly animated hair pieces and mocking some of the acrobatic acts that form the heart of a Cirque du Soleil show.
In "Dralion," many of these acts have a distinctly Asian flair, such as the "Diabolo" juggling, hoop diving, contortionists and high-speed, highly synchronized rope jumping.
The clowns, on the other hand, speak in a kind of makeshift Italian - just the sort of thing one would expect in an Asian-themed show put on by a French-Canadian avant-garde circus.
What Stevens most enjoys about performing in "Dra-lion" is the interactive nature of the show.
"We're always very much aware of the audience, in a way that you really can't be in a conventional theater setting," he said. "There's always a kind of distance when you're working in a proscenium theater setting, even if you do acknowledge the audience at some point.
"Here, we enter through the audience, and it's obvious that we've come to play," Stevens said. "And we love it when the audience plays along. While I haven't seen every Cirque show, of the ones I have seen, I think this has some of the best clown routines of all."
Although all that audience interaction can backfire on occasion when someone doesn't want to play along - or is all too eager to be a part of the show - Stevens said he has no horror stories of things going wrong.
"The only odd thing I remember," he said, "was one night when I saw someone in the audience dressed up like one of the characters in the show.
"He didn't do anything, just came all dressed up. I knew we had pretty loyal fans, but that's the first time someone went to those lengths to show how much they loved this show."
CIRQUE DU SOLEIL’S ‘DRALION’
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-
Friday, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, 1 and 5 p.m.
Where: BOK Center, 200 S.
Tickets: $35-$145. 866-
Original Print Headline: Clowning around
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478
Clowns Courtenay Stevens (left), Cachi Bratoz and Facundo Gimenez entertain the audience throughout Cirque du Soleil's performance of "Dralion" last week at the Expocentre in Topeka, Kan. KEVIN ANDERSON / for the Tulsa World