March 29, 2012
The International Clown Hall of Famer has been playing a clown named Grandma since 1975, first with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and in recent decades with the Big Apple Circus. Now he’s about to retire. The Big Apple Circus show “Dream Big,” which is running on City Hall Plaza through May 13, is part of what’s being billed as Lubin’s “farewell tour”: his 25th and final season before retiring.
‘I’ve always had trouble with authority figures, which works well if you’re a clown, because disrupting the show is a wonderful part of my job.’
Q. Tell me a little bit about your character, Grandma.
A. She’s sort of a compilation of my own grandmothers. And I grew up people-watching on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, so I was constantly observing elderly people. It just happened to be one of the characters I tried out really early in my career, and the audience sort of shaped her. I try my best to incorporate the audience into my performances, so based on what they respond to, is how I build my character. There’s a lot of me in the character. Not because I look like a little old lady, I hope, but there are some things that are very much a part of me within the character. I’ve always had trouble with authority figures, which works well if you’re a clown, because disrupting the show is a wonderful part of my job. Grandma is always mischievous.
Q. What’s one of your favorite parts about clowning?
A. I’ve gotten to live out a lot of my fantasies through clowning without actually having to do them. I always wanted to be a rock star, and a dancer, and a Broadway performer, and a sports star. Clowning lets me explore those without actually becoming them.
Q. What’s your relationship like with the audience?
A. I’ve always felt like an outsider in the world of the circus. It’s a very generational and family-oriented industry. I’m sort of an interloper, and I just happened to find myself working there. I still feel like I’m more a part of the audience than the performer. I’m so in awe of these people, many of [whom] are good friends of mine. When you’re talking to someone who’s one of the greatest trapeze artists in the world, you forget what they do is so amazing. And then you see them up there and you’re reminded of how awesome they are. I think that’s possibly why the audience relates to this character, because I am one of them. I’m always trying to communicate with the audience, and part of it is being accessible.
Q. What’s different about this performance than years previous?
A. Just crying every day. For the people who come to the show, it’s a chance to say goodbye. It’s heart-wrenching for me. We opened in Virginia in September, and I didn’t anticipate people would be saying goodbye to me like that. This is their one chance to tell me they appreciate what I’ve done. I found myself trying to make jokes because they didn’t come there to see me upset; they came to laugh. And while I always hope to make them do that, I want to respect and honor their feelings. It’s that relationship that has been the hallmark of the Big Apple Circus.
Q. What will you miss most about the circus?
A. My connection with the audience. Over the years, I’ve left the show a few different times and I find myself aching for that. I have a love affair with the audience. I know there are people that go out there that want to be loved, and they try to be loved. That was my approach in the beginning, and then something changed a few years ago — and I think it’s through time and maturity, but I simply go out there and I bring my talents and do the best I can. What happens is you get this love back.