(or: for Mara Popara and Petko Teskaglava)
For a long time, our neighbors have been saying that our neighborhood is missing only a tent to become a complete circus. Many residents of our neighborhood agreed with this observation. Our elders saw this as a great financial opportunity, so they submitted a request to the ECA (The European Circus Association) to register an “Open-Air Circus.” Consequently, 32 years ago, we officially became the “National Circus RM-PJRM-NRM Circle Square.”
To tell the truth, there were many challenges. It’s not easy being a circus, at least not officially. For the first time, the ECA received a request for an entire neighborhood to be declared a circus. Although our neighborhood was convinced that it had met all the prescribed qualifications, from 0-100, the process was still very demanding. They kept telling us, “You’re missing this, or you need that. “Go, they said, “take back this application and make it happen!” We began to believe this could go on indefinitely. Nonetheless, our perseverance and dogged determination finally bore fruit. This was primarily due to the outstanding performances given by our illusionists who left the committee members with wide eyes and gaping mouths. They had no choice but to grant us a certificate. Our clowns, acrobats, dancers, rope walkers, jugglers, and magicians were total perfectionists in “selling the illusion.”
Now, it’s true that at the time, we didn’t have many tame or trained animals, but somehow, even with the few we had, got the job done. We never lacked for variety. We had lions, eagles, foxes, elephants, monkeys, a flea circus, rabbits, as well as pigeons and parrots. Loooking back, it seems that the hooved animals, like the horses and donkeys, were always available in abundance.
However, just as in every circus, ours was no different. We needed the colorful logo of that universal oversized face that everyone recognizes as the home of an authentic circus -the face of the Clown. There were always many candidates for this position. Our neighborhood was covered with pictures of candidates for this “role.” As it is with many circuses, when making the selection among the many finalists competeing for the role of the Clown, we had to seek international arbitration from the WCA (World Clown Association).
It is precisely out of respect and gratitude that for the seven years he didn’t make us laugh yet, made our lives more cheerful, I write my, “Tribute to the Sad Clown.” Or, since our Clown very often, whether publicly or privately, didn’t make us laugh in a duo with his mentor, maybe “Tribute to Mara Popara and Petko Teskaglava” would be a more appropriate title. Regardless…
Characteristic of our Clown was that the whole purpose of his existence was to make others laugh, his childhood dream. From a young age, with his clumsy movements and silly jokes, he made his peers laugh, which earned him his widely known nickname, “Gluperda.” Deep inside, he resolved that, despite being one of the children from the streets, after his days in school, high school, and university had ended . . .when he finally grew up, he would become a CLOWN.
Like all Clowns, he came up with his own stage name, “Zhmitzi, The Stupid Dog,” to which he added the neighborhood nickname, “Gluperda”. He was so popular that some mothers were said to have used this name to bribe their children before bedtime – “If you will go to bed and go to sleep, I’ll put “Gluperda” on the TV!” Strangely enough, this tactic worked. Children, whether out of fear or pity for the “Sad Clown,” would fall off to a deep sleep right away!
Blinded by the colorful lights of the circus, even though he didn’t know its rules or the art of clowning, he dutifully performed every evening. To hone his art, he neither chose his audience nor turned away any opportunity. For example, whether it was the opening of a new sewer, a drainage pipe, a water supply line, a rural road, a philosophy class, a birthday party, a religious holiday in some village field, or in a well-lit TV studio, “Zhmitzi, The Stupid Dog” delivered his daily dose of entertainment for the people. Some described his performances as “professional par excellence.” Ironically, it was precisely his lack of knowledge of the basic rules of the circus that led the viewers “to die of laughter.” Our Clown fulfilled his role of making the audience laugh with immense satisfaction, while nourishing his vanity. He was convinced that HE was the most successful Clown ever to exist in our neighborhood.
Also, characteristic of our Clown was that with or without a mask, he was always so funny that when he appeared on stage, the audience would instantly erupt in fits of laughter. Sadly, while he always wanted to be a cheerful Clown, somehow, he just couldn’t manage it. For example, he had issues with the mask, more specifically with the makeup artists who were constantly around him, adorning him with various makeups and colorful paints according to their own tastes. This problem was a significant part of the psychological issues found in the “Sad Clown’ – insecurity and fear were portrayed with what might be called the classic bipolar issue of low self-esteem, on one side of the spectrum and an immense egomania on the other. However, these issues always seemed to balance themselves out.
Because of this, when he entered the “Clown Room,” the first thing he did was remove the pictures of his predecessors: the “Masters of the Clowning Craft.” His egomania allowed for nothing else but the belief that “History begins with him!” Then he banned any mirrors from being in this room.
The ban on mirrors was to prevent him from seeing how he wore the costumes of his predecessors. The costume designers were persistent in their belief that with the same costumes, he could replicate the success of his predecessors. However, the costumes, although clownish, just didn’t fit his physique – they were either too tight or too loose. Nevertheless, while he didn’t feel comfortable in them, he still had to wear them.
Of course, this created a problem because without a mirror, he couldn’t see how to apply his makeup. He would go on stage convinced that he was the “ Happy Clown,” but in reality, his makeup was always that of the “Sad Clown.” So, even though when almost every time when he would “give it his all,” someone else would paint him the way that they wanted. In reality, who needs a mirror when one can’t recognize their reflection in it? Not everyone can look inside themselves in the mirror and wash their face. It’s a difficult and delicate psychological problem.
The truth be told, his gags were genuinely funny, even though they bore a striking resemblance to those of his predecessor. He unconsciously imitated them in some ways. Yet, his pratfalls were unique and daring. With his oversized shoes, several sizes too big, that he inherited from his predecessor he couldn’t take a single step without falling on his face, much to the delight of the audience.
The problem that “Gluperda” had was that he always performed the same act repeatedly, which he called “The Suicide from Ambush.” Throughout the entire act, he would repeatedly stab himself in the back with rubber knives because that same act had been successfully done with his predecessor. It didn’t take long before the audience began to “get annoyed”. It was always constantly “more of the same” without any hint of creativity. The least he could have done would have been to change the costume or at least, replace the gloves.
At that very moment, when “Zhmitzi, The Stupid Dog” began to lose popularity, his predecessor suddenly appeared, and recommended that the “Sad Clown” take on the role of the “Master of the Clown Room.” This brought popularity back to “Gluperda.” The duo acts they performed together were reminiscent of “Cirque du Soleil,” and the old master of the clowning craft was well-known. The audience couldn’t stop laughing at their combined comedic performances. They tripped over each other. They leapt into the air. They wore each other’s shoes while engaged in playful fights and rolled around on the ground. Finally, always ending in love, they exited the stage together, much to the delight and admiration of their audience.
No one can forget how particularly interesting their joint acts were especially when they used trained animals that were so photogenic, colorful, and funny. Everyone in the audience had stomach pain from the raucous laughter. In tandem, they were exceptionally skilled at coordinating and controlling the animals. The pigeons and rabbits did such marvelous things! The pigeon carried a letter on one Clown’s shoulder and then on the other. Fantasmagoric! The monkeys stood absolutely motionless with their eyes, ears, and mouths covered. Fantastic! Throughout their magnificent and previously unseen circus act, the pinnacle of clowning artistry, the donkeys and horses, bewildered at not understanding what was happening, simply stood around the stage. But when given the signal from one of the two clowns, they tapped their hooves as a greeting to the “Sad Clowns” duo. Something in the style of – Hail, O Sad Clown!
Our circus continued. But alas, with fewer being tickets sold, it started to financially decline. Due to the “Sad Clown,” many people moved away from our neighborhood, unable to bear the sorrowful figure that now made them cry more than laugh. Everyone, now exhausted by the mournful demeanor of “Gluperda,” eagerly awaited the day when the circus, and thus the “Sad Clown, would quit our neighborhood. The circus, sooner or later, in one way or another, would finally depart. But the question would linger long in the air – Who was the artist and Clown, and who was the audience?