At the end of one tinyDANGEROUSfun show in the basement of Sycamore, hostsJohn Leo and Andy Sapora asked the audience to reminisce about their favorite moments of the night. After a few suggestions and laughs, one audience member who had been particularly active that night with his uninvited commentary, reminded them of the truly best part.
“The heckler!” he shouted, referring to himself.
That’s just the kind of participation John and Andy love, and it’s that spontaneity that helps each performance live up to the monthly variety show’s name. The show is celebrating two years of performances this summer, and the pair of professional clowns say that the series has really come into its own, and always finds an excellent balance of danger and fun.
“We decided to embrace the small space, where there is literally a dangerously low ceiling,” John said. “And the size of the room limits the audience number, which frees performers up to try weird stuff.”
As its hosts, the pair guides the audience and performers through the evening, so that by the end, you’re all in it together, witnesses to something strange and completely unique.
“By the end of the night, it’s a party instead of a show,” Andy explained.
The shows started in the summer of 2010, when John was living in what he describes as a house in the neighborhood that was literally full of clowns. He worked with Sycamore on a premise, but he didn’t want it to just be a show where clowns are watching clowns.
Working with Andy–the guys had met while auditioning for Big Apple Circus Clown Care, which they both do now, visiting hospitals as clown doctors making clown rounds for the young patients–they came up with a plan for a variety/burlesque/do-what-you-will show that could be open enough that it would attract seasoned performers and newcomers alike. It’s that balance that keeps the shows surprising even for the hosts.
“Every performance, we get someone who doesn’t come from that background,” John said. “The best part of the ‘danger’ is when someone is taking an emotional risk. Then they blow us all away, and for us, who have been doing this for years, we’re all jealous.”
That was the case at the most recent show, when a slot opened up because one of the scheduled performers couldn’t make it at the last minute. Andy’s sister-in-law Lily, who has a musical background, offered to fill in.
“She sings an Adele song,” John said. “And it’s super-beautiful, and everyone’s into it. But she’s singing over a track Andy downloaded off of iTunes and it gets to the instrumental break, and it’s totally awkward with her standing there, waiting for the part to end.
“Just when it’s most awkward,” he continued, “someone in the audience flings a thong at her.”
“A thong that had been seen earlier, that had been part of someone’s act,” Andy added. “And she doesn’t look like the kind of person you can throw a thong at and get away with it.”
“It was a risky move,” John said. “But she had given a look that let us know that it was going to be okay, and it went over well.”
But there are actual physical risks sometimes, too, like when Andy was on fire at the very first show. “Just to set the tone,” he said. Another time, John put a needle through his arm, which a year and a half later an audience member still recalls quite vividly. “If the show is just performances that are safe, or don’t seem dangerous,” Andy said, “we will try to add some stunts to enhance that dangerous feeling.”
For the performers, the danger is often in trying something out for the first time. The series has attracted several seasoned neighborhood acts, like Audrey Crabtree, a clown who currently lives in John’s former clown house, but it’s also opened a stage to new acts, like the local women of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Brooklyn.
“It’s been a great way for fostering new groups in the area,” John said, adding that the Ukulele crew, who provided a moral compass of sorts through a recent performance, will be back this month. Performers are welcome to come to shows as often as you like–the only limit is that you can’t perform two months in a row, to keep the lineups fresh. Anyone is welcome to perform, and you can sign up at the TDF site–whether what you’re doing is traditionally dangerous or not. The hosts welcome it all, and will make sure both the performers and the audience have a night worthy of the name tinyDANGEROUSfun.
“There’s always a moment when even we wonder if it’s going to be too dangerous,” said John.
“But we always try to bring it back,” added Andy. “With us, you’re in good hands.”
Head to the basement of Sycamore for tinyDANGEROUSfun at 8pm on the last Tuesday of each month. The next show is Tuesday, March 27, and this is the lineup so far:
• Laura Bahr, Author (Los Angeles, CA)
• Glen Raphael, Musician
• Ukulele Orchestra of Great Brooklyn, Compassionate Service On Behalf of the Poor Lesser Souls of the Telestial Kingdom
• Audrey Crabtree, Clown
• Tada, Homosexual Clown Freak
• Tanya Solomon, A Wonder Minute
• And you? Sign up to be a performer right here.