The circus just lost one of it’s true masters. His name was Oleg Popov and he passed away November 2, 2016. What can be learned from this great performer? By studying a master we see their creation of character, incredible routines, and audience involvement. I have drawn a few illustrations from my fond memories of Popov and have a few thoughts of how studying him can make us better performers
Training: Popov studied for four years at the Moscow circus school. He had skills in clowning, slack wire, juggling, balancing, magic, puppetry, music, and mime. In some routines he combined many of these skills. In his snake charmer routine (which can be viewed on YouTube), he plays a small penny whistle flute (music) to make a snake rise from a basket (puppetry). The gag continues as every time he plays his flute things begin to rise (site gags). One of the wonderful things about clowning is we can combine many different art forms and disciplines into a performance. If we never stop learning new skills and improving the skills we have the possibilities are endless.
Clowning: There is a common theme in clowning where a clown may have problems with an ordinary task but is able to do extraordinary things quite easily. An example: a cane which a performer is carrying keeps falling out of his hand. What ever he does the cane just keeps falling . He then takes the same cane and balances it on his chin quite easily.
In Popov’s famous slack wire routine he starts by doing his laundry and hanging this laundry on the slack wire. Doing laundry is an ordinary task. He has many problems doing this task. The crowd laughs at the absurdity of his situation. The routine concludes with Popov doing the extraordinary as he balances and juggles on the slack wire.
Character: with his signature black and white checkered cap on his head, Popov was an easily identifiable figure in the circus ring. He knew how to get an audience entranced in his performance. The audience clapped along to the music, were involved, or intrigued by the many wonderful scenarios of his routines. He was part pixie and part trickster. Oleg Popov was loved by people around the world. He truly was a clown’s clown. The laughter he brought to millions will always be remembered.