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BIG, CRAZY AND WACKY

His name: Bill Olbrisch.

His job: circus clown.

When the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus comes to Marine Midland Arena from Oct. 29 to Nov. 2, you will see Bill Olbrisch doing what he loves to do best: Be wild and wacky. Entertain a huge crowd of people. Wear truly bizarre clothes.

Bill is only 22 years old, but he is a graduate of the Ringling Bros. Clown School, and he is also the circus' Goodwill Ambassador, which means he comes to the city ahead of the circus to visit schools and hospitals and charitable organizations.

NeXt caught up with Bill Olbrisch recently when he was visiting Detroit and asked him to give us a look inside the life of a clown. He was more than willing to help us out.

So what do you we call you?

I go by Bill the Clown. I don't have a (different) clown name because otherwise I would get confused.

Tell us about Clown College. What kinds of things did you learn there?

It was about the most intense thing I ever did. It's really cool. We started each day with exercises, and that was followed by classes all day long until dinner. After dinner there would be a workshop.

For nine weeks we went from 8 in the morning to 8 at night, for six or seven days a week.

We took juggling classes and classes in mime and acrobatics. We studied classic clown gags, and we learned how to write clown material. Clowns from different circuses all over the world came to teach us.

How do you get into Clown College?

You have to audition to get in, and they say it is the hardest college in the whole country to get in to. Harder even than Harvard or Yale.

The year I was there they auditioned 3,000 people and only accepted 35.

Why did they accept you?

I had a lot of experience with improvisational theater, and that was a big part of the audition.

How did you know you wanted to be a clown?

When I was in eighth grade I was in a play called "Clowns." My teacher had gone to the Ringling Bros. Clown College, and he told us all about it. I thought it sounded really cool.

When I was in high school and college I was involved in a lot of theater. And I decided I wanted to do something different with my life.

Describe your clown costume.

I wear big blue pants and a polka-dot shirt with a matching blue suitcoat with long tails. I have red hair and a blue hat.

What's your favorite part of the circus?

The clowns, of course. There are 18 clowns in the show.

I also love being able to travel all over the country and see different places. I'm from Chicago and I went to college there, so it's really great to see other parts of the country.

Have you been in Buffalo yet?

Nope, this will be my first time.

Do you get to play with the elephants or the tigers?

One time I got to ride an elephant. But the animals are used to the people they train with. They have a real trust relationship with them. Those are the people who make sure they are safely cared for.

What's it like to travel with the circus?

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is the only circus that still travels on a train. The train is a mile long, and all the people live on it. The clowns have really small rooms. The animals travel on the train, too.

Do you ever get a day off?

I get Tuesdays off. All the circus performers get a day off now and then.

What does a clown do after he retires?

My plan is to go to graduate school when I'm done. I want to study the performance arts. I'm interested in the whole physical side of performance. But even after I retire, I'm still a circus clown forever.

Some of NeXt's readers may want to be part of the circus world when they grow up. What advice can you offer them?

Stay in school. You need to be 17 and a high school graduate to get into Clown School, so staying in school is important.

You should also get out there in front of people and perform. Get involved with performances at your school. Be big, crazy and wacky!

Circus performances at Marine Midland Arena will be on Oct. 29 and 30 at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 1 at 11:30 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m., and Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the arena box office, Tops Markets, or by calling 888-4000 in Erie County, (888) 223-6000 outside Erie County.

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