2019 – Vaudevisuals Year in Review

All together I posted 73 times in 2019! Over 1000 views per month. Pretty good for an ‘eccentric’ performing arts blog!

You can use the drop-down menu for Month to Month Archive viewing. I will list some of the highlights here.

Dec 2019 – Interview with Cirque Mechanics Chris Lashua ~ Interview with Coney Island’s own Dick Zigun – Sideshow Hall of Fame.

November 2019 – Corn Mo and The Love Show ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Hilary Chaplain ~ Bindlestiff Open Stage Variety Revue ~ Karen Gersch Portfolio ~ Vaudevisuals Bookshelf ~ Martin Ewen’s ‘Panto Damascus’.

October 2019 – Vaudevisuals interview with Kevin Venardos.

September 2019 – Vaudevisuals interview with Noah Diamond & Amanda Sisk ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Adrienne Truscott.

August 2019 – Vaudevisuals interview with Tammy Faye Starlite ~ Ernie Kovacs Centennial Panel Discussion ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Dick Zigun – ‘Bloody Brains in the Juke Box’ ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Sarah the Bird Girl ~ The Seashore Variety Hour

July 2019 – Southern Sideshow Hootenanny Benefit ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Amber Martin ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Tyler West.

June 2019 – Vaudevisuals interview with Trav SD ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Bill Bowers ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Mallory Catlett ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Ralph Lewis ~ Bindlestiff’s ‘brooklyn abridged’ show ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Kevin Augustine ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Everett Quinton. ‘Galas’.

May 2019 – A.J. Silver – A Cowboy from the Bronx ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Boxcutter Collective.

April 2019 – Congress of Curious People – James Taylor ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Greg Dubin ~ Vaudevisuals interview with A.J. Silver ~ Trav SD’s American Vaudeville Theatre.

March 2019 – Vaudevisuals interview with John Jesurun & Nicky Paraiso ~ Vaudevisuals interview with Coney Island Ritual Cabaret Festival.

February 2019 – Coffeehouse Chronicles: Ethyl Eichelberger ~ Bindlestiff Open Stage at Big Apple Circus ~ Lord Buckley by Heathcote Williams.

January 2019 – Vaudevisuals Bookshelf: ‘Atomic Clown’ by Sara Moore ~ Bindlestiff Open Stage ~ Tribute To Rob Torres.

~ HAPPY NEW YEAR ~ 2020 ~

American Circus Art Big Apple Circus Circus Clown Exhibit NYGoofs Variety Arts Vaudeville Ventriliquist

Karen E. Gersch – Artist Portfolio


If anyone knows about the circus it is Karen E. Gersch. She has performed, created and directed circus and painted, drawn and illustrated it. Her work is beautiful and captures the whimsical nature of the circus soul. Here are a few choice examples of Karen’s work with her descriptive text.

The ‘Nickel’ in this oil painting, “Nickel Storms the Ring” was my teacher and mentor, Nina Krasavina, a star acrobat, aerialist ad the first woman clown ever to grace the ring of the Moscow Circus. After defecting to NYC in the mid-’70s with her husband, Gregory Fedin, they traveled with 3-ring circuses throughout the US and Canada. Nina and Grefory opened their own school, the Circus Arts Center, in an abandoned department store in Hoboken, which they ran for years, training many acts that had longtime professional careers. 

Gordoon”: acrylic on canvas portrait of Jeff Gordon, whose inventive and acrobatic routines made him a beloved and longtime featured performer with the Big Apple Circus, as well as Cirque du Soleil, Ringling Bros., Walt Disney World, and various NYC theatre productions.

Kenny Raskin/New York Goofs”. Kenny is a physical comedian whose diverse and charming character work enlightens every stage, be it on Broadway, off-off-Broadway or Cirque du Soleil. He is someone I never tire of sketching; captured here during a New York Goofs engagement.

Little Tich” and his Big Boots Dance was a headlining act of the English music halls in the early 1900s. Tich (Harry Relph) was only 4’6” tall, but left large footprints with his eccentric and energetic dance routines, combining balancing skills with acrobatics. The slender wooden boots he performed in were 28 inches long! Relph is considered the forerunner of all screen comedy.

Darja is a Latvian-born acrobat whose professional partners happen to be small dogs and a potpourri of cats.  The setting for her act is a living room, complete with two dressers, a nightstand, and an oval carpet.  The drawers glide open and cats climb gracefully out, then jump in an arc to her shoulders, where they run and balance along with her extended limbs, as she turns walkovers, handstands, cartwheels, and splits.  A dog poses perfectly on her top hat while she executes back rolls and contortional poses.

    Darja performs primarily in Russia and Europe, in circuses, cabarets, and theaters.  Her animals travel with her – in carriers to the stage, but live uncaged in her hotel room, where they all share her bed.  I know, because I had the room next door to her in Leipzig, Germany, and was serenaded by her Siamese and Egyptian cats, who sang gustily all night!

“Richard Hayes”, also a British Music Hall performer, was a noted juggler and silent, deadpan comedian, often billed as “The Laziest Juggler in the World”. His oversized head, languid manner, and slow-motion moves distinguished his ball juggling routines.

This is a very early pastel sketch of Hilary Chaplain (1990’s) from the CircuSundays Series I used to run.  Hilary is one of the most prolifically funny and hardest working physical comediennes, whose recent work has delved deeply into emotional and historical elements.  In particular, her current production “The Last Rat of Theresienstadt” which takes place in the “Ghetto town”/concentration camp of Theresienstadt during the Holocaust.  Following a successful run in Europe, where she garnered top awards, the show will be presented at The Wild Project on November 13th and 14th.

“Senor and Friend”. Senor Wences began his career as an unsuccessful bullfighter before becoming a gifted ventriloquist. The Spanish performer was one of the highest-paid and most popular Vaudevillian acts in the world and appeared on the Ed Sullivan show throughout the ’50s and ’60s. Wences died at the age of 103 in Manhattan.

“Slava’s Snow Show”. I first saw Slava Polunin in Cirque du Soleil’s production of Alegria, back in the 80’s, and was delighted by his simplistic and organic clowning (finally oversized clown proboscis and makeup used well by the clowns who wore them!) His signature romantic imagery, the surreal environments and emotional physical work he creates were resurrected in his first “Snow Show” that appeared on Broadway. This drawing was one of many rendered from his second run in NYC at Union Square.

Born in Prague, Tomas Kubinek and his parents fled the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia and settled in Ontario, Canada, when he was only 3.  He fell in love with circus and clowns, began performing as a child and has never stopped, regularly traversing the globe with his imaginative and eccentric solo shows.

Waldo & Woodhead” (Paul Burke and Mark Keppel) were a couple of wild and zany guys, whose character-driven physical comedy and strong partner juggling made them a well known performing sensation around the globe. This painting, exhibited at several IJA Conventions, was sold three years ago.

For more information or to see other artwork, visit: on FB: “Art by Karen E. Gersch”

With the exception of “Waldo & Woodhead”, all the drawings and paintings here are unsold and available. Inquiries should be made to:

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Circus Clown Photography

While in Paris…Visit the CLOWN BAR

While visiting Paris recently to photograph the delightfully funny clown Rob Torres I came across a wonderful place that could only be possible in PARIS!

The Clown Bar

After discussing this wonderful place with a few friends I discovered that my dear friend Karen Gersch has been ‘hanging out’ at the Clown Bar for years.

I asked her to write this blog post for me. She consented! So here is Karen Gersch.

“Le Clown Bar”

                            By Karen E. Gersch


If one turns right onto Rue Amelot after leaving Cirque d’Hiver and walks two elephant lengths, there appears the rather plain portal to one of Paris’s best kept secrets: “Le Clown Bar”.  To step through these doors is to find oneself in an unheralded palace: the world’s smallest musee de clown.

Behind the long curved wooden bar, the walls gleam with handpainted enamel tiles of augustes and whitefaces caught in classic reprises.  The very same motifs are repeated in the plates on which meals are served; the wine glasses are etched with acrobatic figures, too.   Look up: a large circular painting of clowns looms from the heart of the otherwise Art Deco Fleur-de-Lis ceiling.  There is nowhere the eye can move without resting on photos, sculptures, drawing, canvases, vintage posters or knick-knacks depicting world-class buffoons.  Most of them are portraits: recognizable and legendary, of those who have frequented the bar throughout the century.

Le Clown Bar is registered as having opened in 1902, the creation of one Jean-Baptiste Menery, who conceived the original imagery woven into the walls and ceilings.  Joe Vitte, the current proprietor, is the fifth owner, and with his wife, daughter and sister, have run it for more than twenty years.  From its earliest days, this charismatic café has served as a meeting hall for circus clowns from around the world.  It once even served as home for the three clowns whose black and white photos hang near the windows; that trio lived upstairs.

In the early 1990’s, when I first came to attend the much regaled “Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain” at Cirque d’Hiver, I was not aware of this little phenomenon set in its shadow.  Caroline Simonds, longtime friend and once-partner had already founded her stellar company “Le Rire Medecin”, which placed clowns in hospitals throughout Paris.  Her repeated descriptions of the Festival and the creative luminaries who atttended got my envy bone jiggling.  I was also longing for new inspiration for my paintings.   Having told other circus friends around the globe I would finally be going to Mondial, the universal response was: where can we meet?

“That’s easy”, said Caroline.  “Le Clown Bar”.

The Clown Bar - Early morning
A typical day at The Clown Bar is reading the newspaper and having some great coffee.

Cabinets andlighting fixtures all dedicated to the Art of Clown at The Clown Bar
Cabinets and lighting fixtures all dedicated to the Art of Clown at The Clown Bar

It is one thing to enter Cirque d’Hiver, a permanent circus building in France, reputedly built for Napoleon.  A perfectly round building, with glass display cases built into the curved lobby walls which hold old programs and artifacts, props and photos of the Bouglione Family.  But the first time entering into the inner hall is not just enchanting, it takes the breath away.  The deep red velvet drapes of it’s ringside tiers, the steeply raked seats that hurtle down to its carpeted ring, with white stairs rising above the facade to a balcony where the orchestra holds court.   You can feel the weight of time and sense the unearthly descendants who have spun and tumbled here.  It is only fitting that these two aesthetically magical places: Cirque d’Hiver and Le Clown Bar, neighbor each other.

Having picked up my festival tickets a bit after five that first night,  (the show was scheduled for nine) I strolled down Amelot, arriving just as the cafe’s metal doors rolled up on their tracks.  And once again stood transfixed at a remarkable inner world.  Tall, leather-seated stools lined the long bar, and a bustle of closely set tables filled the front and back areas.  There were shelves and glass-fronted armoires filled with clown souvenirs, figurines, pottery, toys, novelties and signs.  Perhaps because of the coppery ceiling, the room seemed to glow with sun blessed lighting, soft and intimate.

As I stepped inside, Joe met me and announced they weren’t quite open.  I nodded and asked if I could just sit and look.   I think my obvious fascination amused him.  His strongly featured face intrigued me.   I inquired if I could reserve a table, as I had friends coming to join me after 6 or so.  He told me no.  They never took reservations.  Then pointed me to a small table across from the bar.  He returned to setting up and I immediately pulled out my sketchbook and drew him at work.

Owner Joe Vitte with an original drawing by Karen Gersch. (Photograph by Gabrielle Ment)

I needed a good warmup for the drawings I would rattle out at the Festival later.  And my favorite way to sketch is innocuously blending in with domestic activities.  I made studies of several objects in view, then of the waiter and a young woman who had appeared.  At one point, the woman approached and placed a glass of wine on my table.  I tried to explain that I hadn’t ordered one. She pointed to the pages beneath my hand, smiled and walked away.

The first of my friends  who showed up that night were Brazilian acrobats; we ate dinner, and ploughed through two bottles of wine.  By then I was joking with the waiters and woman who had served me.  At a quarter to nine, I asked for the bill and left as tip, a generous amount of francs plus most of the portraits I had done.

It was amazing to see, over the course of those four hours, how the bar had filled to capacity; when I left there were people still waiting outside in long trails down Amelot.  Circus performers, circus directors, booking agents, the ring crew, television crews, animal trainers, journalists…  Of course, the fuller it got, the less people took any notice of the stunning archives of art all around.

Clown Bar fansClockwise from lower left – Pat Bellard, co-founder of Cirque Jo Bithume, Carlo Pellegrini, Director of Amazing Grace Circus, Caroline Simonds-Director, Le Rire Medecin, Ernest Albrecht – Editor of Spectacle Magazine, Karen Gersch (balancing spoon on nose) and Patrick Loughhan, Sculptor and Ceramic Potter.

Directly after the show that night, I returned to the Clown Bar and stayed until closing, sharing with Joe and his daughter, Myriam (the kind woman who had served me) my sketches from the show.  I was maybe slightly drunk on wine, more so on the imagery that had bombarded me that night.

The following evening, when I returned at 5:30, the doors of Le Clown Bar were already open.  A lone and formal “RESERVED” sign graced the table where I had sat the night before.  I noted it, puzzled and slid into a nearby seat instead. Then Myriam appeared, scowling.  “Whattt?”  I said.  (I’d been trying to teach her Brooklynese the night before).   “Eeet EEESe for YOU”, she scolded, pointing to the sign.

Thereafter, every night when I stepped into Le Clown Bar – no matter how crowded and thick with patrons, that table sat untouched with its small “RESERVED” sign.  Once I entered and sat, the sign was whisked away and a bottle of the house Gamay placed in front of me.   I dined there each night, eventually joined by a myriad of friends from other countries.

Corner artifacts at The Clown Bar
Corner artifacts at The Clown Bar

So began my longtime friendship with the Vitte & Dub family, which has continued to this day.  Le Clown Bar became my studio away from home, where I warmed up my quick-sketch hands each night before friends appeared to dine and drink with me until the show.  Years later, when Myriam took up my offer to visit New York and came to stay with me on the Bowery, she called my loft Le Clown Bar II, marvelling at my own treasure trove of clowns and odd circus paraphanalia.

The Festival Mondial, originally founded by Dominic Mauclair, has  changed hands over the past decade, and no longer resides at Cirque d’Hiver.

Pascale Jacobs (another noted historian and costume designer, whose clients include Ringling and Cirque du Soleil) runs the Festival out of his own 5,000-seat tent, Cirque Phenix, in a park quite a distance away.

The Bouglione family keep a constant roster of prestigious shows running at Cirque d’Hiver (hosting most of the professional circuses that come to France.  The feature film, “The Devil wore Prada”. shot many of its end scenes inside the building.)   But the absence of the Festival Mondial has had a big impact on Le Clown Bar’s business, not to mention the generally poor economic climate that has prevailed.   Myriam left Paris to start a family – Joe had depended on her support and management skills since she was a teen.   During Festival week, the bar still draws late night contingents of directors and executives from famed circuses, from Roncali and Knie to Ringling and Cirque de Soleil.  They find their way back to Le Clown Bar after the Phenix shows finish each night.

But Joe now fears for the future.

He is hoping that the city will make good on its recent promise to give the bar landmark or museum status to preserve its unique artistry.

Its reputation stands not only as an unusual and brilliant homage to the world of Clowns; the restaurant is very well regarded for its native cuisine and traditional French dishes.  Both the food and wine menus, under Joe’s direction, have earned him a strong neighborhood clientele and followers outside the world of circus.

Circus buffs or not, anyone who ventures to Paris and wishes to step into an enchanting old world café, to sip an excellent glass of wine or nurse a rich expresso while musing over wonderful art, should make Le Clown Bar a starred designation.   Be sure and ask for Joe and tell hiim “Karen” sent you!

Keith Nelson and Rob Torres at The Clown Bar this week!
Keith Nelson, Co-Director of Bindlestiff Family Cirkus and Rob Torres, Clown, (currently at Cirque d’Hiver)  at The Clown Bar this week!

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