Difference between revisions of "Michael Christensen"

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* [[Big Apple Circus]]
* [[Big Apple Circus]]
[[Category:Artists and Acts|Christensen, Michael]]
[[Category:Jugglers|Christensen, Michael]]
[[Category:Circus Owners and Directors|Christensen, Michael]]
[[Category:Clowns|Christensen, Michael]]

Revision as of 18:16, 28 October 2008

Clown, Juggler, Circus Director

By Dominique Jando

Michael Christensen was born in Walla-Walla, Washington, on January 15, 1947. His childhood was difficult: an unhappy, dysfunctional family life, mercifully offset by generally pleasant experiences outside his home and at school. Perhaps to act out his feelings, Michael enrolled in the University of Washington's first Professional Actor Training Program. Upon graduation, in the late sixties, he joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a political street theater company that used circus techniques to create visual metaphors, and was at the heart of the counterculture movement then blossoming all over the country, and especially in "The City by the Bay."

Among the Troupe's performers were his future juggling and clowning partner, Paul Binder, and Larry Pisoni, who taught Michael to juggle. (Pisoni was to create the groundbreaking Pickle Family Circus in 1974.) Larry and Michael put together a juggling duet, in which they exchanged humorous quips while passing clubs. Eager to see the world, they decided to go to England and perform their act on street corners to finance a European "grand tour." But as soon as Michael had arrived in London, he got word that Larry couldn't join him. Michael had often passed clubs with Paul Binder at the Mime Troupe, and he asked him if would come and replace Pisoni. Paul accepted.

Hence, Michael and Paul embarked upon a juggling tour of Europe, which went as far as Istanbul and finally ended in Paris. While performing their now well-polished comedy-juggling routine in the streets of the Latin Quarter, they were spotted by an usher of the legendary revue theater, the Casino de Paris, who arranged for their being auditioned by its director, the renowned French choreographer, Roland Petit. And to their amazement, Michael and Paul found themselves featured in Roland Petit's very successful revue, Zizi, je t'aime!. They subsequently appeared on a French TV show, where they were seen by Annie Fratellini. Annie Fratellini offered them to appear in her newly created Nouveau Cirque de Paris.

As Michael put it, they found themselves "at home" in the single ring of this elegant, intimate French circus. Paul Binder returned home with a goal: to create in New York a circus like the one they had experienced in Paris. Michael joined him in this new venture, and on July 18, 1977, the Big Apple Circus was born.

Michael and Paul performed their juggling act in every edition of the Big Apple Circus until 1983—and once more in 1985, in a performance of the Big Apple Circus with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra for a PBS TV special, The Pops Join the Circus. They did their juggling act for the last time on January 27, 1998 in Paris, for a tribute to Annie Fratellini at the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain.

In their original juggling act, Michael Christensen was the straight man, and Paul Binder, the comic—or more accurately, the clownGeneric term for all clowns and augustes. '''Specific:''' In Europe, the elegant, whiteface character who plays the role of the straight man to the Auguste in a clown team.. Then Michael tried his hand at clowning, and the trained actor he was found his niche. In 1982, he developed the character of Mr. Stubbs, a "hobo" in the tradition of Emmett Kelly and Otto Griebling, but with a European touch: Like most European clowns, Mr. Stubbs used verbal comedy. Along with Barry Lubin and Jeff Gordon, Michael formed a very successful trio of clowns who graced the Big Apple Circus ring until 1986.

Michael retired from performing in 1988. He had become Director of Clowning of the Big Apple Circus in 1981, and would become its Creative Director in 1995. In 1986, he created the Big Apple Circus Clown Care®, an organization within the Big Apple Circus, which sends clowns and visual performers to residencies in top pediatric hospitals around the United States.

Michael Christensen is a recipient of the Raoul Waldenberg Humanitarian Award, the Red Skelton Community Service Award, Parenting Magazine's Parenting Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Ambassador David M. Walters International Pediatric Hall of Fame. He was designated as a New York Living Landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and received the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the Washington College of Arts and Sciences.

As an actor, Michael has appeared in the films Popeye, Heaven's Gate, and Annie, and in two episodes of CBS's TV series, Chicago Hope.

Michael and his wife, Karyn, have two children, Ivy and Kyla.

See also