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Vincenzo Tortorici

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For 15 years, Atlantans have laughed at Vincenzo Tortorici in his careers as actor and puppeteer but primarily classical-style clown. In addition to his solo shows built around such alter egos as Enzo the Red-Nosed Clown and the more verbose Bruno Machiavelli, he's recently popped up at PushPush Theater's Samuel Beckett Short Play Festival, and as the leading voice and sock puppeteer in the local indie film The Lady from Sockholm. In anticipation of April Fool's Day, he answered some dumb questions.

Just how stupid is a clown, really?

A clown is a professional idiot, basically, but you have to balance that with what we call the virtuoso "Harpo" moments, where you show off some kind of skill or musical ability. I juggle different props, from balls to clubs to cigar boxes, and I play mandolin and a little piano and saxophone. One of the most important things is just being secure in myself enough to look really stupid, like running into a wall. That'll usually provoke a laugh.

You spend most of your weekdays performing as Atlanta's lead supervisor of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care program at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Is it hard clowning around as "Dr. Pucci" for the sick children?

It can be very intense and very difficult, but we don't dwell on the hard things. We perform for the well part of the child, the part that wants to come out and play. I'm part of a team of nine performers, and during the course of the week, we visit every unit of the hospital. We're clown doctors and clown nurses, parodying authority figures and the hospital environment itself. We set ourselves up to play really stupid so kids can think, in effect, "There but for the grace of God, go I."

Is April 1 a major event for a professional clown?

Actually, every day is April Fool's Day for clowns, so April 1 is usually not that big a deal for us. It's like, when I get hired to play a Halloween party, I'm usually the most underdressed one there. This year I'm not doing anything special for April Fool's Day -- but then, if I were, do you think I'd be publicizing it?

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