Between colorful, but perhaps manic, children’s cartoons and brief, punchy YouTube comedians, children don’t have to search far for modern forms of humor. But programmers at the Carroll Arts Center want to be sure they have a strong foundation in classic comedy as well.
This summer, the center is holding its “Summer Sillies” series featuring performers from a variety of comedic backgrounds, from the circus and clowning, to magicians and puppetry.
“I think there’s a long tradition in all of those art forms,” Carroll Arts Center Director Sandy Oxx said. “So it’s good to have kids be exposed to something that’s not Internet-based or social media-based. A lot of these programs show how timeless good slapstick comedy is. A pie in the face is always funny, no matter what.”
Oxx said the center always holds children’s entertainment in the summer. She said in the past years, she’s found children aren’t as interested in its educational programs during the summer, so this year, they decided to book a series of pure, silly entertainment.
The series begins with Mr. Dave’s Magic, a comedy-illusion show developed by Dave Thomen. Thomen, who performs as Mr. Dave and Mr. D, said he tailors his shows to a family experience.
“The question I have to ask myself is, if I’m performing for a child, their parents and their grandparents, how can I touch all three of those ages?” Thomen said. “I want people to remember my magic, not just as a trick, but as an experience.”
Keeping children’s attention while entertaining their parents can add some difficulty to the craft, Thomen said.
“I know a lot of people who don’t want to perform for children or can’t perform for children, in terms of keeping their attention,” Thomen said. “When I think of magic, I want it truly to be live theater. Not just tricks and fooling people, but artistic as well.”
Following the magic show is Michael Rosman’s “Amazing Feats of Comedy.” Rosman, a Ringling-trained performer who runs a children’s circus camp, will perform acrobatic and physical feats including unicycling and juggling with unusual objects. Rosman said a key component of his performances includes audience participation for the children.
“So much of American life is watching things on TV or in movies,” Rosman said. “This kind of performance is live. There’s no editing. There’s no special effects. It’s unique.”
The next performance takes the most classical view of comedy of all, with “Professor Horn’s Punch & Judy Puppets.”
Punch and Judy is a comedic series that dates back to the 17th century. The show, performed by Mark Walker, is founded on slapstick principles and encourages audience participation.
Finally, the center will host Mark Lohr and the Lohr Family Clowns. The program features classic clown antics, including light acrobatics. Lohr said many people are surprised by how much they enjoy clown shows.
“The word ‘clown’ has gotten a little bit of a black eye in the U.S.,” Lohr said. “You’ve got things like Stephen King’s ‘It,’ which don’t present us in the best of lights.”
Lohr said classically, clown make-up, which has received the brunt of negative attention, was developed to exaggerate the performers’ faces in large theaters. Because the exaggeration is less-needed in modern shows, Lohr said he generally sticks to the classic clown nose.
“We are the laugh-bringers, the joy givers; we make fun of ourselves through stories and antics that people can relate to,” Lohr said. “It is a live form of entertainment that’s its own unique thing. It’s something where the performer speaks directly to the audience through our words and through our actions. We try to create a new experience every time.”
Each of the performers said they seek to connect modern audiences with the traditions and history of comedy. Lohr said he likens his act to a classic Warner Brothers cartoon, and he’s made sure to raise his children on the films of The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy.
“It’s a challenge to compete with modern media, because there is so much out there. You’ve got this fast-paced cartoon and television style that is constantly flooding the audience with images, [whereas] the older style had a different pace,” Lohr said. “I think it’s important for youth to see them and gain perspective and a connection with an older generation.”