Saturday, March 15, 2014

Faculty Bios

Sigfrido Aguilar  (Mexico)
Comic Dramatic Movement

Master teacher Sigfrido Aguilar founded the Research Studio of Pantomime Theater in 1972. Sigfrido’s theatrical journey of more than four decades has evolved into a methodology regarding the creation, direction and teaching of the Art of Comic Physical Theatre.

His distinct method for creating physical theater, Pantomime-Theatre, is a playful, organic process. Each individual performer can integrate it with their own experience, achieving a unique comic sense and style. Improvisation and analysis provide the practical understanding needed in order to apply this style of performance. By expanding the tools of expression and by developing the agility of acting from form into content, the performing artist discovers a personal method for physical theater capable of presenting any subject matter.

Sigfrido is an internationally renowned performer and teacher. In addition to having been one of the first featured teachers with Ringling Brothers, he is the director of the Estudio Busqueda de Pantomima-Teatro in Guanajuato, Mexico and founder of the International Festival of Contemporary Mime in Mexico.

Sigfrido has taught as a visiting professor at the following institutions: Chengdu University (Chengdu, China); Društvo ustvarjalcev Taka Tuka (Lubjiana, Slovenia); NYU Tisch School of the Arts Summer Program (Florence, Italy); Sonoran Desert Alliance (Ajo, Arizona); State University of New York (SUNY) in Potsdam as Distinguished Visiting National Endowment for the Humanities Professor;  created and directed Borders, a work selected and awarded by the American College Theater Festival;  Michael Howards Studios (New York, NY); Lobero Theatre Foundation (Santa Barbara, CA); Univ. of California Santa Barbara; Internanationale Mime Associate (Antwerpen, Belgium); North Carolina School of the Arts (Winston-Salem, NC); Lyndon State College (Lyndonville, VT); Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies (Aspen, Colorado); Departamento de Bellas Artes de Guadalajara; Jalisco; Instituto Allende, (San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato) among others.

Regarding Sigfrido by Steve Smith (23 May 2008):
“It was my great, good fortune to cross paths with Sigfrido Aguilar in the autumn of 1971. I was a student at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and he was one of my instructors. I was 20 years old; he was, and is, ageless. His official class title was "Pantomime," but he taught us so much more than that esoteric art. He taught that the language of clowns is mime, and that the instrument for that 'voice' is our body. He gave us all a new perspective on how to perform in the vast arenas that the huge, three-ring circus required. He showed us that bigger isn't always better, but that clarity of movement, of ideas, and story were crucial. He taught us how to speak volumes without ever uttering a word…He insisted that we keep our work authentic, genuine and always anchored to the truth…Winston Churchill once said, ‘We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.’  Sigfrido gave me the most precious gift of all — the confidence to believe in my dreams and myself."

Betsy Baytos (Los Angeles)

Eccentric & Character Movement

Performing with Steve Allen

Born and raised in Youngstown, Ohio, Betsy was the only girl in a brood with 3 talented brothers. Her love of animals and artistic nature blossomed when a sudden move to the country and a small town called Greenford, surrounded by corn fields, cows, old barns, and her own horse Smoky, presented unlimited adventures. A permanent resident in ‘Betsy World’, she was off picking blackberries, riding bareback through wheat fields, swimming or catching crawfish and frogs. Her mother, a ballroom instructor kept up the dance classes, shuttling Betsy her brothers in a frenzy of recitals while her father, a contractor, pursued his dream of building a 26-acre resort and Camp Shangri-La became a reality.

Betsy loved performing as much as drawing and after one year as the bottom rung of the cheerleading pyramid, focused on dancing. Born with an unusual limberness and comedic flair, and dabbling in community theater, Betsy knew it was time to leave the nest and in 1975, flew straight to the California College of Arts & Crafts in Oakland, California. It wasn’t long before Betsy was dancing’ up a storm with a 30 piece all-male banjo band at a local pizza parlor, all the while pursuing her new career as a fine artist.

With no prior knowledge of animation and in her first semester at art school, Betsy submitted a portfolio of sketches to the Walt Disney Animation Studios, and found herself in an interview with famed animator Eric Larson. One week later, she was on her way to Burbank, California to begin her first two months as an animation trainee. Eric liked her spirit and she was hired full-time, matched with an animator suitable to her personality, the great Cliff Nordberg, to begin work on her first animated feature, ‘The Rescuers’. Betsy thrived at Disney, dancing with the ‘Firehouse Five’ outside the commissary at lunchtime, while honing her skills in animation. She was soon sent to tour nationally around the country promoting animated feature films and teaching animation workshops, a career spanning over 30 years.

While working at Disney, Betsy studied dance under Vaudevillian Jon Zerby, and noticing her flexibility, introduced her to Eccentric Dance and her first silly walk, thus igniting a lifelong passion. Betsy began researching in earnest, searching for mentors in this esoteric field. On leave from Disney, Betsy found them in a Vaudeville Burlesque show ‘Baggy Pants & Co.’, developing an Eccentric solo act, and in Jim Henson’s Muppet Show in London, performing the ‘Betsy Bird’, created specifically as a vehicle for her Eccentric movement.

Now back in California, Betsy soon uprooted herself once more for the Big Apple and while working for Disney there, was featured in Broadway’s ‘Stardust’, dancing Eccentric with her full sized puppet partner Maurice. The show closed and Betsy made the decision to produce a Documentary on Eccentric Dance and interview all those relating to the subject, which is now near completion.

Betsy now lives in Glendale, California with her rescued felines: Hopi, Roxy and Pip and a never-ending flock of finches at the feeder. She continues to design product for herself and an array of clients and continues to work for the Disney Animation Studios. Betsy utilizes her Eccentric language and animation background to teach ‘character movement’ for animation studios, universities and dance companies across the globe. She works endlessly to fulfill her dream for a tree-house art studio, a small farm and one day, another horse to call her own.

Some of Betsy's choreography  and performance:

Mooky Cornish (Canada)

Mooky was lead clown for Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai, and is a regular featured artist in the hit cabaret show, La Soirée. Mooky has taught clown, character development, slapstick and physical comedy at the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre, the San Francisco Circus School, and countless workshops to all ages and levels of experience around the Western Hemisphere. A given teacher, her generosity, enthusiasm for the form and genuine affection for communion with aspiring clowns make training with Mooky a positive and memorable experience.

Click on extended bio below to enlarge:

Leland Faulkner  (Maine)
• Hocus-Pocus with a Physical Focus: Magic for the Non-Magician
• DIY Silent Movies

Leland Faulkner is a performing artist, story-maker, film-maker, director, and creative consultant. His father was a Native American from the Ft. Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho who worked for the U.S Agency for International Development in India, Afghanistan, Iran, and Africa. Leland was born in Afghanistan and is truly a man of the world.

His approach to creating and performing theatre is crafted from physicality, a theatrical imagination, and a love for shadow and illusion. In addition to his roles as a professional director, mime, actor, and new vaudevillian, Leland is also a master of the classic arts of shadowgraphs and chapeaugraphy. Without words, and using the language of gesture, he creates stunning arrays of figures and characters using only his body, and the simplest of props. He has toured and performed this work for almost a quarter of a century.

Throughout his career Leland has toured, performed, and taught both stateside and abroad including a multi-city tour of Japan in conjunction with the Asian Arts Presenters; workshops with Dependents Schools in Madrid, Spain; showcases at The Kennedy Center; featured performances at The International Children's Festival in Calgary, Canada; and multiple appearances at the Thousand Oaks Civic Center in California, to name just a few. Leland presently tours and teaches for a living, appearing in both solo and revue productions, including the International Arts Carnival in Hong Kong; The Phyzgig Festival of master vaudevillians; and Masters of Magic, a revue of star magicians. In addition, in 2009 he headlined at Village of Tales, in Ojai, CA, as part of an invited roster of master storytellers.

His career within the film and television industry has included lecturing on editing, and technical work for the Hollywood Film Institute; Theatrical Video Design for The Slightly Askew Players of California; and he was an artist/consultant to Robert Zemeckis and Castle Rock Pictures on the feature film The Polar Express. In 1997 he won a Cine Eagle for As Luck Would Have It, and in 2007 won a national Award of Excellence for his documentary film Theatre & Inspiration. Most recently he was the winner of the Maine Short Film Competition for his short fiction film The King O’ Cats starring Avner Eisenberg. This film won Best Children’s Feature at the International Independent Film and Video Festival in New York City.

Karen Gersch  (New York)
Balancing Bodies: Serious Comedy Partnering

Karen Gersch's love of circus and art began as a child, inspired by the small tented shows that passed through the rural areas of her home in Rockland County, NY.  She won a fine arts scholarship to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn when she was 16.  Minoring in Theatre, she pioneered the school's first Independent Studies Program in order to also learn mime and juggling. A prolific artist, she received a BFA w/Honors from Pratt in 1973, then studied ballet with Diana Byer (NY Theatre Ballet) and acrobatics with Nina Krasavina (Moscow Circus).

In the late 70's Karen served as first Producing Clown of Great Adventures Amusement Park and as a solo performer for the private parties that Warner Bros. Records threw their recording artists. A founding member of both the Big Apple Circus and Circus Smirkus, (with whom she performed for years) she also toured with one-ring shows throughout France and 3-ring circuses in this country.  Karen joined John Towsen and Fred Yockers as headlining clowns with Hubert Castle International Circus in the early 80's, touring the U.S. and Canada.

For 7 years, at the height of Jim Henson's award-winning HBO show FraggleRock, Karen played Merkle  — an acrobatic Fraggle — in promotional appearances around the country. She founded Acrobrats, her own physical arts theatre company with then-partner, Niki Swarthout, developing a myriad of successful programs that have toured nationally and internationally for 30 years. With Acrobrats, she created Symfunny Circus, performing with philharmonic orchestras in young people's concerts across the country.  Her work has appeared in documentary films, T.V., MTV, in ballet productions and theatre festivals. For 16 years. Karen was Artistic Director and Ringmistress for the acclaimed circus/vaudeville series CIRCUSundays & Showboat Shazzam aboard the Waterfront Museum in Brooklyn.  

In the past two decades, she has turned to teaching, choreographing and consulting for theatre companies and circuses here and abroad (Circus Flora, Circus Harmony, Amazing Grace Circus, InShape Circus, the recent London production of Barnum, Time Warner Cable, Family Guy and St. Louis Symphony, to name a few).

Karen is currently Director of Circus Arts for Williamsburg Movement and Arts Center in Brooklyn and Director of Ground Skills for Asphalt Green Battery Park in NYC. She also continues to paint and illustrate, with circus and clowning still serving as inspiration for most of her artwork. She exhibits in theatres, galleries and museums and is collected globally. (See her FB page: Art by Karen E. Gersch). Some of her artwork will be on display at the Barn!

Joseph Herscher  (New Zealand / Brooklyn)
Kinetic Scenography: Human Rube Goldberg Machines

Joseph Herscher specializes in making Rube Goldberg machines: comical chain-reactions that perform a simple task in an unnecessarily complex way. His videos have been viewed by over 11 million people online.

His most well-known work, The Page Turner, uses a sequence of 23 steps (including fire and a hamster) to turn the page of his morning newspaper.

Herscher has led Rube Goldberg workshops all over the world and has appeared on numerous television shows, including Sesame Street. He grew up in New Zealand and now lives in New York, where he continues to create his eccentric machines for film, television, and art festivals.

Leonard Pitt  (Berkeley)
Bringing the Mask to Life

"Bedazzled and befuddled . . . bewitched, bothered and bewildered. Not to mention captivated, devastated, edified and fascinated. Even if you like, awed. I have just seen Leonard Pitt."   — San Francisco Examiner 

"Pitt's exquisitely controlled body and facial expressions are a technical and spiritual revelation."        
The Baltimore Evening Sun

"Welcome to Chicago, Leonard Pitt. And what an interesting way you had of saying "hello" to us, eating your face on the stage of the Organic Theatre . . .  The success of this show rests on Pitt's amazing ability to ­– it isn't as easy as you think – move."  — Chicago Tribune    

Leonard Pitt has been performing and teaching for over fifty years.  In 1963 he traveled to Paris to study mime with Etienne Decroux. He studied with Decroux for four years and became his assistant. He also performed in two companies under Decroux's direction. He returned to the United States in 1970 and settled in the San Francisco Bay Area where he established his school of movement, mask, and theatre. The school operated for 18 years and attracted students from around the world.

Leonard created his first solo work Four Pieces in 1971. In 1973, he traveled to Bali where he studied mask theatre and performed with the Balinese in their temple and village festivals. This study changed the course of his work. He returned to Bali in 1978 to study mask carving.

His solo performance 2019 Blake (1977), directed by George Coates, received wide critical acclaim and toured to festivals in the United States, Holland and Poland. In 1979 he created his solo work Doppo, Clown Of Yesteryear based on the character of a retired French circus clown.        

In 1981, Leonard co-founded the multi-media theater company George Coates Performance Works. He collaborated on The Way Of How (1981) and Are/Are (1983). The company toured to festivals in Spain, England, Germany, and Denmark. In 1984 he created his solo work Meantime, directed by Coates, which toured widely.

In 1987, Leonard co-founded Life On The Water, a contemporary theater space in San Francisco, which operated for seven years. In 1987 he also created Not For Real, a one-man show directed by Rinde Eckert. The show toured throughout the United States as well as to Brazil and New Zealand. In 1989 he received the Actor of the Year Award in Chicago for Not For Real.

His one man show Spleenix (1988) was commissioned by New York Theater Performance Space 122 and was presented in New York as part of The First New York International Festival of the Arts.  In 1989 Leonard traveled to the USSR where he performed in Saint Petersburg as part of the Peace Caravan Theatre Festival, the first international theater festival to be held in the Soviet Union.

In 1991, playwright David Barth wrote Ned, a solo work for Leonard. In 1992 Leonard presented his work at the Serious Fun Festival at Lincoln Center in New York. That year he also created a stage monologue, Pursuing the Master Healer, or how I stumbled on a footnote and landed in Ireland. This work is based on Leonard's research into the life of the 17th century Anglo-Irish mystic healer Valentine Greatrakes.

In 1991 Leonard founded Eco-Rap, an environmental education program combining ecology and rap music as a way of getting urban youth interested in social issues. Eco-Rap was featured on CNN, MTV, VH1-TV, and National Public Radio. In 1997 he collaborated with movement artist Ruth Zaporah on their two-person show Seduction.

Leonard was movement consultant for the film Jurassic Park, and was motion-capture specialist for Dragonheart. He played the monster in Three Wishes, starring Patrick Swayze.

Leonard has received Individual Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

In 2009, Leonard co-founded Flying Actor Studio in San Francisco offering a yearlong daily training in all the aspects of physical theatre. The studio ran for three years. He continues to teach independently.

Leonard has written four books, three on Paris history and one on a  tiny corner of 17th century Anglo-Irish history:
• Walks Through Lost Paris
• Paris, a Journey Through time
• Paris Postcards — the Golden Age
• A Small Moment of Great Illumination: Searching for Valentine Greatrakes the Master Healer.

Drew Richardson  (Virginia)
DIY Silent Films

“Those of you who enjoy silent slapstick comedy should be sure to check out "The Guy Who" Movies. Drew Richardson, who goes by the stage name Drew the Dramatic Fool, is a clown and slapstick artist of considerable talent.  He's created a DVD of 12 very short silent comedy sketches, which harken back to the days of Mack Sennet and Hal Roach. Well worth checking out... There are more laughs than some feature-length comedies that I've seen.” — DVDTalk .com

“If you like Bill Irwin, you have to see Drew the Dramatic Fool. He's a world-class visual comedian." —Charleston Gazette

“If Teller of ‘Penn & Teller’ had ever become pregnant by Harpo Marx, Drew Richardson would be the one to arrive out of that strange scientific amalgamation. Watching Drew Richardson perform as Drew the Dramatic Fool is exactly like watching the Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton, or any of the great screen comedians for the first time. It’s laughter that doesn’t make anyone feel cheap. It’s genuine. Watching him, laughter becomes a new form of oxygen. Go forth and have hundreds of chuckles” — Film Threat Magazine

"Ingenious." —Chicago Tribune

Drew Richardson (Drew the Dramatic Fool) is best known as the first person in the 21st century to have new short silent movies shown before major motion pictures. Besides being a silent film star in the wrong century, Drew has been creating solo stage shows for the past twenty five years, which he has performed from Austin to Austria, most recently with work directed by Avner Eisenberg. Drew first studied physical comedy with John Towsen at Ohio University, and continued his studies with Jacques Lecoq in Paris. As a guest-teaching artist, Drew has taught for universities, festivals, and theatre companies including Point Park Conservatory for Performing Arts; University of Michigan; MotionFest; QuestFest; Strawdog Theatre; and 500 Clown. A recipient of numerous arts grants, Drew has been commissioned to give his “How to Make a Silent Film” residency project at many performing arts centers and colleges.

For more information, go to his website at and read his blog at

Don Rieder  (Canada)
Performance Lab

Don Rieder is a seasoned performer who is known for his rubbery dexterity, energy, and invention.  “The comic talents of Rieder are so finely honed that one’s attention is drawn to the stage.” (San Francisco Chronicle) He is a prolific author and gag writer whose clown plays, known for their pratfalls, mayhem, and laughter, walk the razor’s edge between the tragic and the ridiculous. Since 1978 he and his clown plays and company Klauniada — co-founded with Valerie Dean — have toured across Canada, the United States and Mexico and have been presented at international mime and theatre festivals in France, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic.

As a director he is known for the creation of stage work with arresting images, evocative, articulate gesture, and memorable characterization. His approach is a synthesis of various practices, including clown-theatre, everyday poetry, theatre of objects, mask work, silent film, and commedia dell’arte.

Used to working in a variety of styles and on both small- and large-scale productions, he has collaborated with companies as different as Théâtre de la pire espèce, Cirque d’anges heureux, and the Cirque du Soleil. The Cirque creations were, O – directed by Franco Dragone; Zumanity – directed by Dominic Champagne; KA directed by Robert Lepage; LOVE – directed by Dominic Champagne; Zaia – directed by Gilles Maheu; and Zed – directed by François Girard.

He has 35 years of teaching experience at professional and pre-professional levels, guiding actors, dancers, and circus artists to achieve technical mastery of basic and advanced skills and self-expression. Teaching credits include The National Theatre School of Canada, numerous American and Canadian colleges and universities, the Cirque du Soleil, The National Circus School in Montreal, and En Piste.

His serious clown training began in Prague with the internationally known artists Bolek Polivka, Ctibor Turba, and Boris Hybner. While in Prague he developed a love of animated film, inspired by Jiri Trnka and Bretislav Pojar, and puppetry inspired by Divadlo Drak and their raw style of actor and object.  He was personally invited by Jacques Lecoq to the École Lecoq to study clown and buffon. Other performance education included Butoh with Yukio Waguri, contact improvisation with Andrew Harwood, and Laban Movement Analysis and Bartenieff Fundamentals with Peggy Hackney.
Having learned the power of the powerless from the writings of Vaclav Havel, he developed a strong commitment to social action This began with work in an outreach program for Roma children in Prague, continued at the Idaho School for the Deaf, and led to the creation, with Valerie Dean, of Sunrise Theatre, a company of abled and developmentally disabled actors, which toured the Northwestern US and was the subject of two documentaries. In Montreal, he was a master teacher for Cirque du Monde/Social Circus, a Cirque du Soleil-sponsored social action program for youth at risk headquartered in Montreal. As part of this Cirque du Soleil initiative, he offered master classes for social action programs in Atlanta, Orlando, and Las Vegas. Most recently he was artist-in-residence in Dalhousie University Medical Humanities-HEALS Program, funded by the Pope Foundation.

John Towsen  (New York)
Physical Comedy: Old Techniques, New Applications

John Towsen began his performance career at the age of seven, acting in a skit with Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason on The Red Skelton Show, and subsequently acted in over twenty television shows and as many commercials, working alongside such names as Gary Moore, Julie Andrews, Kaye Ballard, Alice Ghostley, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Robert Preston, Tab Hunter, Sid Caesar, Ed Wynn, Claude Rains, Walter Slezak, Kate Smith, Shirley Booth, Margaret Hamilton, Patty Duke, and Joseph Papp.

He studied circus, clown, commedia, theatre movement, and improvisation at NYU (Hovey Burgess), Ringling Brothers Clown College, the Valley Studio (Reid Gilbert, William Burdick, Tom Leabhart, Joe Martinez), the Dell’Arte School (Carlo Mazzone-Clementi, Jon-Paul Cook, Joan Schirle, Frank Condon), the Center for Circus Arts (Gregory Fedin, Nina Krasavina), and in the evening stage de clown at École Jacques Lecoq (1990), with Jacques Lecoq and Norman Taylor.... and at many other places and with many other people. He performed physical comedy and clown-theatre for fifteen years or so, most of it in partnership with Fred Yockers, including work with several circuses.  He has also partnered with Karen Gersch, Jim Moore, Zeke Peterhoff, Joe Killian, Michael Zerphy, and Jan Greenfield. 

In 1975 he co-founded with Fred Yockers the clown-arts organization If Every Fool, Inc., sponsoring touring shows, workshops, and festivals, and was artistic director of the NY International Festival of Clown-Theatre (1983, 1985).  He is the author of Clowns: A Panoramic History (NY: Hawthorn, 1976) and multiple articles for Yale Theater, Mime Journal, and other publications, and holds a Ph.D. in Drama from NYU. He was awarded a 1989 NEH Summer Seminar Fellowship to study Anthropology of Humor at the University of California, Berkeley, and received a 1990 Fulbright Research Fellowship to France to do research on physical comedy.

In 1982, he developed the first full-length college course in physical comedy — combining technical skill, improvisational work, and character & plot development — at Ohio University (Athens). He taught it there for 5 summers, plus at Ohio State University (Columbus), Colorado Mountain College (Breckenridge), the Institut d'Art Dramatique (Rabat, Morocco), the University of British Columbia (Vancouver), Princeton University, and for six years in the Acting Program at the Juilliard School. Students have included Laura Linney, Scott McPherson, Drew Richardson, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Jane Adams, Michael Hayden, Andre Braugher, and Michael Stuhlbarg.

He has also taught at Ringling Brothers Clown College (Baraboo, 1994);  for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit (New York City, 2003); the Nouveau Clown Institute in Barcelona (2010 and 2013);  the NYC Clown-Theatre Festival (2010); for hospital clown programs in Germany, Slovakia, Austria, and Lithuania (2011 – present); in Ireland (2013) at the Circus Factory (Cork), Irish National Circus Festival (Tralee), and the Dublin Circus Project; and this January at the First Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival.

With Audrey Crabtree he co-founded the NYC Physical Comedy Lab (2011), and has directed physical comedy performers in New York and abroad. His current physical comedy research is on display on his All Fall Down blogopedia at

In his other lives, John taught multimedia and digital video in the Creative Arts & Technology program at Bloomfield College for 26 years, and has spent many a summer working for the Open Society Institute doing media training for activists in hot spots across the globe. He loves to travel, has visited nearly fifty countries, and tries to speak French and Spanish. His oldest son is popular NYC comedian and comedy writer Nat Towsen and his youngest son, Jesse, is at 23 the youngest City Council chief-of-staff in New York City.

No Reservations (Housing Works Benefit, NYC, 2013)
Performed by Audrey Crabtree and Billy Schultz
Created by Audrey Crabtree, Billy Schultz and John Towsen
Directed by John Towsen