After spending a few semesters at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City studying serious theater, Round Lake native Aaron Marquise decided it was time to start clowning around.
“I studied musical theater and play writing for about a year and a half but I just wasn’t happy,” said Marquise, a 2009 Shenendehowa graduate. “I finally realized that in my heart I’m a clown. That’s what made sense to me.”
A former intern at the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy, he and the circus troupe he helped create, “Frequently Asked Questions: A Circus Collective,” will perform an original show titled “Now You Know” on Friday and Saturday at the Schacht Fine Arts Center on the campus of Russell Sage College. There will be two 75-minute performances each day.
This weekend’s show, presented by the Theatre Institute at Sage, will be the debut of the troupe, but they are far from newcomers to the circus world.
Marquise spent the summers of 2010 and 2011 working with Circus Theatrics’ Sean Fagan of Troy, and with that experience behind him he decided to try out for the National Circus School of Montreal.
‘Now You Know’: A contemporary circus performance by FAQ
WHERE: Schact Fine Arts Center, Russell Sage College, Troy
WHEN: Noon and 7 p.m. Friday, and 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday
HOW MUCH: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors
MORE INFO: 244-2248, www.faqcircus.com
“I decided to head up to Montreal and audition on a whim,” remembered Marquise. “I knew it was my newfound passion, and it’s all come to me very naturally. It just spoke to me more than doing musicals.”
In Montreal, Marquise had to go through an initial four-day audition period that included testing in acrobatic ability, strength, flexibility, dance and acting. He was one of the few select participants to finish the four-day process. He was then invited back to the school, where he studied for a year before enduring another four-day audition program.
With that hurdle cleared, he was accepted into the program on a full-time basis and expects to graduate in 2015.
“I saw Cirque du Soleil when I was younger and thought, ‘That is what I want to do,’ ” he said. “I did not realize I could actually do that — that circus was an option.”
He decided not to wait until graduation before starting his own circus. Along with several of his fellow schoolmates, he created FAQ.
Developing the art
“I did not even realize that the circus scene had grown far beyond Cirque du Soleil,” he said. “In the States it’s very rare to find groups of friends doing what FAQ is doing, whereas in Europe there are hundreds of small companies touring. We want to help develop this art here in the U.S.”
Marquise is 22 years old. There are usually about 10 members of the company, and seven of them, ranging in age from 19 to 24, will be performing at Russell Sage. Marquise is one of three co-managers of the troupe, which draws its name from having to answer inquiries about what exactly it is they’re doing.
“We get all these frequently asked questions, like ‘where are your elephants?’ ” said Marquise. “Well, we don’t have elephants. We tell them we are normal people who just happen to work in a circus, which combines acrobatics, aerials, juggling and clowning. We also travel a lot, so the circus is our home.”
Marquise knew he was serious about some kind of performing in 2009 when he spent part of his senior year as a NYSTI intern at Russell Sage. He played Linus in the intern production of “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” directed by Robert Whiteman, an elementary school teacher in the Guilderland district.
“Aaron was always an energetic, dedicated, serious young performer,” said Whiteman. “I knew when I met him that not only would I cast him, but that he would provide the ‘heart’ of my cast. He leads in a way that I hadn’t seen from students his age.”
Whiteman said he was very much aware of Marquise’s interest in circus arts during their experience in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown.”
“But I had no idea it would lead to the amazing experience he is having now,” said Whiteman. “It is not hard to believe that he has become what he has become and that he is wholeheartedly invested in this endeavor.”
Like Marquise, most of the members of the troupe are circus students in Montreal. Among the performers in Troy will be a duo-trapeze act, a Cyr Wheel artist (who rolls a large hoop from the inside), a wire walker and an aerial hoop artist.
After the four shows in Troy, FAQ will head for performances in Arlington, Mass., Philadelphia, New York City and St. Louis.
“We want to build this show up, and eventually take it back to Montreal, where we know we’ll find our toughest critics,” said Marquise.
“We want to make this the first contemporary American circus company, and when I say that, people shouldn’t be thinking Ringling Brothers or Barnum and Bailey. We’d love to be performing in our own tent some day, but we’re not that kind of circus.”