Performing as a clown is not about being funny for Aaron Marquise.
"What I hope to do is to connect to people emotionally as a human being," said Marquis, whose one-man show, "This is Not a Test," will be held over the next two weekends at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. "I'm not sure if my audience knows what to expect, so what I'm doing is challenging the region to look at clowning and circus from a different viewpoint. It's a clown show, but it's a very serious, touching show."
Marquise wrote and directed the show ("with some help from close friends that I trust"), which is set in a war-torn era inside an old vaudeville theater. The clown, believing he is the only person in the theater, uses the building as his shelter but wakes up one day to find an audience staring back at him.
"My clown is living in apocalyptic times," said Marquise. "He thinks he's by himself at the end of the world, but there is the tension of a war going on outside, and when he sees the audience he feels like he has to make them laugh. I'm very inspired as an artist by Charlie Chaplin. He was somebody who got the world of comedy but was also able to connect to people. That's what I'm going for with this story."
Marquise was born in Round Lake and was a 2009 graduate of Shenendehowa, although he spent much of his senior year working as an intern at the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy. He studied musical theater and playwriting at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City for a year before heading to Canada to train as a clown in the National Circus School in Montreal. He graduated from there in 2015 and immediately put together his own touring circus, performing in the Capital Region at least once a year for the past three years.
"The circus was going great, and we're all still friends but we've kind of gone off our own way," said Marquise. "We learned from that experience, and I think some of my friends learned that it was something they didn't want to do. I learned the exact opposite. It was something I definitely wanted to keep on doing. So I created my own production company, so I could create and produce original and contemporary circus performances."
"This is Not a Test" is a mix between theater, French-style clowning and contemporary circus according to Marquise.
"I think the most relevant part of the show for me is the timeliness of it," he said. "Although the show doesn't take place in a specific time period per se, audience members will still feel as though they are being transported to a time of political unrest and uncertainty about the future, and I think there's something about that vulnerability that we can really relate to today."
The show was created through an artist-in-residency program provided by the The Arts Center of the Capital Region. Marquise has performed the show twice before, at Brown's Revolution Hall in Troy and at the Round Lake Auditorium. The show does contain some mature content and runs approximately an hour.
"The play is an intimate show, and audience members are made to feel as though they are witness to a beautiful secret," said Marquise. "It is a performance that demonstrates both sadness and hope, and challenges the audience to see their lives from a similar experience."
Marquise said he is looking forward to doing the show in the black box theater at The Arts Center of the Capital Region.
"Their black box holds about 99 people, so it's a small, intimate space that is perfect for my show," he said. "I want my audience nice and close."
While Marquise's circus doesn't have any flying trapeze artists or elephants, there are some circus-like elements in his performance.
"There is a lot of physical work, and there is a small section at the end of the show where it's very circus-like," said Marquise. "I use roller skates to tell part of the story. I wouldn't say it's acrobatic, but there is a lot of movement in the way that people aren't expecting or used to. But I can guarantee you that at the end of the show I'll be drenched with sweat."
As for Marquise Productions, Marquise hopes to bring more circus-like performers to the Capital Region.
"The Capital Region has a lot to offer artists," said Marquise, who is living in Troy and working as an arts education manager at Proctors in Schenectady. "Not only is it a great area by itself, but it's also right between Montreal, New York City and Boston. We're right in the middle. What I'm also hoping to do is to give artists a place to create the work they want to do and provide them with the tools and the time they need to work on it."
'This is Not a Test'
WHERE: The Arts Center for the Capital Region, 265 River St., Troy
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. Oct. 6, 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 7, and 4 p.m. Oct. 8
HOW MUCH: $20, $15 for children under 12
MORE INFO: www.marquiseproductions.com