done very few library shows, but I spend a lot of time in public libraries.I am at my local library at least three times a month, and when I travel
I like to visit the public library and browse through their collection.I believe a public library is one of the most valuable resources for a
variety artist.If it wasn’t for
the public library I doubt that I would have become a professional entertainer.
the proud owner of my own library card when I was seven years old.A year later it became very valuable when magic became my hobby.I checked out every book our library had on magic, and repeatedly checked
Amateur Magician’s Handbook by Henry Hay.Those books taught me the basic principles of magic and made it possible
for me to construct some of my own effects.
High, I checked out The Man Who Was Magic by Paul Gallico.It is a novel about a fictional town of magicians.It’s theme of achieving success by remaining true to yourself has
guided my career.It is another book
that I checked out of the library many times over the years.I recently realized that one of the characters, Ninian The Nonpareil, was
a major influence when I created Charlie, my clown character.
In 1974, I
began clowning as a hobby while I was in college.There was very little information available at that time about clowning.In the search for more information I went to the library to consult a
reference book called the Periodical Guide To Literature.That book gave me a list of magazine articles related to clowning.I gave the reference librarian the list and she checked to see which ones
were available in the library’s files of back issues.She gave me a copy of Scouting
Magazine which had an article on Circus Kirk, a professional circus that
hired high school and college students for the summer season.The article included an address for the circus.I sent them my resume, and to my delight was hired.It was my experience with that show that gave me the foundation to become
a professional entertainer.
spent a lot of time and money collecting my own personal reference library.However, I still rely heavily upon my public library.The bibliography for Creativity
For Entertainers lists over 200 books that I used during my research.At least a fourth of them are books I obtained from my public library.Through the interlibrary loan program, my local library was able to give
me access to two rare and valuable books that I wanted to use to confirm some
information.One of the books was so
rare that I was not allowed to take it out of the library.I could sit in the study room for as long as I wanted to read it during a
week, and then it had to be sent back to the library that had loaned it.The reference librarian at your own library can help you use the
interlibrary loan program to borrow books that you have been looking for.
There is a lot of free information on the internet, but there
are other very useful sites that charge a premium to access them. Some
public libraries subscribe to those services and then provide them to their
patrons. I have found some very interesting information by using those
sources. For example, while researching Bert Williams, an International
Clown Hall of Fame inductee, I discovered an ad from a 1903 issue of the New
York Times for “In Dahomey”, a
Broadway show Bert Williams produced along with his partner, George Walker.
According to the ad, the show began at
– Don’t Miss It – Bert Williams sings his famous comic song, ‘I’m a Jonah Man.’”
I know about the song, but didn't realize that it was so popular it got its own
mention in advertising to make sure late arrivals to the theater were on time to
hear him perform it. I would never had learned that without the service
provided by my public library.
Even with free internet content it can still be difficult to
find what you are looking for. Search engines may give you a list of
hundreds of possible web sites. I've learned that librarians at reference
desks know some useful web sites and can direct me to them. For example,
my wife and I both enjoyed books by a particular author and had read everything
they wrote. I asked the reference librarian if he could recommend similar
books. He immediately went to a web site maintained by another public
library, entered the name of the author we liked, and printed out a two page
list of recommended books that were similar in style and theme. We have
both enjoyed reading books off that list that we probably would not have
discovered without the assistance of the librarians. There have been other
times when the reference librarian was able to find information for me by going
directly to a relevant web site they were knew about without the need to wade
through a list of search engine results.
gain valuable information by doing research at the library.You can also gain a lot of ideas just by browsing.I often pick a library aisle at random to wander down.I pick up a book that catches my eye and glance through planting idea
seeds that may sprout later.For
example, I picked up a book on kite construction and discovered that the design
of one of the kites was a perfect design for a silk production for my act.
just read for information.Reading
mystery novels is one of my favorite forms of entertainment.Even then, I often learn from the novels.I learned some additional information about Native American clowns by
Clowns, a mystery novel by Tony Hillerman.
winter I read The Cat Who Brought Down The House by Lillian Jackson Braun.It is part of her series of mysteries featuring John Qwilleran, a
newspaper columnist who lives with two cats.One of the cats likes to knock books off a shelf.In this story, Qwilleran can’t think of a subject for his column.So, he sets the cat down in front of a bookcase.He uses the title of the first book to hit the floor as the subject for
That is an
example of a creativity technique known as a Forced Relationship.I was aware of the technique, but had not used it much myself.The deadline for an article for my column in Clowning
Around was two days after I finished that novel. I did not have an idea
about what to write about.I had
several slips of paper on my desk with notes for Creativity For Entertainers.Inspired by the Braun story, I decided to pick a slip at random and start
writing about it.It worked.It started a chain of associations that lead me to an idea I could use
for the article.Within a couple of
hours I had gone from not having any idea to having a finished article.Since then a Forced Relationship has been my favorite way to jump start
my thinking when needed.
Reading not only provides information,
but it can also provide inspiration.I
have used my love of mystery stories to inspire routines.I have performed as Charlie, my tramp character, most often.However, one year early in my career I experimented with a whiteface
clown character who was a detective named Sirlock Homes, Private Defective.Mystery was also the inspiration for a routine combining magic and
juggling.I had three people pick
cards from a deck used to play Clue.Then
to reveal the selected cards I juggled a paperback book, a bottle of mustard,
and a hank of rope tied into a noose because Colonel Mustard committed the
murder in the library using a noose.
100 Simple Secrets of Happy People, David Niven, Ph, D., wrote, “Those
who read books benefit from what they learn and the entertainment they receive.But in addition, they get to exercise their brain, and when we do that,
we feel satisfied that we are spending our time wisely.”
element of mysteries provides an obvious mental exercise, but I think any type
of literature provides two valuable types of exercise.
because reading inspires you to create mental images it gives you practice in
visualization.Studies have proven
that visualization is a useful tool both for generating new ideas and for
preparing to perform.
believe that literature rich in metaphors and similes makes you mentally more
flexible.Studies have shown that
humor is an effective mental warm up for creativity because the majority of
jokes create one mental image and then force you to switch to another mental
image.Many jokes do this by
starting with one meaning of a word and then changing to a different meaning.I have not seen any studies on the effect of metaphors, but I believe
they work in the same way.A
metaphor causes you to switch mental images.Authors are encouraged to collect interesting metaphors.The intent is not to plagiarize them, but to read them for inspiration.I think authors have intuitively realized that reading them serves as a
mental warm up allowing you to consider more varied ideas.Read these two examples.
palm tree arched like the slender arm of a cheerleader to pom-pom-like
fronds.”(“The Kanaima” by
Queen Mystery Magazine July 2004)
in a living room I’d been in a hundred times before in other remote corners of
New Jersey.It was the architectural equivalent of an old gym shoe: aromatic,
broken-down, and comfortable.” (“A Sunday In Ordinary Time” by Terence
Faherty.Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
different images came to mind as you read those passages?The changing images increase your mental flexibility which is then useful
in generating new ideas for routines.
variety artist you should spend time at a public library.It is a great source of mental exercise, information, and inspiration.If you want to be a more creative entertainer, the library will help you
both with imagination and implementation of great new ideas. I
am very grateful for the many contributions the public library has made to my
life and my career.
article was originally written for the Funny
Paper Magazine.A condensed
version of the article appeared in the November/December 2004 issue of that
2004 by Bruce “Charlie” Johnson.All