Clowns in Style: NY Times article about two clown’s homes
Two Dell’arte Graduates get their house (and their work and their website) featured in the NY Times!
The Traveling Circus Stops Here
CHRISTINA GELSONE, a slender 36-year-old with delicate features and hair the color of a ripe eggplant, lay flat on her back on the bare parquet floor of her West Harlem apartment, an expectant look on her face.
Her husband, Seth Bloom, 34, whose dark hair shimmers with electric blue highlights, placed his palms atop hers. Then he balanced over her, almost as if he were floating in the air. The couple held the pose silently, the only sound on this quiet weekday afternoon the bird song outside their kitchen window, which offers a view of leafy St. Nicholas Park.
Ms. Gelsone and Mr. Bloom are professional clowns, and they regularly perform feats like these in their fifth-floor walk-up on St. Nicholas Terrace, a turn-of-the-century apartment house near 128th Street that in 1996 was converted into a co-op for families earning low to moderate incomes.
The onetime railroad flat, where the couple has lived since May 2008, is also their rehearsal space and office. A small room off the narrow hallway, for example, is crammed with tools of their trade like stilts, water bombs, juggling pins, soap-bubble solution and oversize balloons — not the items stashed in your average New York linen closet.
But Ms. Gelsone and Mr. Bloom, known professionally as the Acrobuffos (for a glimpse of what they look like in action, check out their Web site, www.acrobuffos.com), are hardly your average clowns.
They perform their acrobatics, mime, juggling and theatrics (but no fire-eating, Ms. Gelsone says, because it destroys your teeth) in some of the most troubled places on earth. They make annual visits to Afghanistan, where they met in the summer of 2003 (yes, they know it sounds like the start of a joke: “Two clowns meet in Afghanistan …”). Individually or together they have also performed in Kosovo and Serbia in the Balkans, where memories of past conflicts are still vivid.
“We’re sometimes the only Americans without guns that people have seen in these places,” Ms. Gelsone said that afternoon after scrambling up from the floor and settling herself next to her husband beside a low stained-wood coffee table bought for $350 at My Little India, a store in Brooklyn that sells Indian imports, and one of the priciest items in the apartment.
“You’re just a little clown going over there. But what we do is offer people a chance to release their emotions, which is the first step to recovery.
“Sure, you can build a hospital and get a plaque with your name on it,” she said.
And Mr. Bloom added: “Hospitals and infrastructure are part of what’s needed. But people need to be people. What we do lets kids dream. What we do lets them imagine a future.”
The two were a professional couple for several years before becoming a romantic one, in part, as Ms. Gelsone explained, “because it’s a cardinal rule — never date a clown partner.”
“You can find a date anywhere,” she said. “But a clown partner? Not so easy.”
By spring 2007, however, they were living together in an apartment opposite their current building. By that Christmas, after a pageantlike wedding in the Chinese city Hangzhou, for which Ms. Gelsone wore a dress made of white balloons, and a honeymoon in the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan, one of the most remote parts of the world, they had found their home on St. Nicholas Terrace.
Their apartment house is more than a century old, but was rejuvenated by a city program that established it as a Housing Development Fund Corporation. Under this program, buildings owned by the city are renovated and the apartments made available to families whose annual earnings fall under a prescribed level.
The goal is to help families of relatively limited means become homeowners, and the impact in minority neighborhoods like this one has been considerable.
The program’s ideological underpinnings appealed to the couple (Mr. Bloom ended up as vice president of the co-op board). And to a couple that earns $50,000 to $70,000 a year — clowning isn’t the most lucrative of professions — the deal was attractive financially.
They bought their six-room apartment in May 2008 for $262,000; their monthly maintenance is $615. They set about transforming it into a space that would accommodate their not-so-traditional lifestyle. To create an area in which to rehearse, they collapsed the three small front rooms into one spacious area and redid the floors, each of which had been built at a slightly different level, to make one continuous expanse; renovations came in at just under $20,000. They furnished the room with items from Ikea (cheap) and tatami mats (easily stacked and stashed). During the day, when most of their neighbors are out, they can do handstands and pratfalls to their hearts’ content.
As a gentle homage to their time in China, they painted the kitchen in red, gold and blue, the colors of the Forbidden City in Beijing.
“When Seth chose red kitchen cabinets,” Ms. Gelsone said, “I thought to myself: ‘Yes! I married the right guy.’ ”
They find the ungentrified nature of their neighborhood appealing. People barbecue in the back of their buildings, play music on the street, and are so chatty, it can take 15 minutes to collect the mail.
“Where we travel, life happens on the street,” Mr. Bloom explained. “This is more like the rest of our lives.”
While their professional center of gravity lies thousands of miles away, the apartment is alive with images and paraphernalia that evoke their life on the road. These include not only the clowning tools in the closet and the grinning papier-mâché masks that Mr. Bloom has created using a plaster mold of his head, but also his vibrant color photographs, displayed on the living room walls, which provide a vivid record of the couple’s travels.
The scenes from Afghanistan are especially compelling.
There are pictures of boys with a jug, selling glasses of water for one afghani (two cents) apiece. There is an image of boys playing soccer in front of the old palace in Kabul and another of a traditional Central Asian sport called buzkashi that is played on horseback and involves tossing around a dead goat.
One of the most joyous images shows a girl from a Kabul orphanage standing on a pair of borrowed stilts and looking exultant.
“She was up there for four or five hours,” Mr. Bloom said. “She said she never wanted to come down.”