Not just clowning around
Bill Forchion’s life was everything except linear, but everything he learned as an actor, stuntman, circus performer, and circus arts teacher shaped what he calls his “Billosophy.”

Not just clowning around

In ‘Billosophy,’ Bill Forchion looks back on his life as an actor, circus performer, and teacher, and what he learned along the way

BRATTLEBORO — Director, stuntman, acrobat, lifeguard, reiki master, minister, and award-winning filmmaker Bill Forchion is now also an author.

Published by Dreamcatcher Entertainment last October, his Billosophy: Meditations on God, Movement and Miracles is a collection of stories about what he calls “a life lived fully and the impact those moments have made.”

Billosophy started off as a fairly traditional autobiography,” Forchion says.

He wanted to tell the story of his life but, as he reread his earlier memoir writings, he found those pieces were deeply mixed with poetry and meditative thought.

“So what I proceeded to create morphed from a direct autobiography into an exploration of the inner workings of my mind,” he said.

Unlike a traditional biography, which usually follows a strictly chronological trajectory, Forchion's book is broken into chapters based on themes with such topics as deep thinking or miracles.

“Billosophy took a lifetime to write,” Forchion says with a laugh. He believes his writings were shaped by such disparate sources as the works of Maya Angelou and the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

The finished work incorporates much that was written directly for this book with many of his older pieces - and there was a lot of older work to chose from.

“I sent out 300 pages of old writings getting a contract for this book,” he says. To shape the often unwieldy material, Forchion says he relied on the expert advice of his editor and the knowledge of many others.

Teacher and performer

Forchion is a graduate of American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and The American Institute of Holistic Theology. He teaches movement and acting workshops internationally and teaches acrobatics and contortion at the New England Center for Circus Arts.

His performing career has taken him around the world performing with many acclaimed companies such as Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the Pickle Family Circus, and Cirque du Soleil.

As an actor and stuntman, he has been highlighted in numerous television and film productions with appearances in U.S. Marshals, Cradle to the Grave, The Polar Express and the ESPN mini-series The Bronx is Burning. Forchion recently was cast as an FBI agent in the independent film Altar Rock, directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak.

Last year, Forchion, with the help of Vermont author and director Peter Gould, one-half of the clown theater team of Gould and Stearns, took parts of Billosophy to create a one-man show that Bill performs.

“It tells the same story as the book, but in a different way,” Forchion says.

Billosophy: Life ~ Circus ~ Death has been described as a unique physical-theater experience that uses a combination of physical theater, clowning, and storytelling to create an intimate conversation about life and death and things in between.

“When I put on the red nose I am the clown and am silent, but when it is off I can tell my stories,” he explains. “Billosophy proves that while some stories are meant to be spoken others are meant to be lived.”

In his unusual career, Forchion believes that many of paths that he has taken throughout his life may be seen as steering away from earlier goals.

“I grew up a very awkward child on seven acres of land in South Jersey,” Forchion says. “I suffered from asthma and poor eyesight. This led me to see the world differently.”

Broadway dreams

Forchion initially dreamed of becoming a musical comedy actor on Broadway. He attended the American Musical and Dramatic Arts Academy, but after school, a year of the brutality of New York theatrical auditions left him burnt out.

“Conservatory teaching doesn't really prepare you for the real world,” Forchion confesses. “Schools train you to be a star, not a gypsy, which can lead to a lot of frustration and confusion. I trained in theater very seriously, but as I started going to auditions I realized I needed a hook.

“Since I had developed physical comedy skills in school, I thought I could incorporate them into a comedy audition. I noticed some of the successful guys from Saturday Night Live, like Garrett Morris and Eddie Murphy, had begun with a stand up.”

Forchion himself had toyed with idea of a stand-up comedy career in his teens. He even had a live engagement all arranged, but at the last minute got stage fright. ”I wasn't ready yet to so nakedly publicly expose myself, so I cancelled,” he says.

Being shy, he found his entry into theater initially silently, and only later through talking.

“My first physical-comedy teacher was an amazing mime, and I have always loved the art of mime,” Forchion says. “At 14, I got for Christmas a big book on mime which I long treasured.”

Going from mime to clown wasn't a difficult transition for Forchion. When a friend invited him to try out for a clown audition in Madison Square Garden, Forchion decided to take a break from struggling to get a part in summer stock and regional theater. He was offered not only a chance to study at the Clown College for Ringling Brothers but then to tour with the company in Japan.

“I expected the break from Broadway to last only a year,” admits Forchion, ”but I never went back.”

A winding road

In a similar way, his stint as a stunt man swerved from any career path he had imagined.

“At the time I was working with a circus act out of San Francisco which was hired to work on a German television commercial in L.A.,” says Forchion. “Seeing my work, the stuntman coordinator asked if I wanted to get into the stunt business. I told him I didn't have any connection. He said, 'You do now.'”

Well, maybe it wasn't quite as easy as that. Only after two years of networking and meeting people did Forchion began to get steady work in the film industry.

“I already had my circus and acrobatic skills to work stunts, but I also had to learn such vital things as stunt driving,” he explains. “As a professional clown, I knew all about the comic art of getting shot and falling down amidst a puff of smoke. The only difference in Hollywood [was that] I had to play that kind of scene seriously.”

However, just as his Hollywood career was taking off, Forchion's wife, Serenity Smith Forchion, and her twin sister, Elsie Smith, opened a circus school in Brattleboro. At the end of 2001, the couple settle down in Guilford, where the sisters had family.

“I met my wife through the circus when I was a clown and she was a dancer,” he says. “I could have followed the cash in Hollywood, but I chose family, not money.”

Out of this decision came another swerve in Forchion's career: He started to teach at his wife's school. But, if the truth be told, being an educator wasn't anything new for Forchion.

“My mother was a high school teacher, and from an early age she passed on the ability to teach to me,” he says. “I became a summer camp counselor, teaching arts-and-crafts as well as swimming. I found the experience so rewarding that soon enough teaching stopped being what I did [and became] what I was.”

The word “Billosophy” initially was used to describe Forchion's philosophy of teaching.

“My students came up with term,” he says. “Billosophy is a holistic approach to the work we do in circus; it is not cut off from outside life but an integral part of it.”

Forchion believes education should be an organic process.

“In fact, I see what I do not as much as an educator as a facilitator,” he says. “I am here to provide an opportunity for others to gain knowledge. You can either lead a horse to water or lay out the buffet. I chose the buffet.”

Lots of hard work

Forchion tries to encourage others to find their creative paths in life. “Everyone's path is bound to be different, so there are no set rules,” he says. “Mine led from lifeguarding to musical theater to stunt work to circus teaching and now to authoring this book.”

Forchion says putting out a book can be lots of hard work.

“It is difficult to write and publish,” he concedes. “Let's just say that the experience humbled me. But through it, I also learned ways that the creative process can be encouraged, which I want to pass on to other people.”

Writing a book is one difficulty, but marketing it is another.

“I have a lot of work ahead promoting Billosophy ,” Forchion says. “But challenges like that are not foreign to me. Marketing a book is not so different from marketing myself as an actor or a stuntman. You just have to embrace the struggle.”

Forchion contends that there is no art without struggle.

“Let's face it, It is difficult to translate ideas onto paper, or to blend colors for a painting,” he says. “For some it comes easier than others, which doesn't mean there is no struggle bringing an idea to actuality. When people see me out on stage they sometimes tell me that I make it all look so easy. Do not mistake composure for ease. My job is to make it all seem effortless to disguise the struggle within me.”

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