Ross Travis and His Satirical Sideshow About Climate Change
Ross Travis is a professional Actor/Creator, Bouffon, Clown and Circus Performer who has studied with world-renowned master pedagogues including Stephen Buescher, Dodi DiSanto, Giovanni Fusetti, Ronlin Foreman and Master Lu Yi. Ross’s lineage of training and experience allows him to create unique and provocative performances that combine buoyant humor, cutting satire, physical spectacle and unscripted audience interaction to provoke and challenge his audiences. I spoke to Ross about his upcoming production in San Francisco, Tempting Fate.
Genie: You describe Tempting fate as “a satirical sideshow entertainment reflecting the house of mirrors called climate change.” What made you want to create a show about climate change?
Ross Travis: My calling to create work about the agency between humans and the earth springs from a childhood growing up in the nature of rural Colorado and the way I’ve seen humans neglect and burden the earth and its creatures in my lifetime since. Currently we are feeling a surge of the effects of climate change; out of control wildfires, island nations displaced due to flooding, super storms and the global pandemic of coronavirus. I am terrified and deeply sorrowful about the issue. How are there those in power who still do not believe in climate change? Or who knows it’s happening and decides to be aloof for profit? Why aren’t we doing enough to solve it? This has been a perennial question in all of my work.
G: What kind of people did you talk to while researching the show, and what was that experience like?
RT: The research period is always very intense. I fully immerse myself in the subject through community outreach, interviews, reading peer-reviewed papers and books, watching movies and listening to podcasts. For example, I had some conversations with theologians about how stewardship for the earth does or doesn’t factor into different religious and faith doctrines. I have long found end of world prophecies fascinating and problematic for sustaining our existence on earth. How much does religion factor into denialism and apathy in regards to our climate crisis?
G: For those who don’t know, can you explain what Bouffon is?
RT: Bouffon is a traditional, grotesque, satirical form of physical theatre that was codified from many traditions throughout history by the French theatre provocateur Jacques Lecoq in the 50s and 60s. Bouffons are grotesque outsiders who view mainstream society and its hypocrisies from a distance, then enter society and magnify what they see through gratuitous ritual, song and interactive ecstatic play. In popular culture these days you can see bouffon influence in Sacha Baron Cohen’s work as well as Stephen Colbert and the Birds Aren’t Real movement, to name a few. Recently, in this partisan polarized age in which we live, there is a tendency to “pick sides” on an issue, whereas at their purest core, bouffons have no allegiances nor alliances. When I’m making a bouffon show I face my own bias and humility, and do my best to have a neutral perspective.
G: How do the costumes and props figure into this show? How does your background in acrobatics/circus training figure into it?
RT: Tempting Fate takes place in a dump composed of the slough of trash and annihilation of humanity, so all of the characters and costumes are designed to look like they are a part of a freak show that is rising out of this dump. Many bouffon pieces you might see involve one singular entity (or a group of them) who can take on many forms– the idea is that a bouffon will have some amorphous shape (lumps and bumps and arms that are too long or weird phalluses growing out of their heads, etc). This alien shape gives them permission to be changeable from one moment. In Tempting Fate I have chosen to be more elaborate and maximalist with the costuming and the character switches in order to go further into each character portrayal, becoming another being or person so fully that the audience doesn’t even recognize me. My favorite actors growing up did this; Lon Chaney, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day Lewis, Forest Whitaker, Gary Oldman. I think my background in circus and acrobatics adds another level to the physical poetry. Circus has made me more nimble and aware of physicality, for example, how to hold my spine differently for each entity I portray.
G: How does the show change in front of different audiences?
RT: Mwahahaha! That’s for me to know and you to find out, my delicious-smelling carbon factories! But seriously, it’s an adventure. Don’t miss it!
G: What do you want the audience to know before they come?
RT: It can be an adventure getting into the theatre. So here’s some specifics.
1661 Tennessee Street, Suite #2s, San Francisco, CA, 94107.
HOW TO GET TO LITTLE BOXES: Public Transit? MUNI 3rd Rail stops across the street Marin St & 3rd MUNI lines 22, 19, 48 have nearby stops. Caltrain 22nd St Station a few walkable blocks away. Biking? 10-15minutes to Mission and/or Downtown.
Commuting? By car we are very close to both the 280 and the 101 freeways off ramps.
FREE all day street parking. No meters or time restrictions.
HOW TO GET INSIDE: Dial 101# at the callbox, take the lobby passenger elevator to the 2nd floor, take a few quick sharp Lefts (past a red freight elevator) and take a Right turn down into the larger hallway. You will find us down on the right hand side, past Lightsource, our neighbor print shop.
Tempting Fate plays at Little Boxes Theater in San Francisco May 17th-21st, 2023 at 8pm, with an additional matinee on the 21st at 5pm. You can get tickets here: https://temptingfate.brownpapertickets.com