A Review of “Life in a Clown House: A Manual and a Memoir”

Life in a Clown House

“I read a book about snails and how this woman was bedridden and she described the life of the snail, and how its movement across a space was like the biggest travelogue you could imagine. How her every little action became so big in dealing with its tiny world. As I became sicker, I wondered if you couldn’t stop time in the same way that the writer did so successfully. To grind the reader to a halt and make them aware of small things they usually miss.”

Julie Goell lived. Growing up abroad, she gravitated toward mime and commedia dell’arte, and dedicated her life to the performing arts. From busking in Rome’s Piazza Navona to trodding the boards on Broadway; as a teacher and lifelong learner, Goell is a paragon whose example performers of all stripes may learn from.

“The clown is sustained by The Game itself, the ongoing riff of life, and everything is fodder for her imagination. She is driven by her compulsion to play The Game.”

Reading Life in a Clown House is like stealing a glimpse into someone’s private journal or diary, but the techniques and pieces of Julie Goell’s life are shared freely by the author. As a gift. Part memoir and part grimoire, Goell weaves her magic while showing you how it’s done.

“Make clear choices about the basics, or you’ll find yourself swimming upstream.”

Indeed, the vignettes from her life are set up and told like the pantomime scenarios described in the front half of the book. These vignettes are as riveting and engaging as good theater. Goell is a master storyteller, and Life in a Clown House is a master class.

“Someday, I thought, I would write a travel pamphlet on cooking decent meals with ingredients from 7-Eleven.”

Julie Goel in Carmen the Mopera at West End Studio Theatre. Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo, Westside Studio Images. #1040

This is a book I wish I had been around in my youth, and which I would commend to any young performer today. It describes both the wide-eyed wonder and the workaday effort needed to carve out a place onstage. To carve out a stage.

But I’m a not a young up-and-comer, and I’m old jaded so-an-so. Yet, I still feel inspired and enriched by the lessons in Goell’s book. Not just the practical advice for making an entrance, working with props, or involving an audience; the lessons from a life well-lived, ended too soon, and destined to resonate for many more years to come.

Life in a Clown House: A Manual and a Memoir is of course available on Amazon, but I would recommend buying from the source.


We Long for a Place


We long for a place where individuals can shine on the strength of their individuality. Where being far out is seen as a strength and not a handicap. For a world of magic and of elbow room, of freedom and nature and adventure: of horses, gypsy wagons, campfires, hoppable freight trains; long walks down dirt roads, of meeting a constant stream of strange, eccentric characters–“fellow travelers”–other ungovernable, perverse, and willful idealists for whom town life is simply too bleak. We need escape from our “shiny metal boxes,” from superhighways (where towns are passed through at eighty miles an hour and never savored, never cherished), from cages, cubicles, phones that ring no matter where we are, and jobs at “One Industrial Park Boulevard.”

This is why vaudeville will always triumph, for it is merely an expression of people’s longing for surprise, invention, joy, laughter, tears, transcendence. It is the theatrical embodiment of freedom, tolerance, opportunity, diversity, democracy, and optimism.

Trav S.D., No Applause–Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous

This is a fantastic survey of the history of vaudeville. Exhaustive but not exhausting. A broad overview that dishes delectable details. Buy it and read it.