Beyond Vassar

Running Away from the Circus to Join Vassar

By Baize Buzan '10

For centuries, the idea of running away with the circus has enticed young dreamers with its promises of big tops, popcorn, and awesome acrobatic feats. But for Lorenzo Pisoni ’97, the dream of joining the circus was an impossibility — he was born into one.

Pisoni’s parents were co-founders of the Pickle Family Circus, a small San Francisco-based troupe that shed big, traditional circus elements like three rings and elephants and focused more on juggling, miming, and clowning. Pisoni, the youngest in his family, began performing at age two. By the time he was 14, he had established himself as an accomplished acrobat, juggler, aerialist, and clown, and spent time touring with other circuses through Europe and Japan.

Pisoni took some time off from his various performance commitments to attend Vassar, where he danced with VRDT, majored in film, and managed to graduate in three years. Shortly after he left Poughkeepsie, he was off to Las Vegas, starring as the Ringmaster in Cirque du Soleil’s Mystère. And when that was done, Pisoni retired from the circus at age 23.

Such a decision may seem a little premature. But Pisoni was far from done with performing. After his circus retirement, he moved to New York City, where he has worked ever since as a successful actor at such theaters as Lincoln Center, The Public, the New York Shakespeare Festival, and Second Stage. This past fall, he made his Broadway debut as lead horse Nugget in the extremely popular revival of Equus that starred Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe.

Pisoni as a clown in Humor Abuse
Pisoni as a clown in Humor Abuse

Despite the fact that his résumé was starting to look more like it belonged to a distinguished, classically trained actor rather than a retired clown, Pisoni never forgot his roots. Finding time amidst Equus performances last year, he teamed with friend, collaborator, and fellow Vassar alum Erica Schmidt ’97 to co-create a one-man original show based on his childhood with the Pickle Family Circus titled Humor Abuse. The piece, an exploration of Pisoni’s extraordinary upbringing, not only delights in the sheer entertainment of his clowning talents but also delves into the more personal complexities of his relationship with his father, Larry Pisoni, one of the leading Pickle Family clowns.

Pisoni in Humor Abuse
Pisoni in Humor Abuse
The show, directed by Schmidt and starring Pisoni, opened in February at Manhattan Theater Club to rave reviews, completing an extended two-month run in April. Critics for The New York Times, Variety, the New York Post, and more all praised Pisoni for his physical and emotional capabilities, citing the show as hitting all the emotional marks of a compelling coming-of-age story, but also packing in all the fun of a night at the circus.

Both Schmidt and Pisoni are hopeful for a commercial run of Humor Abuse in the future, as well as potentially moving the show to a different city. But for now? Pisoni is on vacation. “While this is a quality problem to have as an actor, I’ve been working six days per week since August when Equus began rehearsal,” Pisoni explains — “so I’m a wee bit tired.”

— Baize Buzan ’10

Photo credits: Joan Marcus

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