Could “my son, the clown” become the new refrain of proud Jewish mothers? A Jewish boy from the Jersey Shore, Barry Lubin, won acclaim as Grandma, the beloved mainstay of The Big Apple Circus. He retired last year and has been replaced by Seth Bloom, who also happens to be Jewish.
The two met on the circus circuit in Europe and became friends. In an interview from his home in New York, Bloom said he had wanted to be part of the show “since I first saw the Big Apple when I was 19. I’m 38 now, and I’m delighted that it’s worked out.”
It was Lubin who first urged Bloom to apply to join the circus five years ago, and he did. But he and his partner — in the circus ring and in marriage — Christina Gelsone, have a particular style, using half-masks and period costumes. It wasn’t until this year’s old-style show, Legendarium, that the couple — known as Madame and Monsieur of the Acrobuffos — found their place in the Big Apple.
As a child Bloom had no intention of becoming an entertainer. But after he took a Ringling Brothers course in clowning as a teen, his fate was sealed. “The educational aspect got me hooked,” he said, “the idea that you could use comedy to inspire kids to read.”
He worked with groups around the country, doing things like stilt walking, juggling, riding a unicycle, and eating fire. “You’re not likely to get rich clowning, but you make a lot of people laugh, and that’s pretty great,” he said. Bloom went on to study at the London International School of Performing Arts and the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre at Wesleyan University.
In 2003, Bloom went to Afghanistan to take part in a circus created to help children in the conflict-ravaged country. It was a very dangerous place to be. Where another Jewish mother might have panicked, Bloom’s mother encouraged him to go. After all, she was working there herself, with the World Food Program. For him, it was the start of a major involvement in performing; until this year he served as international artistic director of the Mobile Mini Circus for Children.
Bloom’s father, a lawyer, and mother, a sociologist, hadn’t exactly set him on a conventional path. He grew up living in countries as diverse as Sri Lanka and Kenya. While the family maintained their Jewish traditions, he said, celebrating the festivals wherever they were, they also learned about their neighbors’ faith, whether Christian or Buddhist or Hindu. “I learned to get along with all kinds of different people, and to enjoy being surrounded by unfamiliar cultures,” he said.
He met Gelsone in Afghanistan in 2005, working at the children’s circus. She had a very different academic background — she was a ballet dancer and a Princeton grad — but they quickly recognized their shared values. And, he said, “We make each other laugh.” They paired up to do their act and in China in 2007, between performing four shows a day, they tied the knot. She wore a dress made of little white balloons; he wore a traditional Chinese jacket.
Both of them love the fact that the Big Apple tent is small enough to allow personal contact with the audience, like they have when they perform in streets and city squares. “You can look into people’s eyes,” Bloom said. “It’s our task to get them to stop texting, and get involved.”
So, if you go to the Big Apple Circus and get invited to participate in the act, “accept the invitation,” he said. “We’ll make you feel like a hero — and you’ll be doing everyone a mitzva!”
Learn more about the Big Apple Circus and its schedule of performances at BigAppleCircus.org.