Through Their Eyes: “Fresh the Clown” Ira Smith
The interview series “Through Their Eyes” features various artists at the 2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Whether they express their truths through spoken word or acrobatics, these artists share a part of themselves in every performance.
“We’re not the typical clown with the nose, the big shoes. We’re not the scary clowns. We swag out our clown. We wear the stuff the kids like to. We have the gym shoes, the Jordans, our face is totally different, and our hair is totally different: mohawks and dreads. It’s basically a different look, and our signature trademark is our [striped rainbow] socks.”
Ira Smith started off as a business owner in Detroit, Michigan. He then joined “Fresh the Clowns,” the humor component of UniverSoul Circus.
During Fresh the Clowns’ Big Top performance at the 2017 Folklife Festival, the group of four leaves the stage to walk through the bleachers, singling out audience members to participate in their act. When I watched their show, the clowns asked one lucky visitor to lip sync Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”
Performers from all over the world, including Cuba, Guinea, and Mongolia, make up UniverSoul. Ira says he loves feeling like he’s traveling the world every time he performs.
“It’s my first time with UniverSoul. I’ve been learning Chinese, French, Spanish, African languages from Trinidad, so it’s great,” Ira laughs. “I didn’t have to go to school to learn a language.”
With their hip dance moves, modern dance trends, and vibrant looks, Fresh the Clowns renews UniverSoul’s mission of making the circus—and the world—inclusive. For Ira, this renovated version of circus and clowning draws in all types of people, generations, and cultures.
“When I’m out there on stage, I’m just thinking about rocking the crowd,” Ira says, beaming. “That’s what we know, and that’s what we do.”
Laura Zhang is studying neuroscience and Plan II Honors at The University of Texas at Austin. Currently, she is an intern at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and exudes a passion for social justice, stories, and dogs of all kinds.