Roaming With: Cirque du Soleil Clown Facundo Gimenez
Meet this globe-trotting, philosophical clown.
If you were to imagine the type of person who runs away to join the circus, it would be hard to do better than Facundo Gimenez. The 31–year-old Argentine-born clown has worked with the magical, bohemian Cirque du Soleil for nine years but has been a clown for most of his life.
Gimenez is currently touring in the traveling Cirque du Soleil production of Kurios, a delicious blend of steampunk and Victorian influences, and one of the most fanciful, poetic Cirque productions in recent memory (in Washington, D.C. from July 21-Sept. 18). Gimenez plays a central, unforgettable role as the ring master and remarkably inventive comic relief. (You won’t want to miss his hilarious observational comedy- rendition of the grooming and bathroom habits of cats.)
Perpetually on the road in his whimical life as a clown, Gimenez has quite literally lived out of a suitcase.
Gimenez sat down with Roam to talk about wanderlust and his deeply philosophical approach to clowning. To Gimenez, the clown is a shadow and reflection of society, a powerful voice for its absurdities and hypocrisies. Every society since ancient times has had a clown figure, he notes, and Gimenez has loved watching as audiences around the world respond to this universal archetype.
“In Asia, people don’t laugh but they smile, and when you finish they politely clap,” he observes. Latinos, says Gimenez, are the most enthusiastic and demonstrative.
“For 21 years I have been traveling around the world with no home,” Gimenez admits of his peripatetic ways. But this March, after eight years of saving (“It was hard for me to get a mortgage” he laughs), Gimenez finally bought two homes in Guadalajara, Mexico. His goal was to own a home by age 30, and now he has two.
Over a near-lifetime on the road, Gimenez has collected strategically, composing a memory as much as buying a memento. He picks up pieces of art and handicrafts wherever he goes and pairs them with photographs he takes of the people who made them, like the woman who wove a favorite poncho he bought in Guatemala. And now with his Guadalajara home base, he has finally found a place to park his objects.
Loaded down with silver rings decorating his fingers and a cascade of necklaces ornamented with crystals, his legs tucked up under him, Gimenez out of costume looks more like an Urban Outfitters-bedecked hipster than what we might think of as a working clown. “Every day I wake up I have fun choosing a costume that I will dress in, representing the energy that I woke up with,” he says of his civilian garb. To stay healthy on the road, Gimenez doesn’t eat sugar, tries to sleep as much as he can, minimizes his gluten intake and eats a lot of super foods, vitamins and organic food. But his spiritual happiness is just as important, “If you do what you love, you are happy and at peace with yourself, and that’s really important to not be stressed,” he says.
Gimenez is sitting backstage during a break from his Atlanta appearances for Kurios, hanging out in a viewing area with leather couches and a large-screen TV where performers can watch their work and critique their performances. Crew members dart in and out of this open living room-slash-hair studio-slash-rehearsal space, while intense Russian gymnasts with bodies like plastic action figures practice on the ropes and bars in a makeshift gym.
An artist as much as a clown, Gimenez is an eloquent, thoughtful, inquiring soul, who tells me he was up all night until 8 a.m. doing a photo session with a friend, just the sort of thing you’d hope a 21st century, jet-setting, hippie-cool clown would be up to while on the road. “At night I feel very, very artistic,” Gimenez confesses in his thickly-accented English.
In addition to pursuing photography, the multi-faceted, ever-curious Gimenez has delved into house music DJ-ing, documentary-making (he loves avant-garde Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky whose film "The Holy Mountain" is a big influence), and has recently been exploring tarot card reading and hypnosis. In his off-time from Cirque du Soleil, Gimeniez runs motivational seminars in Mexico, Costa Rica and other places interested in his approach to what he calls "conceptual clowning." Among the items he always travels with in four very large suitcases: mixers, speakers, a projector, computers, cables, a Steadicam and tripods. And one absolute essential: a scale to make sure his bags are not overweight.
Influenced by clowns from Charlie Chaplin and Jerry Lewis to Andy Kaufman, Gimenez started young in Argentina. “I put on my first red nose when I was 8,” he jokes.
He’s been traveling with one circus or another ever since, in over 32 countries so far, including Russia, South Africa, Qatar and Lebanon, performing for everyone from Jimmy Carter to Hugo Chavez, Mel Gibson and Christina Aguilera.
Gimenez has never been burdened by material things. (What man living out of four suitcases can be?) But to stay grounded and connected on his travels, he used to always decorate his room with an Argentinean flag. Over time that connection to an idea of home has melted away.
“You create your own home everywhere you go,” he’s learned.
He no longer displays the flag.
“I never stopped being an Argentinean, but now I am something else: a citizen of the world.”