“Call Me!” – Audience Participation at TOTEM

“Coulrophobia” is the term for fear of clowns. For those with this malady, the possibility of interacting with one while in a Cirque du Soleil tent (or any tent) sends shivers down the spine.

Mostly during pre-show animation, yet sometimes during a show, Cirque clowns select audience members to participate in a bit of light-hearted fun (prey upon, harass, and stalk are other terms that come to mind). Reactions range from good-natured participation, to full commitment, to abject embarrassment and everything in between. After the show the person has a life-long memory (or a mental scar).

But with a few interactions the “volunteer” comes away with a permanent physical record of the interaction that, like a small piece of confetti retrieved from the floor of a tent, can trigger a memory of that brief moment. It was one of those my wife received during one of our viewings of Totem when it camped in Portland, Oregon.

Totem’s most bombastic clown is Valentino, an uber-macho, ever-on-the-make blowhard out to distinguish himself as coolest of the cool – to no avail. During a Sunday matinee where we had seats in the front row of Section 103 (on the left side of the stage) Valentino, proceeding through his bufoonery in the early part of the show, made eye contact with my wife. Sighing rapturously he slithered off the end of the stage, taking my wife’s hand in his and giving it a gentle kiss. (Though truth be told, he does this to a women in these seats at every show.)

It was what came next that made the evening special. He reached into his pocket and quickly pulled out his “card,” gently placing it in the palm of her hand with a request and hand gesture to “Call Me!” Then he bolted away to carry on with his bluster (keeping up with the relationship during the second act by calling out to her as he approached our section of seats).

The card is a cute bit of CDS ephemera that shows Valentino looking perfectly cool on the front, standing in front of a fireplace with a picture of who we assume to be his “mother” on the mantle, a single capped tooth gleaming. And on the reverse the words, “Call Me! 1 (800) 678-2119.”

Wait, an actual phone number?

This seems ripe for a “Magical Moment,” the term Disneyphiles use when they experience a special time on their Disney park visit. They could do something fun with the card, like have a special phone message for callers. What a way to create a Cirque “Magical Moment!”

But no. The phone number is merely the toll-free number for Cirque’s International Headquarters in Montréal.

Alas, the jokes on us. And on the Cirque IHQ receptionists.