Krysta Cook, 32, is not your stereotypical clown. She doesn’t wear white face paint, a bright red wig or big rubber shoes.
In fact, she used to be scared of such clowns until she overcame her childhood fear by clowning around in 2010 with Brino Ism, a family friend and founder of World Peace Clowns. With a humanitarian bent, they performed at festivals and Occupy movements around the greater Bay Area.
Performing was already second nature to Cook, however. She started belly dancing at 18 after watching a male-female couple at a hookah bar in San Francisco. She danced for a living throughout her 20s and even put herself through nursing school as a single mother.
Cook made her transition from performer to producer in February by co-founding Circus Maximus, a performing company based in Santa Rosa, with Jake Ward.
In addition to her responsibilities as co-creator of the Rouge Dance Company, she will soon open a studio for dance, fitness and circus arts, including a circus summer camp for kids.
On juggling the titles of belly dancer, mother, nurse, clown, instructor and producer, Cook said, “I love life. I feel like it’s so short, and every day counts a lot.”
Q: You recently performed in a Sebastopol show called “Menagerie.” How would you describe your outfit?
A: I wanted to have a safari look, so I found an old jacket, cut it up, sewed some patches on it and spray-painted the back. I always want to play down makeup whenever I do clowning and be a little bit more on the accessible, cute and playful side. The other two girls, Rose and Jennifer, and I also have rubber heart noses that we glue on.
Q: You were sort of a jester figure, playing around with the emcee throughout the show. How did you guys come up with that dynamic?
A: Honestly, it was all on the fly. Improv is my thing, and Jake gives me creative leeway with the circus. I create all the acts and arrange them ahead of time into the whole storyline, but I’ve begun to fall into this habit of messing with Jake in between sets, which is really fun because he’s heckling the audience, and I just like to heckle him. That’s kind of our dynamic in real life, too.
Q: You also did a choreographed group routine called “Have you seen my monkey?” which was, of course, swinging from vine to vine right behind you and your partner. Do you enjoy that interactive element?
A: That’s exactly what I was going for! I think engaging the audience and making them feel like they’re a part of the unfolding of your act is definitely one of the most rewarding parts of being a performer. I did hear the kids yelling, “She’s behind you!”
Q: What made you want to become a clown specifically?
A: One of my family friends that I’ve grown up with. His name is Brino Ism, because he is an “ism,” apparently. He restarted his clown group a few years ago and asked if I would join. I was like, “What? That’s ridiculous. Absolutely. Yes, please.”
I really fell in love with the idea of getting to be so silly and free. Coming from a belly dance background that’s so serious and sultry, it’s just such a different energy.