David Shiner

David Shiner started out as a street mime in Paris and his career really took off in 1984 when he was discovered at the renowned circus festival Cirque de Demain. He went on to perform with a succession of well-known companies including the German troupe Circus Roncalli and the Swiss National company Circus Knie. Between circus engagements he toured with Cirque du Soleil veteran René Bazinet performing the two-men show they created.

David ' s first formal association with Cirque du Soleil came in 1990, when he co-wrote and performed in Nouvelle Expérience, touring for 19 months throughout Canada and the USA. He made his feature film debut in 1992, playing the part of a clown in Lorenzo ' s Oil, and the following year he played straight man to Bill Irwin in Sam Shepard ' s Silent Tongue. He and Irwin then created the two-men, wordless show Fool Moon, featuring music by the Red Clay Ramblers, who had also performed in Silent Tongue. This evening of ' inspired lunacy ' ran from 1993 to 2001, including three separate runs on Broadway. Fool Moon won a special Tony Award for Live Theatrical Presentation in 1999, a Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience, and an Outer Critics Circle Special Achievement Award.

In 2000 David originated the role of the Cat in the Hat, the host and guide of the Broadway stage musical Seussical. Later he toured Europe and Seattle with his show "David Shiner in the Round". David has further made several appearances on "The Tonight Show" and is a guest director at the Wintergarden Theatre in Berlin and the Apollo Theatre in Dusseldorf.

In 2007, David wrote and directed Cirque du Soleil's touring show KOOZA.

  • David Shiner
  • Montreal
  • Director and clown

What is your approach with the clowns on Cirque du Soleil projects you have taken part in?
I try to find people who are talented, funny, interesting in the way they move, who have interesting faces and I help them develop their potential. I teach them things like 'pointe fixe' , how to develop a character, how to develop a really good sense of rhythm and timing, how to improvise with an audience, etc. I give the clowns I work with a lot of the basic things that I learned over the last 25 years.

People are born clowns usually, it’s not something you can study to learn. You can learn certain techniques, but you’re either funny or not funny. So I always try to find people who have something funny about them. If they’re funny, there’s got to be a way to take that funniness and make it work for them. So I’m not always looking for someone who has great technique or great movement abilities or great slapstick abilities. I’m just looking for someone who’s funny. From there we can start to teach them the techniques.

All the different styles of clowning (Russian, American, European) can work, but we have to make them modern for a modern audience.

What do you find challenging and stimulating about working with clowns from different backgrounds?
Giving them all my knowledge. As a mentor, I’m there to help them learn the stuff fast. If I look back at my career, I wish I'd had a mentor, but I learned on my own.

I help them find a style. What makes you funny? What’s going to make you distinct from another clown? I teach the clowns the importance of using the body, of communicating without language. Because someone who learns how to extend their energy and access their creative core can walk on a stage, do very little and be very interesting to watch.

What is your creative philosophy?
As a director or as a mentor, trying to help people discover their own source of inspiration and creativity. To help them get out of their head, get into their body and get into their breath. To learn to trust themselves, trust their ideas, to believe in themselves, to have confidence. To help them celebrate the joy of performing; the pure sense of joy out of being on a stage and performing for an audience. Respecting yourself, respecting the other performers, learning to give, and give, and give, and to make an audience happy. And most of all, to know who you are: to find out who you are as an artist, what your message is, why you are there. Once you know that, the rest is easy.

What role do you think clowns play in Cirque du Soleil shows?
Principal. Without a clown in a circus, there’s no circus.

How do the art of clowning and Cirque du Soleil mix together?
Cirque has a great tradition of always having good clowns. The place they hold in a show depends on the director. As a director, since I am a clown, the clown has a principal role. He’s the character who’s taking us through the evening.

The clown is the one who has the deepest emotional connection with the audience. All the artists have a deep emotional connection with the audience, but the clown really gives us a sense of our humanity, because he’s a fool, he’s playing the role of a fool. He’s revealing our human weakness and he’s allowing us to laugh at ourselves. Great clowns have always been loved, because they allow us to laugh at those parts of ourselves we’re the most afraid or ashamed of. The clown helps us to accept ourselves, as who we are.