When Ron Campbell returned to his hometown this October to perform in Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza, he didn’t come alone. With him came a hoard of clowns, acrobats, contortionists and other outlandish performers.
But as many of them saw where they would perform at The Santa Monica Pier for the first time, Campbell drifted back, to a stroll down that same pier with his first girlfriend. And while other performers make long-distance calls to their respective homes, Campbell visits his mother in Pasadena or drives by Santa Monica High School, sees that the theatre department is putting on The Crucible and remembers more than 20 years ago, when he himself played Giles Corey there.
“All those parts I played there, were the first time I played them,” said Campbell. “So that when I played them later, I always ended up remembering Santa Monica.”
Anyone who has seen Kooza under the big yellow and blue striped tent at The Pier knows Campbell – or at least his character – The King of Clowns. They remember how Campbell, with his sharp mustache and goatee, bounced back and forth during the pre-show, brushing mock caricatures of guests off the stage as the audience took their seats.
Campbell is the light-hearted breath of fresh air between heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat spectacles of human amazement. He and his sidekick usher a small boy through the fantastic world, bringing the audience along with them. Campbell is there at the beginning, the middle and the end, making his guests smile as their hands hurt from clapping.
Campbell’s acting career is as diverse as the costumes in Kooza and has come a long way since sharing a stage with Sean Penn, Rob Lowe, and Emilio Estevez at Santa Monica High School.
After working as a street performer in places like Piazza San Marco in Venice, The Place de Georges Pompadiou in Paris, or The Piazza Novona in Rome, Campbell became a founding member of the Actor’s Gang and Artistic Associate of The Los Angeles Theatre Center.
His awards include the London Fringe One Man Show of the Year and both the Los Angeles and Bay Area Critic’s Circle Awards for Lead and Solo Performances, the Helen Hayes Award, a Jeff Award Nomination and four Backstage West Garland Awards. His roles have been everything from Petruchio in Taming of the Shrew, Einstein in Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot,
Just as Campbell’s acting career has evolved over the years, so has his hometown.
“I remember the mall being kind of dingy and awful,” said Campbell. “I was amazed to see how Santa Monica has changed: Where it was once a sleepy beach town, now it’s expanded –it has a clean restaurant feel now.”
Between shows, Campbell goes to Apple Pan which his parents used to frequent, or Pink’s Hot Dog for a chilidog, unrecognized without his clown white, his striped pants, and, of course, his crown.
“This is a dream come true – I have so many memories here,” said Campbell. “It’s a town you can go away from, but when I come back, the memories are still here waiting.”