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Clowns, art, music and madness: Ladies and gentlemen, the Starland Circus is in town. - photo by Photo by Robert Costello

If you know anyone suffering from coulrophobia, tell them to stay away from Jon Taylor’s art exhibit on the 27th.

Coulrophobics are afraid of clowns, and Taylor has literally papered the walls with them. It’s a baggy pants, red nose, orange hair and white pancake revue.

Clown fans, on the other hand, will find the evening enormously entertaining.

The 20–year–old Taylor, a SCAD art student, has assembled a circus of sorts around his paintings, including:

• Feats of wackiness, astonishment and derring–do by the SCAD Circus Club (juggling, stilt–walking, poi spinning, magic and more);

• A performance by the “avant–pop” band New Pink Floyd;

• A bizarro fashion show from your friends at Clothing Warehouse;

• Free clown noses and balloon animals for the first 50 guests (anyone but you, Patch Adams);

• Trance music from DJ Peter Clark;

• Bel canto opera singer Anitra Warren, in full Paggliacio makeup and costume, performing several of the genre’s most moving crying–on–the–inside arias (more on this in a minute).

It’s all happening in the DeSoto Row area, in the building that used to house the Starland Dairy.

It was the building, in fact, that set off the chain of events in Taylor’s mind. People just recerntly started booking bands in the space. He looked at it and thought “What can I make happen here?”

The Starland Circus was born.

“I’ve been quite consumed by clowns for the past few months,” says the artist. “I’ve really been obsessed with the idea of clowning and how people feel about clowns. Reviving the proud history of the art of clowning is my goal. So I decided to have this ‘Clown Show’ of my art.

“But art shows get so stuffy, everybody goes outside, they’re loud, so I thought why not have a circus? Outside, the same time, the same place. I didn’t really care what happened there. I just wanted it to be fun and sort of happen organically.”

Once Taylor started asking around, clowns, performers and sundry circus types literally came out of the woodwork. “An array of kooks” is how he’s billing it.

For him, though, the centerpiece remains the exhibition (and, God willing, sale) of his original artwork.

“I’m hoping people don’t forget about the Clown Show!” Taylor says. “I’ve put a lot of time and thought into both of these things.”

Warren, who goes by the professional name Anitra Opera Diva, arrived in Savannah five years ago from Miami, where she’d been active on the city’s healthy performance art scene.

Before that, the trained opera singer had been singing and creating performance pieces in New York City.
She wasn’t sure what to expect from Savannah.

Now, “I love it more than ever,” she gushes. “I think this place is so pro–culture. I’ve been doing a lot of performances, been involved with different bands as well, and it’s been a very exciting experience for me here. It’s just been very productive.”

One of Warren’s chief goals is to de–stigmatize opera by taking it out of the usual context, the opera company and the recital, and presenting it in art galleries, clubs and restaurants, and in tandem with pop concerts and theatrical works.

At the Starland Circus, she’ll sing Puccini’s beautiful “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot, and perhaps the most famous tenor aria of all, “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci.

Here’s the story: Canio (aka Pagliaccio) is a clown with an Italian commedia dell’artre; he discovers that his wife, the actress Nedda (Columbina), has taken a lover. In the opera, he kills them both, onstage.

“He’s supposed to be laughing and pretending, oh, the audience is coming in and everything’s fine,” Warren says, “but at the same time he has just killed his wife. It’s a tragic comedy, and I think that’s what clowns are too.

“Even in Shakespeare, tragedies are all human, they all have the main subject of tragedy.

“But it’s reality, too. Everything in life can be a tragedy or a comedy. I find it fascinating.”

As for the painted Pagliaccio, “He’s crying inside. You see that. And it’s so heart–wrenching.”

The Starland Circus

Where: Starland Dairy, Bull and 40th St.

When: 7-10 p.m. Friday, April 27

Admission: $3 ("kids and freaks get in free")

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