Clowning Around With Matthew Morgan

By Holly Vasic

Matt Morgan is headed back to Salt Lake City with his new project, The Petite Palace circus’s “Wonderland.”

The University of Utah is the third place he landed to get an education, but the first one where he finished a degree after discovering his true passion. Morgan was raised in Sherman Oaks, California, by a sports-loving dad who worked at UCLA and took his son to a lot of sporting events.

It was that start in athletics that originally took him to Ball State University, located in Indiana, to play volleyball. He was planning on majoring in political science, but he soon realized it was not a match,

“Rather quickly, after one or two practices with the volleyball team, I realized, ‘Oh this is not me. I am out of my league,’ you know what I mean? I mean, they were just machines,” Morgan said.

He headed back to the West Coast and crashed with his brother, a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He soon found himself at Cabrillo College enrolled in some theater classes.

“I really liked it, like a lot. It just brought me joy,” Morgan said. “It was then I realized I think I want to do this.”

Some friends at the U encouraged him to audition for the theatre program, and he was accepted. After he began his studies at the U, Morgan recalls “it just became the right fit.”

After finishing his bachelor’s degree in theatre in 1997, Morgan wanted more comedy, and he found himself flipping through a catalogue of non-traditional education.

“I came across this half-page banner for Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Clown College and it said, ‘Acrobatics, slapstick, dance, juggling,’ you know character development, and just every single word that was on the page I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’” Morgan said laughing.

He considers Clown College his graduate school and explained the process as two months of six- to seven-day-weeks and 14-hour days.

Morgan learned everything associated with clowns such as makeup, mime, character development — Morgan called it a clown bootcamp Morgan was part of the last class before the Sarasota Florida school shut down for various reasons, one being financial issues.

Morgan traveled with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for two years after clown college, getting to see the United States from a train.

“I’ve actually, through the circus and a few other things, been to 49 of the 50 states,” Morgan said as Alaska is the only state he has left to visit.

After the circus life, Morgan went on to New York City, formed a group, wrote acts, performed whenever possible and went in and out of the country on jobs.

“I’d do some acting or some plays then I would go to China for a month, and then I’d come back, then I’d go on a cruise ship for a month, and then I’d come back, and so the clown and the circus stuff was always kind of there,” Morgan explained. “I was doing it and it was what was paying my bills and then I’d come back and pretend to be an actor for a minute.”

After moving back to L.A., Morgan now leads The Petite Palace, a small traveling circus, and it’s coming to Salt Lake City for its “Wonderland” performance. A friend and fellow performer with a small 150-seat circus tent was the inspiration for the project. Morgan described the Petite Palace as something that’s small enough to be in towns and communities.

“Wonderland” will be performed Nov. 9-12 at the Utah Arts Alliance, 663 West, 100 South. You can purchase tickets at www.thepetitepalace.com/wonderland. U students have a limited time discount code, studentuofu, which make seats $12 instead of $20.

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@HollyVasic