Irwin, Bill 1950-

views updated

IRWIN, Bill 1950-

PERSONAL: Full name, William Mills Irwin; born April 11, 1950, in Santa Monica, CA; son of Horace G. (an aerospace engineer) and Elizabeth (a teacher; maiden name, Mills) Irwin; married Kimi Okada (a dancer and choreographer), April 19, 1977 (divorced); married Martha Roth (an actress and midwife); children: (second marriage) Santos Patrick Morales. Education: Attended University of CaliforniaLos Angeles, California Institute of the Arts, Oberlin College, and Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey clown school.

ADDRESSES: Agent—International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: Actor, director, choreographer, playwright, and clown. Actor in stage productions, including The Donner Party, Its Crossing, Kraken Theatre Ensemble, Oberlin, OH, 1971; The Seeds of Atreus, Kraken Theatre Ensemble, 1981; Murdoch and the Regard of Flight, Oberlin Dance Collective, San Francisco, CA, 1977; Circa, Oberlin Dance Collective, 1977; Not Quite/New York, New York, NY, 1980; The Regard of Flight, American Place Theatre, New York, 1982; 5-6-7-8 . . . Dance!, Radio City Music Hall, New York, 1983; The Regard of Flight, Center Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 1983, then Arena Stage, Washington, DC, 1985; The Garden of Earthly Delights, New York, 1984; (as sergeant) Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Belasco Theatre, New York, 1984; (as Galy Gay) A Man's a Man, La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla, CA, 1985; (as Medvedenko) The Sea Gull, La Jolla Playhouse, 1985; The Courtroom, Theatre at St. Clement's Church, New York, 1985; The Clown Bagatelles, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, New York, 1987; The Regard of Flight, Vivian Beaumont Theatre, 1987; (as post-modern hoofer) Largely/New York (The Further Adventures of a Post-Modern Hoofer), City Center Theatre, New York, 1988; (as Lucky) Waiting for Godot, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, New York, 1988; Texts for Nothing, Joseph Papp Public Theatre, New York, 1992; Fool Moon, Richard Rogers Theatre, New York, 1993-95, then Ambassador Theatre, New York, 1996, later Brooks Atkinson Theatre, New York, 1998, then Europe; (as Trinculo) The Tempest, New York Shakespeare Festival, 1995; Nixon's Nixon, MCC Theatre, New York, NY, 1995; Hip-Hop Wonderland, New York, 1996; Scapin, Seattle, WA, then Roundabout Theatre Company, New York, NY, 1996-97; (as host) The Elegance of Tap and the Comedy of Tap, Theatre at Town Hall, New York, 2000; Texts for Nothing, Classic Stage Company, New York, then American Theater Company, San Francisco, 2001-2002; The Goat, Broadway, 2002; (as Arlecchino) Three Cuckolds, La Jolla Playhouse; and Strike up the Band, Philadelphia, PA.

Choreographer for stage productions, including Circa, Oberlin Dance Collective, 1977; Murdoch and the Regard of Flight, Oberlin Dance Collective, 1977; and The Courtroom, Theatre at St. Clement's Church, 1985. Director of stage productions, including Fool Moon, Richard Rogers Theatre, 1993-95, then Ambassador Theatre, 1996, later Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 1998; Scapin, Seattle, then Roundabout Theatre Company, 1996-97; A Flea in Her Ear, Roundabout Theatre, 1998; and (codirector) Three Cuckolds, La Jolla Playhouse. Circus and clown consultant for Times and Appetites of Toulouse-Lautrec, American Place Theatre, 1985. Producer and video designer (with Skip Sweeney) for Largely/New York (The Further Adventures of a Post-Modern Hoofer, City Center Theatre, 1998.

Actor in films, including (as Ham Gravy) Popeye, Paramount, 1980; (as Eric) A New Life, Paramount, 1988; (as Eddie Collins) Eight Men Out, Orion, 1988; Ride with the Devil, 1988; (as Kirby) My Blue Heaven, 1990; (as mime) Scenes from a Mall, 1991; (as Buzz Harley) Hot Shots!, 1991; (as Geoffrey) Stepping Out, 1991; (as Floyd) Manhattan by Numbers, 1993; (as comic) Silent Tongue, 1993; (as man in the gray hat) Water Ride, 1994; (as Marco) Illuminata, Artisan Entertainment, 1998; (as Ray Charles) Just the Ticket (also known as Scalpers), United Artists, 1999; (as Tom Snout) William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Fox Searchlight, 1999; (as Jules) Stanley's Gig, 2000; (as Lou Lou Who) Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas (also known as The Grinch), Universal, 2000; (as Harry Woods) The Laramie Project, 2002; (as Lt. Ernest Smith) Igby Goes Down, 2002; and (as Emile) The Truth about Miranda, 2003.

Actor in television series, including (as the goon) WWF Monday Night RAW, 1996; and (as Mr. Noodle) Sesame Street, 1998—. Appeared on Saturday Night Live, National Broadcasting Company (NBC), 1980-82; guest star on television series, including Northern Exposure and Third Rock from the Sun. Actor in television specials, including "The Regard of Flight," Great Performances, Public Broadcasting System (PBS), 1983; New Vaudevillians III, The Disney Channel, 1988; Bette Midler's Mondo Beyondo, Home Box Office (HBO), 1988; (as clown) The Circus, HBO, 1989; (as the maestro) "The Last Mile," Great Performances' Twentieth-Anniversary Special, PBS, 1992; (as host) Silent Sunday Nights, Turner Classic Movies, 1995;Vaudeville, PBS, 1997; Broadway '99: Launching the Tony Awards, PBS, 1999; The Paul Daniels Magic Show, BBC. Presenter for The 41st Tony Awards, 1987, and The 42nd Tony Awards, 1988. Also appeared in "Katherine Anne Porter: The Eye of Memory" (miniseries), American Masters, PBS, 1986; (as himself) "Subway Car from Hell," Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground (movie), HBO, 1997; and (as himself) Niagara: A History of the Falls, 1999.

Appeared in music videos for "Don't Worry, Be Happy," Bobby McFerrin, 1988, and "Let Me into Your Heart," Mary Chapin Carpenter, 1996. Has worked as a clown with the Pickle Family Circus and Cirque du Soleil.

AWARDS, HONORS: MacArthur Foundation grant, 1984; Guggenheim fellowship; choreographer's fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts; National Theatre Artists Residency Program grant, Theatre Communications Group; Tony Award, 1999, for Fool Moon; honorary M.F.A., American Conservatory Theater (San Francisco).


for the stage

Circa, produced with Oberlin Dance Collective, San Francisco, CA, 1977.

(With Doug Skinner) Murdoch and the Regard ofFlight, produced with Oberlin Dance Collective, San Francisco, CA, 1977.

Not Quite/New York, produced in New York, NY, 1980.

The Regard of Flight, produced at American Place Theatre, New York, NY, 1982.

The Courtroom, produced at Theatre at St. Clement's Church, New York, NY, 1985.

Largely/New York (The Further Adventures of a Post-Modern Hoofer, produced at City Center Theatre, New York, NY, 1988.

(With David Shiner) Fool Moon, produced at Richard Rogers Theatre, New York, NY, 1993.

(With Mark O'Donnell) Scapin, adapted from the play by Molière, Dramatists Play Service (New York, NY), 1997.

for television

(With Michael O'Connor) "The Regard of Flight," Great Performances, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1983.

"A Minnesota Original," Alive from Off Center, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), 1987.

SIDELIGHTS: Bill Irwin is "America's most endearing modern clown," Robert Brustein wrote in New Republic. He also has the honor of being the only clown ever to win a "genius grant" from the Mac-Arthur Foundation. But Irwin is more than just a clown. He may be best known for his long-running, Tony award-winning pantomime show Fool Moon, with fellow vaudevillian David Shiner, and for his comic shows Not Quite/New York and Largely/New York (The Further Adventures of a Post-Modern Hoofer), but Irwin has also written an adaptation of Molière's famous play Scapin and performed a well-regarded one-man show composed of excerpts from Irish playwright Samuel Beckett's Texts for Nothing. With his scene-stealing supporting role as the slave Lucky in a 1988 Broadway production of Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, which starred famed comedians Steve Martin and Robin Williams, some say that Irwin is the premiere Beckett actor in the United States today.

Irwin is known in the shows he creates for his audience interaction. Fool Moon smashes the "invisible fourth wall" which separates audiences from the stage "to smithereens," Amy Reiter noted in a review of the show for Back Stage. Irwin and Shiner climb over audience members, sit on their laps, and drag them onto the stage to take part in the riotous fun. Even Irwin's nominally more serious works, such as Scapin, have such "nice tongue-in-cheek touch[es]" as signs telling the audience that they are seeing an "UNBELIEVABLE COINCIDENCE" or hearing an "EXPOSITION," Michael Sommers wrote in his review of that play for the Newark, New Jersey Star-Ledger. To Irwin, such flourishes are in keeping with the plays original spirit: "I think that Molière was making fun of the theater" in Scapin, Irwin told Robert Feldberg of the Record. "There are little clues throughout the piece," like when one character says someone is doing something "as if on cue."

Irwin explained his feelings about the various categories people try to fit him into, including "actor," "clown," and "mime," to Back Stage interviewer Ira J. Bilowit in 1996. "I really think of myself as a actor who became a clown, but I'm very happy with the appellation 'clown,'" he said. "A distinguishing line between 'actor' and 'clown' has something to do with creation of one's own material, and one's relationship to the audience also." But, he continued, he does not like to be termed a mime. "'Mime' is a venerable word. I guess in many ways my reaction to it is purely pragmatic and defensive, in that 'mime' is poison at the box office. . . . It's a word that's unfortunately gotten bashed around and changed and devalued by a lot of silly work."



Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volume 34, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.


America, March 8, 1997, Edward J. Mattimoe, review of Scapin, p. 20.

American Theatre, July-August, 1995, Misha Berson, review of Scapin, pp. 8-9.

Back Stage, March 19, 1993, David Sheward, review of Fool Moon, p. 48; October 6, 1995, Ira J. Bilowit, "Bill Irwin and the Fine Art of Clowning," pp. 5-6; November 24, 1995, Amy Reiter, review of Fool Moon, p. 52; January 17, 1997, William Stevenson, review of Scapin, p. 52; October 27, 2000, Karl Levett, review of Texts for Nothing, p. 53.

Back Stage West, June 21, 2001, John Schiffman, "Restless Jester," p. 11.

Commonweal, April 9, 1993, Gerald Weales, review of Fool Moon, p. 24.

Dance, March, 1998, Caitlin Sims, "A Meeting of Like Minds: Marcel Marceau and Bill Irwin Bring the Grace of Dancers to the World of Mime," pp. 76-78.

Journal News (Westchester, NY), October 16, 2000, Jacques le Sourd, review of Texts for Nothing, p. 1E.

Long Island Business News, March 30, 1998, Richard Scholem, review of A Flea in Her Ear, p. 59; December 11, 1998, Richard Scholem, review of Fool Moon, p. 27A.

Los Angeles, March, 1994, Dick Lochte, review of Fool Moon, p. 123.

Nation, June 4, 1988, Thomas M. Disch, review of Largely/New York, p. 804; December 11, 1995, Margaret Spillane, review of Fool Moon, pp. 762-763.

New Leader, March 8, 1993, Stefan Kanfer, review of Fool Moon, pp. 22-23; January 13, 1997, Stefan Kanfer, review of Scapin, p. 23.

New Republic, May 29, 1989, Robert Brustein, review of Largely/New York, pp. 26-27.

People, November 12, 1984, Mary Vespa, "Bill Irwin May Clown Around, But Now He's Won a Genius Award," pp. 42-43.

Record (Bergen County, NJ), January 5, 1997, Robert Feldberg, "Bill Irwin, a Chaplin for More Modern Times," p. Y1.

San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 1998, Bob Graham, review of Fool Moon, p. 31; September 11, 1998, Steven Winn, review of Fool Moon, p. C1; January 24, 2001, David Wiegand, "Irwin's No Fool When It Comes to Beckett," p. E2; June 17, 2001, Robert Hurwitt, "All for 'Nothing': Clown Prince Bill Irwin Takes on Beckett's 'Text,'" p. 51; July 24, 2001, Robert Hurwitt, review of Fool Moon, p. E1.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 2, 1996, Joe Ad-cock, review of Waiting for Godot, p. 3; October 16, 1998, Joe Adcock, "Two 'Greatest Clowns' Take a Bit of Improvisation and Run," p. 16; October 20, 1998, Joe Adcock, review of Fool Moon, p. E1; April 26, 2002, Joe Adcock, "Funny Guy Irwin Is Seriously Enthusiastic about Beck-ett," p. 18; May 1, 2002, Joe Adcock, review of Texts for Nothing, p. C5.

Seattle Times, April 29, 2002, Misha Berson, review of Texts for Nothing, p. E1.

Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), November 29, 1996, Brian Scott Lipton, review of Scapin, p. 25; January 10, 1997, Michael Sommers, review of Scapin, p. 26; October 16, 2000, Michael Sommers, review of Texts for Nothing, p. 33.

Time, May 15, 1989, William A. Henry III, review of Largely/New York, p. 87; March 8, 1993, review of Fool Moon, p. 73.

Variety, October 23, 2000, Charles Isherwood, review of Texts for Nothing, p. 59.

Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, NC), May 16, 1999, Mark Burger, review of Scapin, p. E1.*

About this article

Irwin, Bill 1950-

Updated About content Print Article