Not just clowning around |

Not just clowning around

Tessa Vlaar
Special to the Daily
Clown, actor, writer and choreographer Bill Irwin brings his humor and gift of entertaining to the Vail International Dance Festival stage on Friday and Saturday as part of the International Evenings of Dance I and II.
Santos Irwin | Special to the Daily |

With a flash of a smile and witty quips to boot, Bill Irwin has been dazzling audiences across the world stage for over 40 years with his acting, clowning and writing talents. This week, he’ll be taking on a project a little less conventional — joining forces with ballerina Tiler Peck to take on the subject of time in a new dance and theater piece, “Rumination on Time.”

Audiences can catch Irwin and Peck at the International evenings of Dance I and II on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. on both nights.

From a very young age, Irwin was passionate about theater, as being a performer has always been a lens through which he could see clearly.

“Nothing else interested me as deeply — or haunted me the same way. If I’d had what it takes to be a writer that might have called me, too (I tried), but being a performer — that’s the lens I’ve always seen the world through,” said Irwin.

A born entertainer

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A native of Santa Monica, California, Irwin attended Oberlin College as a theater arts major, and then joined the circus — literally. He attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s College in Florida. His ability to adapt to all kinds of different roles very quickly got him noticed by Broadway and television producers alike, and in 1980, he made his film debut in “Popeye,” opposite Robin Williams.

For Irwin, it’s all about diving into the role, as he has demonstrated as the popular character of Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street. He heralds the role as one he loved to play.

“When they ran the idea of Mr. Noodle to me, it immediately made perfect sense — an adult who needs kids to show him how to do things. It puts kids in a leadership position in a way that’s fascinating to be around,” Irwin said.

From the circus to Broadway

Irwin has received multiple awards for his ability to shape shift for the role needed, including being the first performance artist to be awarded a prestigious five-year MacArthur Fellowship, an honor given to very few who show creative drive and a desire to make a difference. He attributes his ability to fit into a variety of different roles and characters to a unique way of seeing audience perspective, and creating the vision for the character from there.

“It’s a way of thinking — a way of imagining things from the eye of an audience — I guess that’s what shapes the things that I do: What does this feel like on the inside and what will it look like from the outside, from someone’s eye, watching — and how do the two questions collide? And how can that tell stories?” Irwin said.

Irwin has used this unique vision to play a variety of roles, from Broadway to television to clowning around (literally) in ensemble and circus work. He is well known for his film role “Lou Lou Who” in Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and his 2005 Tony Award-winning performance in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” on Broadway.

He has also received Tony Award Nominations for his contributions as an author, director and choreographer. Now, he is taking on a new role as festival entertainer at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. With all the travel and excitement Irwin has consistently had, he still hopes to have time to sit back, and enjoy the views Vail has to offer.

“It’s really important to try to get to know — and really see — the places you’re working. But you have to be careful too, that you conserve energy. I workout a lot while I am on the road. Working out used to be about feeling strong and looking cool — now it’s about trying to stay in a straight enough line to be able to walk,” said Irwin.

For more information on the Vail International Dance Festival and Bill Irwin, please visit

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