We want to be the ones who are helping.
Sara “Toby” Moore is a critically acclaimed, award-winning clown, actor, director and filmmaker who is currently founding Artistic Director of Thrillride Mechanics physical theatre troupe in San Francisco, California and director of the Department of Clown & Performance at Circus Center. Known affectionately as the “poet clown of San Francisco,” Toby has four decades of experience as a performer, director, teacher, writer and provocateur. Their substantial body of creative work covers the full spectrum of performance and spans multiple media, including the big top, casinos, film, off-broadway and regional theatre. They've created work for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, The Krofft Puppets, Movement Theatre International & Merv Griffin’s Resorts Productions, where they performed as the Physical Comic alongside such legends as Carol Channing, Rita Moreno, Sammy Cahn, Rip Taylor, Phyllis Diller and Chita Rivera in the hotbed of Atlantic City’s entertainment heyday! As an actor they've worked with George Coates Performance Works, Aurora Theatre, Center Rep, Cutting Ball, New Conservatory Theater, Theatre Rhinoceros, Stagebridge, Oasis, Circus Center and Circus Bella, among others. Highlights in New York: they starred as Bottom off-Broadway in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, as well as numerous other performances at Ars Nova, The Women’s Theatre Project, LaMama ETC, Barrow Street Theatre, and P.S. 122. They also wrote, directed, and co-produced the independent cult classic feature film Homo Heights starring Quentin Crisp. Their solo show Show Ho has earned critical and popular acclaim through several sold out runs nationwide, along with Wunderworld, their widely praised human cartoon retelling of the Alice adventures. Their clown opera, The Supers, was also critically lauded at its world premiere at Z Space in 2020. They also created Atomic Comic (Clown) with their Thrillride Mechanics troupe, a punk rock-clown fantasia about kicking trouble down the stairs, that had its sneak preview in 2020 and will have a shiny new production in 2023.
Toby’s work as both an educator and a writer have awarded them a National Endowment For The Arts grant, the McKnight Screenwriting Grant, a Jerome Fellowship and a Fleischacker Foundation Grant. They've had nominations for both Best & Supporting Actress from the Bay Area Critics Circle and is a winner of Theatre Bay Area’s Outstanding Featured Performer. Toby was Director of the famed Clown Conservatory at Circus Center for five years at this beloved institution. Toby’s students in Eccentric Acting and Clown have gone on to work for Cirque du Soleil and Broadway as well as building fearless careers in Medical/Humanitarian Clowning and new Physical Comedy theatre.
Prior to this, they were the Artistic Director of Make*A*Circus, a marvel of tactical outdoor one-ring circus, playing nearly every park in the summers of California! At this time, they also created a series of circus-clown shows about environmental issues, Sky Juice and The Secret Life Of Custodians, that played nearly every grade school in the Bay Area for several years.
Hailed by critics as a “21st century Pagliacci,” Toby is constantly devising one of their trademark Human Cartoon productions and continues to challenge our culture by reclaiming and defining clowning as the poetry of otherness, equal parts tenderness and hilarity, oopsiness & grace: humanity in the highest relief.
This is Love. From the moment I met my first typewriter as a small child and began writing poetry and stories I loved it all with every atom of my being. I blame and thank deeply my dear father who, upon noticing my depression & non-binary persona, took me to weekly poetry readings at the Walt Whitman Poetry Center in Camden, NJ and let me work it all out within a room of fellow misfits poets of all kinds. Stepping onstage as a child actor ignited an even hotter fire and I racked up a long list of mostly male roles extending well into adulthood, starting with a “thieves den” boy in Oliver! to Arthur Miller’s alter ego in The Archbishop’s Ceiling to a drag turn as Mr. Roper in a nightclub parody of Three’s Company. My 11-year-old punk-rock self turned to playwriting and I happily dragged my older, driver’s-licensed friends into my absurdist, Godot-ish plays, performing them anywhere they’d have us, usually nursing homes, community centers or schools. Buoyant but tough crowds to cut your teeth on! By then I was a teen and the realization that I was some form of LGBTQI changed entirely my world outlook. This genderqueer identity, made the art of Clowning my perfect landing strip! I busted out of a college acting program, joined the circus and learned the ropes of physical theatre & comedy. The art of Clown, a.k.a. human animation, afforded me the ultimate bouncy house of non-conformity where the totality of my identity could flourish. Clown is the amplified self, where we bring our entire identity to bear. I tell my colleagues and students alike it’s the “everything all at once” of performing art forms! It’s also a way of hiding and being seen at the same time in the guise of one character or another. This served me well in a variety of professional gigs from being a tap-dancing Harpo Marx or a circus performer, all the way to making the queerest film ever with Homo Heights or playing a singing Valerie Solanas in the world premiere of her lost play. I’m so thankful for the ways my career has run the gamut and, more than that, for the enormous range of people I’ve gotten to know and collaborate with. The common thread for us all is the sanctuary of the theatre in all its forms.
This queer-clown identity has offered me both intersections and roadblocks. Being Gen-X I fought for all kinds of causes and lived to see expansion of rights decimated during the horror of the last several years in this country. I was super lucky to be running the Clown Conservatory in San Francisco for these last several years, a sanctuary all its own. This grad-like program was part sandbox, part mad laboratory where I could task my student “human cartoons” with studies in all the corners of precision idiocy, one favorite course titled Morons With Power in response to the idiocies of politicians. Cultivating the humor in the humanity has become my stock in trade, a synthesis of laughter and pathos so intertwined they become nearly the same. My deep hope is that my students, having left the program with abundant eccentric skills, now hold the desire to make performance art that challenges the status quo, creating their own dreamscape narratives that impact audiences in deeply dynamic ways.
For nearly all my life Art has safeguarded my heart from despair, too. My own losses from deaths, breakups, financial hardships, assaults and illnesses have all made their way into my performance work and writing. Just before the pandemic forced us into lockdown I was insanely lucky to have created two entirely original shows, Atomic Clown (now Atomic Comic) and The Supers, the former about surviving cancer, grief & betrayal and the latter about refugees, social justice and chosen family. The Supers has been my most beloved project so far, an example of human animation storytelling as “restorative theatre,” with a racially and gender diverse cast immersed in a tale about everyday superheroes finding sameness over difference, humor over despair, love over hate. As the show’s subtitle proclaims: love is the last great technology. I plan to remount this show and new ones like it and bring them to communities who need stories of heroic kindness shot through with human cartooning, and as theatre that is dedicated to racial, gender and age inclusion. We want to be, as Fred Rogers said, the ones who are helping.