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LaJoye’s ‘Snowflake’ finds solace in hope-laden junk

By Daily Bruin Staff

Oct. 20, 1994 9:00 p.m.

LaJoye’s ‘Snowflake’ finds solace in hope-laden junk

Former clown’s hometown hero inspires comedy

By Rodney Tanaka

Each snowflake that falls to earth possesses unique
characteristics.

Each performance of Gale LaJoye’s one-man show "Snowflake," also
changes with each new inception. Snowflake mixes physical comedy
with a touching portrait of a homeless man who entertains himself
with the objects strewn about a vacant lot. LaJoye, a former circus
performer, maximizes the possibilities of the props around him.

This "Snowflake" falls on the Freud Playhouse on Saturday.

"As a mime performer I ask how I can simplify the performance
and how can I supply all the visual information the audience needs
in order to enjoy the message," LaJoye says. "(The show is)
designed so that no one can predict what’s going to happen next,
and that’s where the surprise elements come, in the physical
performance."

Snowflake, the only character in the piece, is based on a man
named Donald Stenglein. The man everyone called Snowflake became
familiar to LaJoye while growing up in Michigan. Stenglein’s
constant presence in LaJoye’s hometown added a sense of security.
"If you ever left town for a long time and came back, Snowflake
would be walking the streets," LaJoye says.

LaJoye began to form a character based on Snowflake’s
characteristics and personality. "I took elements of what he was
about, his clothing, how he walked, and I touch on his physical
disabilities, but I don’t overdo that," LaJoye says. "He was an
honest and kind person, a person who had a sense of humor, so I
used those qualities when I was putting the show together."

Originally a Christmas show, LaJoye gradually shaped "Snowflake"
into a humorous piece of physical comedy with serious undertones.
"This always stuck in my mind, that Snowflake would never have a
child or family of his own," says LaJoye. "The nature of the
performance is about creativity, the self-worth of the individual,
and the discarded people finding hope together. These are attitudes
that play underneath the performance and are brought out in subtle
ways."

LaJoye expresses these emotions without uttering one word
onstage. His physical prowess was honed through years of training
while his educational path took many turns. LaJoye entered college
interested in pre-law, then became bored and looked toward
architecture. A introductory theater course for his humanities
requirement piqued his interest in performance. He enrolled in mime
training and then in the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus
World and Combined Show Inc. in 1974. In a whirlwind eight weeks he
trained in the art of clowning, everything from juggling to
movement and clown history.

"You really leave there not knowing any more than when you went
in," LaJoye says. "But you have an idea of which direction to
travel in. You keep moving and find your own path."

The path for LaJoye included a six-year stint with Ringling
Bros. in which he ascended the clown ladder. He became a master
clown and promoted the circus and clowning by giving performances
and lectures. He also operated a one-ring circus inside a Florida
amusement park and produced his own shows. An accident halted his
activities for four years as he recovered physically and
mentally.

Ten years after the accident LaJoye enjoys renewed success. His
current projects, along with touring "Snowflake," includes "a
100-year-old turtle that travels the universe" and the final
performance of the Snowflake character in a new context and a
different show.

The real Snowflake will not experience the new version of his
offspring, as he passed away three years ago. However, he caught
"Snowflake" during its initial run in Michigan. After the
performance, much like the his dramatic namesake, Donald Stenglein
managed to convey his emotions with a single gesture: the thumbs-up
sign.

At the time of the performance Stenglein’s health had declined
due to diabetes. At his funeral one of the ministers giving the
eulogy said, "like snowflakes, where each one is unique and
different, so was Don," LaJoye says. "We tend to think that way
about him."

PERFORMANCE: Gale LaJoye’s "Snowflake" at the Freud Playhouse.
Saturday, Oct. 22. 2 p.m and 7 p.m. TIX: $20 (half price for
children 16 and under), $9 for students. For more info call (310)
825-2352.

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