Diane Wasnak, one of the clowns in Sweet Can Productions’ holiday cabaret show, Mittens and Mistletoe
, always knew she’d be a performer. Growing up in Ohio, she spent a lot of time with her grandmother, who wrote children’s books and told stories, and her grandfather, who had taught himself to play the accordion at four and was playing in between Broadway acts by the age of nine. And at her grandparents' house, Wasnak was allowed to stay up and watch the Ed Sullivan Show
– on the condition she would imitate the acts for anyone who came by the house the next day.
“At five I had quite a repertoire,” she says. “Liberace, Jack Benny.”
Wasnak experience, beyond living-room performances, includes 10 years with the Pickle Family Circus, two years touring with Cirque du Soleil, appearing with her dog (Bowser) in Busker Alley
on Broadway with Glenn Close, and acting as Jada Pinkett Smith’s stunt double in The Matrix 2
and The Matrix 3
Before our interview, Wasnak had just returned from an aborted trip to Sonoma, where she was going to play an elf in a fundraiser before Thursday’s storm and flooding canceled the gig. She said her career began with drama and mime classes at 10. When she was living in Maine and studying with a mime master, Judy Finelli, with the Pickle Family Circus, called him looking for clowns. Her teacher gave Finelli her name and she got the job. Later, Wasnak and Joan Mankin became the first female clown duo in American circus.
Wasnak said she was hired to be funny, but she ended up doing more than that when Yu Li, who had spent 33 years with the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe, was hired.
“He came to teach at the Pickle Family Circus School, and at that time I was the shortest member in troupe, but I was 28 years old, which is up there in terms of learning something,” she says. “I could walk wire some and juggle and do simple basic stuff, but with him, it was circus boot camp, and I leaned Chinese pole and teeter board and hoop diving. I’d put myself in 100 percent and do whatever he’d say. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
In Mittens and Mistletoe
, she plays the baby character she created with Pickle Family. The show will be fun for everyone, she adds.
“The act I do is interactive – it’s not like I’m up there in my own little private Idaho,” she says. “The other clowns are the same way. It’s playful and fun and there might even be an audience member or two up on stage – I don’t want to give everything away.”
Mittens and Mistletoe plays at the Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St, from Dec. 19 though Dec. 28. Tickets are $15- 65.