'Clowns Like Me' Is Back Before Heading to NYC

The one-man show starring Scott Ehrenpreis deals with mental health issues with a mix of hope, humor and heart.

By Kay Kipling May 15, 2024

Actor Scott Ehrenpreis in his one-man show, Clowns Like Me, coming up at the Cook Theatre.

A one-man show that got its start in Sarasota is headed for an off-Broadway run in New York next month—but if you don’t have plans to go to the Big Apple soon, you can catch a sneak peek of Clowns Like Me at the Cook Theatre here, May 23-26.

The production stars well-known Sarasota actor Scott Ehrenpreis, and it’s based on his own experiences and struggles with mental health issues. Clowns originally bowed at the Cook last May, where it was successful enough to deserve a reprise performance here as well as the NYC production.

Jason Cannon, a former director, actor and teacher at Florida Studio Theatre, worked with Ehrenpreis over a period of months to craft the show. “We had a meeting a little over two years ago and got to work,” says Ehrenpreis. “We would meet every week and have ‘jam sessions’ about my life. We went through several developmental readings to get reactions. I was ready to disclose my experience, something I’d hidden my whole life.”

The actor had long dealt with autism spectrum disorder, OCD, bipolar disorder, social anxiety and depression. But putting together the show, and performing it onstage, “was very empowering for me,” he says. “I was able to turn my pain into purpose and give hope to others.” And Cannon, he adds, reached a “profound level of storytelling. No one would want to pay to hear someone rant and rave. Now we have a nice balance of humor and gut-punching moments. It’s not a show that is a ‘Debbie Downer.’”

Scott’s father, Joel, agrees. So much so that he and Cannon founded Lifeline Productions, a nonprofit that boosts not only Scott’s show but plans to continue telling other stories related to mental health in the future.

Scott and his father, Joel, who co-founded Lifeline Productions to present stories related to mental health.

The New York run came about, Joel says, when he reached out through a friend to Broadway producer Tom Kirdahy, who lives part-time in Sarasota. Kirdahy liked the idea of Clowns Like Me, but was too busy with other shows (including his award-winning Hadestown) to take on a new project. Instead, he suggested Joel talk to his fellow producer Jonathan Demar (also associated with Hadestown, as well as the recent highly acclaimed New York revival of Merrily We Roll Along). Demar quickly signed on as executive producer. The off-Broadway run begins with previews June 21 and continues through Aug. 18.

Lifeline, which also filmed the show, intends to bring Clowns Like Me to college campuses, including here in Sarasota, and to invite touring companies to see the New York production (at Union Square’s DR2 theater) in hopes that it can eventually tour around the nation. Talkbacks take place after the shows, and new works will develop, some with stories the team already has in hand.

“There will be no shortage of interesting stories,” says Joel. “But they all have to have the same theme: entertaining, humorous, gut-punching and hopeful.”

“Mostly everything you see in the show is true,” says Scott, “with a few artistic liberties. Things that weren’t funny at the time I can laugh at now. And the payoff is, it doesn’t make the audience flee, it keeps them engaged, because of Jason’s brilliant writing.”

To catch Clowns Like Me at the Cook Theatre, or for NYC tickets, visit Tickets are $30, and the show runs about 70 minutes with no intermission.

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