You wouldn’t know it from hearing his voice, but Dikki Ellis, an actor playing a clown in New York’s Big Apple Circus, got his start here more than 30 years ago.

Ellis grew up in Mount Airy and was involved in Drama Club beginning in high school. He ended up going to UNC School of the Arts where he received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drama before heading to Switzerland to study at the Circus Dmitri School. Ellis said after acting in Shakespeare classics he was ready to portray circus clowns.

“The thing I noticed about working with clowns in Europe is that all the direction there is internal first and external on the outside of the clown,” he said. “You don’t start on the outside of the clown. American clowns start on the outside, with the wigs and the shoes and the gloves and the big hair and the big nose.”

Ellis says he considers himself an actor primarily who is playing the part of a clown—a concept that he thinks can be applied to any profession.

“I’ve often heard an actor playing the part of a really good magician is an actor first,” he said.

Ellis credits his high school drama teacher for inspiring him to pursue acting and the performing arts. He said his teacher helped organize the play festival and helped students get scholarships to UNCSA.

Although Ellis now lives in West Orange, New Jersey he returns to Winston-Salem six times per year to participate in a program he began called ARCH (Artists Reaching Children in the Hospital). This consists of weeklong classes he teaches at UNCSA and performances for the Brenner Children’s Hospital. In addition, most of Ellis’s family still resides in North Carolina. !