More About Clown Alley
The Clown Alley was a special part of the circus set aside for the clowns. It wasn’t really an alley, simply a strip of the backyard alongside the Big Top.
This area was covered with a canopy that extended from the Big Top itself and was close to the back door of the main tent. The back door had to be easily available, because the clowns were in and out of the tent so many times during the show.
In a dressing tent in Clown Alley, the clowns put on their special costumes and makeup. Beginning with white stocking caps to protect their hair, they would smear their faces with a grease paint known as “clown white.” After that, each clown designed his or her own make-up to accent facial characteristics.
No two clown faces could be exactly alike. If you look carefully at two clowns who appear to look alike, you will see small differences - eyebrows shaped differently, or the muzzle just a bit larger or smaller.
A clown would begin to create his face as a “First of May,” which is what clowns were called during their first season with a show. By the time he was a “Johnny Come Lately,” (in the second season) he or she might still make changes. Finally, the clown found just the right face - a face to identify his character & one that no other clown should ever copy.
Because it took so long to put on and take off their make-up, clowns were the only circus entertainers who could eat in the cookhouse while wearing make-up.
Clown Alley was where the clowns waited for the signal to "allez." It was also a storage place for the larger props needed in the acts. There were the stilt walker’s ten-foot stilts, the funny carts, and the tiny fire wagon. There were the human-size razors that turned up in the barbershop act, as well as bicycles, hoops, and collapsible chairs.
The clowns spent a great deal of time in Clown Alley where there was always laughter, because the clowns loved to play jokes on each other.
It was there that many young clowns learned the art of clowning from their elders. Often the great acrobats and other performers would turn to clowning as they aged, rather than give up their life in the circus.