Clown News December 2009

Clown News December 2009

Alex Clowns Around for Elveden Panto

by Staff Writer • • December 29, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News:
Alex Morely as Cinderella

HE began his career entertaining children in Watton before joining a travelling circus to train as a clown.

And now Alex Morley has returned to his native East Anglia to perform in Circus Mondao's pantomime production of Cinderella.

Playing the role of an ugly sister, he is part of a circus troupe that has been re-creating the classic fairy story under the big top at Elveden Estate, near Thetford.

The show, that runs until Sunday January 3, sees him tickling the crowd with a combination of classic clown routines, such as the wet and messy “slosh act”, and pantomime gags that have already left the crowd screaming: “It's behind you!”

Adding to the spectacle are death defying trapeze artists, an animal parade of llamas, camels, and zebras, and a host of jugglers and dancers.

Alex, 20, said: “Being an ugly sister for Mondao is great fun even though the comic role can be one of the hardest parts to play.”

“It's not always easy getting the audience to laugh, but I have a great rapport with the cast, especially Gareth Ellis who plays Buttons, and together we manage to get the audience involved and make it a great show.

“It's also nice to be back seeing familiar faces and I am pleased to say that a lot of them have come to Elveden to take part in the fun.”

Alex Morley first fell in love with the circus when he went to a production in Thetford when he was five years old.

This inspired him to create his own clown routines that he began performing for children at Melsop Farm Park near Watton including special shows at Halloween and Christmas.

He fulfilled his dream of becoming a clown in 2007 when joined Zippo's Circus award-winning travelling productions.

For tickets call 01842 751975 or visit

Here’s A Worthwhile Way to Clown Around

by Herald Staff • • December 28, 2009

If you’re worried that your kids are going to spend their February break from school just wasting time, sign them up for clown class.

The Seattle Shakespeare Company will team up with the ZinZanni Institute for Circus Arts to offer clowning camp.

At camp, young apprentices will learn the fine art of the pratfall and explore the basics of clowning. Skills include movement, timing, slapstick, acrobatics, circus techniques and combat.

They will then apply their new skills to scenes and monologues involving Shakespeare’s great clowns.

The weeklong winter camp, Shakespeare’s Fools, is for students age 8 through 16.

Local artists from Seattle Shakespeare Company and members of the international cast of Teatro ZinZanni will serve as camp instructors.

The week culminates in a showcase-style performance by campers for family and friends.

The Shakespeare’s Fools camp will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Feb. 15 to 19 at Teatro ZinZanni’s antique Belgian tent, 222 Mercer St., Seattle.

Tuition is $350. Applications and more information can be found at online at or or by calling 206-733-8228, ext. 212, or 206-816-6491.

Aga-Boom Show Is A Wild Slapstick Ride

by J.T. Morand • • December 24, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News:
The Russian clown troupe Aga-Boom entertains with paper fights, suitcase juggling and auidence participation.

Dimitri Bogatirev grew up in Russia with no desire to be a clown.

"So many bad clowns exist," he said. "I never expected to be a clown."

But, since 2002 he's been leading Aga-Boom, a three-clown troupe coming to Centre East in Skokie Dec. 26-28. The non-stop 75-minute slapstick show, full of paper fights, inflated garbage bags, juggling suitcases, enormous rubber balloons and audience participation is like Blue Man Group crashed its car into the Ringling Brothers Circus bus.

"We're full of paradoxes," said Bogatirev, who used to clown for Cirque Du Soliel.


Funny, not scary Aga-Boom's show strives to deflate what Bogatirev calls an American-born notion that clowns are scary or evil by not giving the audience time to think about anything except for what's happening on stage. In other parts of the world, he said, clowns are seen as funny.

"We look like cartoon characters. Kids believe we exist, like Sponge Bob Squarepants," he said. "If kids see us from afar, they think we're toys. But, if kids see us closer, they get scared."

Typically in American circuses, he said, clown performances are broken up by, say, trapeze artists or lion tamers. The clowns come out so the other acts can set up. This, he said, gives audience members time to think about the stressful parts of their lives.

But, with Aga-Boom's constant barrage of slapstick humor, audience members think only about how ridiculous the clowns are.

Relaxation "It's a kind of stress relief," Bogatirev said.

The other clowns, Iryna Ivanytska and Philip Karp-Briggs, bring with them experience gained as clowns with the Moscow Circus and Ringling Brothers Circus. Aga-Boom has performed all over the world and has been nominated for the 2003 Ovation Award for Best Touring Show.

The biggest paradox seems to be Bogatirev's life as a clown.

"I wanted to be a cartoonist," he said.

But, he got hooked on clowning when he started pantomiming his cartoon sketches.

"Life is beautiful," he said.

Clowns Spread Holiday Cheer

by Mary Wicoff • • December 24, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News:
Gao Grotto Clowns Sharon Marton, Brenda Thoennes, Janet Green and Marietta West visit with Mary Alice Brian, a resident at the Hawthorne Inn.

DANVILLE — Clowns do more than cavort in circuses and prance in parades. In Danville, the Gao Grotto’s clown unit also spreads holiday cheer in nursing homes each December.

Dressed in bright costumes and cheerful makeup, the clowns distributed dozens of Beanie Babies to senior citizens earlier this month.

“We try to keep people happy,” said Don Knee, president of the clown group and also a past monarch of the Grotto.

The group chose two nursing homes at random — this year, Colonial Manor and Hawthorne Inn — and distributed the stuffed animals, which were donated by Gao Grotto members and others.

Making a holiday appearance at the nursing homes is just one example of the group’s community outreach efforts. The clowns also make balloon animals at schools, march in parades, walk in charitable events such as the March of Dimes and participate in the AMBUCS summer camp, among other activities.

The clown unit is a subordinate group of the Grotto, which is affiliated with the Masonic Lodge. The clown unit usually has up to 15 members, said Marietta West, vice president of that group and a clown since 2003.

The clowns especially make sure they walk in parades, such as the Hoopeston Sweet Corn Festival, Oakwood Fourth of July and Danville Labor Day events. Instead of candy, the clowns hand out toothbrushes to the children along the parade route — part of the Grotto’s program to promote dental care among the underprivileged and special needs children.

“It’s nice to see the smiles on the kids (on the parade route),” West said. “It’s a fun thing.”

The clowns also like to give big hugs to people and say, “You’ve been hugged by a clown — have a great day.”

However, they don’t force themselves on those who are afraid of clowns, West added.

What’s nice about the clown unit is it allows women and children to participate, both West and Knee said. The Grotto is a men’s organization.

Most of the clowns are women, Knee said; the men in the group dress up like hobos. Also, members’ children and grandchildren get involved, and will walk in the parades. Some like to do cartwheels along the route, Knee said.

“Kids like things like this,” he said. “They love to get out there and show off.”

West said the clowns make their own outfits or buy them, and some have nicknames. They don’t go to clown school, she said, but they do help each other with makeup tips at meetings.

Now that the holidays are winding down, the clown unit will be inactive until March or April, West said. Then the group will get ready for another year of parades, school events and nursing home visits. However, she stressed that the clowns are not available for hire at private parties.

Besides the clowns, the Grotto also has dinners that are open to the public and sponsors other events.


To donate Beanie Babies or to schedule an appearance by the Gao Grotto clowns, call Marietta West at 442-2317. The clowns appear only at community events, and not at private parties.

Local Man Teaches Funny Business to Ringling Clowns

by Howard Weiss-Tisman • • December 20, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News:
Troy Wunderle

CAMBRIDGEPORT -- There is a lot of pressure in being one of the most important clowns in the country.

For the past month, Rockingham resident and Circus Smirkus artistic director Troy Wunderle has been in Tampa, Fla., training two groups of clowns for the upcoming season of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Wunderle, 36, was invited to go to Florida and even though he was already busy with Circus Smirkus, as well as with his own company, Wunderle's Big Top Adventures, he could not pass up the opportunity to work with Ringling Brothers.

"Clowning is incredibly serious work," Wunderle said while taking a break from his 12-hour work days. "Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey have been producing the best American clowns for generations and this was a golden opportunity. There are very high expectations. There is a lot of weight on my shoulders."

Wunderle graduated from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in 1995 and has been working with Circus Smirkus for 13 years.

Although at this point he is a seasoned performer, and professional clown, Wunderle admits that the time he has spent over the last three weeks has been very intense.

Along with working with the young clowns, Wunderle has also been responsible for developing all of the routines. He is in constant communication with costume designers, makeup artists and prop specialists, along with pyrotechnic experts, sound engineers and circus producers.

He went to Florida with the intention of developing the main show that Ringling Brothers will take across the country next year, and last week he accepted the offer to also develop the clowns for a secondary show that is performed in smaller venues around the country. To further challenge his sense of humor, and every clown needs a sense of humor, Wunderle is working with aspiring clowns who speak six different languages, and his crew in the smaller circus is from Italy and does not speak a word of English.

And though he is being pushed and challenged, Wunderle said he would most likely return if he is invited.

"As far as clowning is concerned, this is the pinnacle," he said. "One person gets to be the director of clowning for Ringling Brothers. This is what I love."

The call from Ringling Brothers came out of the blue, Wunderle said.

After graduating from the Clown College, he kept in contact with circus producers and invited them to Vermont to see Circus Smirkus.

He did not apply for the position, and was not even sure he would be able to fit it into his schedule. When the offer came, he could not turn it down.

"The ideal candidate for this job is not just someone who is funny," said David Kiser, director of talent for Ringling. "We look for someone with excellent communication skills, someone who can communicate not just with performers but with the entire creative team. We found that in Troy."

Once the circus starts touring, Wunderle's work will be mostly over.

All of his work is compacted into about a month and he expect to be home just in time to direct Circus Smirkus performers at First Night in Burlington on Dec. 31.

He will hand over the day-to-day responsibilities at Ringling Brothers to the boss clown, and will also be around to answer questions.

If there is a major problem while on tour, Wunderle might be asked to fly to wherever the circus is set up.

Along with the creative satisfaction of designing a full show, Wunderle said it has been special for him to work with young entertainers who are just entering the world of clowning.

Wunderle graduated from the Maryland Institute of Art, and got into clowning after enrolling in the Ringling Brothers Clown College.

His decision to pursue a life of clowning has taken him across the country, and world, and now he is helping other clowns as they begin their careers.

"In my opinion, clowning is one of the hardest disciplines in the circus and now I am working with the best of the best," he said before finishing his interview and getting back to work. "This is the ring where I started my career and it's great to come back and be able to give back to the next generation of clowns."

Born to the Circus, He Had Big Shoes to Fill

by Stephen Miller • • December 18, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News:
Coco the Clown - DeSanto Circus Archives

A habitual recipient of a pie in the face, Coco the Clown was a circus favorite who helped create another well-known clown, Ronald McDonald.

Michael Polakovs, who died Dec. 6 at age 86, honed his clown act for eight decades, including a lengthy stint at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Clowning was the family business -- the disheveled Coco persona was inherited from his father, a lifelong clown, and Mr. Polakovs's son Graham has performed as Coco Jr. since the 1950s.

After a three-decade career as a circus clown in England, Mr. Polakovs came to the U.S. in 1959, and performed in the center ring at Ringling Bros. He led classic clown skits and paraded around the big-top's hippodrome on 16-foot stilts. For several years, he also worked as an advance man for Ringling Bros., appearing in local and national media to garner publicity.

When McDonald's Corp. decided to make Ronald McDonald its national spokesman, the company turned to Mr. Polakovs for advice. He designed Ronald's clown-face features, chose the canary-yellow jumpsuit and gave him big red shoes and striped socks to reflect the colors of the restaurant. Mr. Polakovs went on to star as Ronald in the first national series of McDonald's commercials, in 1966.

Mr. Polakovs was literally born into the circus. In interviews, he would tell the story of how his mother, a Latvian aerialist, delivered him in a dressing room in Riga in 1923, shortly after completing a performance. She returned to the trapeze within days, Mr. Polakovs liked to boast.

Mr. Polakovs's Russian father, Nikolai Polakovs -- himself the son of a clown -- created the Coco character. The family toured Russia by sleigh, then moved to Germany. Mr. Polakovs performed as Coco Jr. from the age of four, and his siblings performed as Cocotina and Coconut. In 1929, the family moved to England, where Coco and Coco Jr. became stars of the Bertram Mills Circus. Nikolai Polakovs was later awarded the Order of the British Empire, one of Britain's highest honors.

Within the hallowed traditions of the circus, Mr. Polakovs was an "auguste" as opposed to a white-faced clown. The auguste is the butt of gags, often perpetrated by white-face clowns who douse them with buckets of water, or conspire to steal their pants.

Mr. Polakovs performed dressed in rags, with red floppy shoes, a sailor's cap with his name and an orange wig that stood up whenever he encountered something that would scare a clown.

"He was very serious about being funny," says Greg DeSanto, president of the International Clown Hall of Fame & Research Center in Milwaukee.

Mr. Polakovs helped found Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, which opened its doors in 1968. In 1991, he was elected to the International Clown Hall of Fame, joining performers like Emmett Kelly.

Mr. Polakovs retired from Ringling Bros. in the early 1970s. By then, the circus was relying on just a few aging clowns, and their ranks weren't being replenished. Part of the problem, Mr. Polakovs explained, was the era's flamboyant fashions, which made it tough for a clown to attract notice.

"Ten years ago, I'd have been gaudy," he told the Washington Post in 1969, standing unnoticed in a crowded hotel lobby. "Now everybody looks like me."

Jim Howle, Beth Wicker to visit Feury Fine Art

by Ardie Arvidson • • December 15, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News:
Jim Howle discussing one of his posters with Kevin Andrews and
Dee Dee Lively-Andrews

Two South Carolina artists, Jim Howle and Beth Wicker, will visit Feury Fine Art, 122 N. Fifth St. in Hartsville, from 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday.

A native of Darlington County’s Bethel community, Howle, who now lives in Hartsville, will be signing his 2009 Santa fine art print and talking with guests about his work. Wicker will be displaying and selling her handmade jewelry.

A single piece of art is one of the most important and highly prized things we can have, Howle said.

“A piece of art is one-of-a-kind,” he added. “It is as rare as you can get.”

Howle became interested in art as a youngster. By the age of 12, he said he had decided to become a professional artist. After high school graduation, Howle left Darlington County for Sarasota, Fla., where he studied at the Ringling Art School pursuing a degree in fine arts. It was through his art he connected with the Ringling’s Clown College and became a member of the first graduating class in 1968.

Howle is recognized as one of the foremost painters of circus life, especially of clowns. From his days as a student at the Ringling School of Art, Howle became fascinated by people in the circus and took to the lifestyle himself, becoming a clown for many years with the Greatest Show on Earth and the official Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey’s Circus artist.

Several of Howle’s oil paintings of famous clowns – Emmett Kelly, Lou Jacobs and Bobby Kay – have been cataloged by the Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery. He had a one-man international art show that traveled from Scotland and England to Leningrad and Moscow. His work has been shown at the P.T. Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, Conn., and many other places in the United States. In 1994, Howle was inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame.

The artist’s career has not been just about painting circus people. During his career, he has produced a series of ducks, old houses, Santa Claus and most recently a series of posters.

“I’ve done everything I wanted to do, and liked everything I’ve done,” Howle said as he reflected on his career. “Attitude is everything. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done. Added together, they have kept me going. Survival is all I ever wanted. Just to survive as an artist, I think that you can call yourself a success. I wanted to travel. That was one of my goals when I got out of high school, and I haven’t stopped traveling since.”

Beth Wicker of Three Cats and A Dog Design Studio in Cheraw will have her handmade jewelry on display at Feury Fine Art. She makes bracelets, earrings, pendants, necklaces, rings and all types of jewelry. She said she has been working with one media or another all of her life.

Wicker has a bachelor of fine arts from Meredith College in North Carolina and an MFA from the University of South Carolina. She has also studied at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina and numerous workshops.

For more than 25 years, Wicker has been on the S.C. Approved Artists Roster. She has conducted residencies in schools and communities throughout the state. Her work is in collections in the United States and internationally. She has won numerous awards and is a juried member of the Artisans of the South Carolina Cotton Trail. She is also a member of the North Carolina Society of Goldsmiths. Wicker offers workshops and residencies in mixed media fiber arts, papermaking, printmaking and metals.

Wicker’s gallery and studio are open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and by appointment. For information, call (843) 910-0317 or visit

Clowning Is No Laughinhg Matter

What is it about clowns?
They attract clichés and generate anxiety, when all they want to do is entertain. Photographer Perou goes in search of the people beneath the pancake, while Ben Machell talks to the performers, many of whom see it less as a career than a calling.
Clowning, it seems, is no laughing matter.

by Ben Machell • • December 12, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News: Mr Mudge

Every year, the Clowns International “Circus Circus” Festival comes to the Bognor Regis Butlins. You imagine five days of non-stop slapstick, furiously multiplying balloon animals and forced belly laughs. The reality is far more considered. There are lectures, workshops and auditions, but most important of all, the clowns all say, is the opportunity to be around like-minded people. But just what is it that they all have in common? And who, today, would be a clown anyway?

When photographer Perou went to take their portraits, 12-year-old boys milled with retired grandmothers, “weekend” clowns chatted with performers who get flown to Dubai to work in luxury hotels five times a year. Yet speaking to them, you’re left feeling that they all have such a stubborn sense of who they are and what their calling is that they possibly know something we don’t, like monks or nuns, operating with only one foot in workaday society. And the terms in which they describe their work do touch on the evangelical, full of overt morality and Damascene moments of conversion.

“I was very ill when I shot them,” recalls Perou. “And they were incredibly concerned for my wellbeing that day. Very generous. But it was also frustrating because it was very hard to get them out of character… And there could be something rather childish about the way they would behave. That’s why their costumes are so important – they are enablers that let them act in a way they can’t without them on.”

The make-up is important, too. Many register their face design with Clowns International by painting it on a small egg, and you can’t use an already registered face. It is one of life’s crueller ironies, then, that the clown’s desire to make children happy seems most hindered by their appearance. Every clown surveyed talks about the need to wear make-up that is unthreatening, or to develop a sense for children who seem nervous and then gently to win them over. Some insist that many parents believe their child has a fear of clowns when they don’t; others manage to force a dismissive chuckle about the 1990 horror film It, starring a murderous “Whiteface” clown.

“I don’t know why clowns look how they do, but it is quite a grotesque caricature,” says Perou, who admits to mild coulrophobia – a fear of clowns. “Massive grinning mouths, exaggerated features... But the range of people who do it is fascinating.”

And no matter how alien or difficult to understand we might find them, do not dismiss them as outsiders. We invite them into our homes and schools, visit them in circuses and provide enough demand to support countless full-time professionals across the world. And why? Because no one, anywhere, is so entirely, brazenly, almost awkwardly committed to making us laugh as a clown.

Mr Mudge (Wayne Oakes, 41, Northamptonshire)

“You’re vulnerable. Some people really don’t understand it, and you do get hurt by things people say about clowns in general. Sometimes I’ll get dirty looks; other times people look at me and just shake their heads. Clowning is about giving yourself up, making yourself the laughing stock, and it’s that giving I would miss the most if I stopped. I’ve clowned through divorce, through a death, but, bizarrely enough, it’s a moment when everyone’s having fun and everything is good and you can just switch off. A lot of clowns would say they find a lot of comfort in working through bad times. It’s self-healing, in a sense.”

Dr Quackers (Dr Barbara Cooper, 58, Norwich)

“As a child, I spent a lot of time in hospital and it was very scary. So I invented Dr Quackers, who told me I would be OK. My first career was as a GP, but I gave up medicine in 1990. I was elated to leave, to begin with, but then a sadness came and I went into a not very nice place – again, Dr Quackers helped me out of it. One day, I saw a clown pretending to be a doctor. It was like a bolt from the blue. In playing the fool, you learn a lot of lessons you wouldn’t get playing an ordinary role in life. It gives you a lot of clarity.”

Conk (David Vaughn, 61, Birmingham)

“I become a clown after I got divorced. I had depression, but I got into amateur dramatics and started doing parties as a clown. Then I joined Clowns International. It feels like a family. We have our own benevolent fund and welfare officer, and our own directory, too, so if I’m doing a job in Leeds, I can give some guys there a ring and ask if I can stop the night. We all enjoy making people smile, but it can be stressful: when you visit children in hospital, you can’t show your true feelings. But to see a laughing child’s face brings sunshine into your heart.”

Toto (Ronald Johnson, 42, Davenport, Iowa)

“I started out as a ‘Whiteface’, which in the hierarchy of clowns are the smartest, the most elegant and, in a group, would always be the boss. But I learnt about the other types and changed to an ‘Auguste’ – the clumsy, take-a-cream-pie-in-the-face variety. I think it suits my personality more. Even though I’ve been doing this look since 1985, there are subtle little things that change: just as your natural face ages, so does your clown face. Clowning is one of the oldest jobs; every culture has a clown-like character. It’s a true art.”

Pip the Magic Clown (Carol Bosworth, 66, Kent)

“I used to watch Smoky the Clown when I was a teenager in Herne Bay. I thought, ‘I’d love to be a clown,’ but never imagined the opportunity would come. I was in hair and beauty for 43 years, but about 12 years ago, my husband bought me a magic set for Christmas, and now, I do children’s parties as a clown. I love it. As Carol, I’m inclined to be quiet. But when I’m in costume, I’m more fun and daring, do more wicked things, things I wouldn’t do as Carol, like tipping a police constable’s hat over his eyes. I’m sure my friends think I’m mad, but I sometimes wonder if, secretly, they wish they could do it too.”

Izzo (Ian Radforth, 32, Wakefield)

“Me and my brother Gavin are ‘the Rapide Brothers’. We got into clowning after we saw this unicyclist on TV. Our dad was a mechanic, and he looked after a clown’s car and asked if he’d teach us. We started doing five minutes in his show, then ten. And our neighbour was a bit of a hippy, so I asked him to teach me to juggle... That’s how we started. Our clown face changed 12 years ago: we wanted it to be more simple, so you can see the person behind the clown – that doesn’t seem to scare people as much. I’ve got a five-year-old; he’s doing stilt-walking and has a little diabolo. He’s trying the unicycle, but still finds it hard.”

Pjot (Irene Jørgensen, 36, Copenhagen)

“I was at a circus school doing acrobatics, but my back couldn’t cope with it. I thought, what could I do that’s less physically demanding? I started out as a mime clown, but it’s hard being a mime clown and working with children, so I began to speak. I’m still developing my character, but there’s a lot of mime left there. My props are in my bag – bubbles for blowing and an egg that makes music. You have to be sensitive enough to know when you’re scaring kids: I have a young daughter, which has helped me understand how gentle you need to be. I don’t always tell people I’m a clown; I’m a bit shy about it, actually. My mother-in-law thinks it’s funny, though, that she can say her daughter-in-law is a clown and get away with it.”

Ivo (Ivor Stone, 73, Dorset)

“I worked for a dairy company, and one year, a load of us dressed as clowns for the social club party. I realised I had a gift; you can teach someone to be an entertainer, but you can’t teach someone to be a clown. Sometimes a mother comes to a party and says, ‘My daughter is afraid of clowns.’ Excuse me, but you’re telling her she’s afraid of clowns. I do an announcement beforehand saying I’m CRB-checked and that I do hug and cuddle. If you don’t want your children to be hugged, don’t let them come forward. Ninety-nine per cent of people applaud me for that.”

Different Kind of Clown Looks for Meaning

by Annie Alleman • • December 9, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News:
“500 Clown Christmas” will be performed at North Central College.

Don't let the title scare you — there's not a red nose or rainbow-colored wig in sight in the show "500 Clown Christmas."

Instead "A 500 Clown Christmas" is "more in the lines of Buster Keaton," said Paul Kalina, a former Batavia resident and founding member of the not-for-profit theater company 500 Clown. "Clown is a larger genre. Robin Williams is a clown. Jim Carrey is a clown. Laurel and Hardy are clowns. The Marx Brothers are clowns. We're much more in the world of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin."

500 Clown will present its Christmas show Dec. 18-23 at Naperville's North Central College.

The play begins as three Clowns (Kalina, Molly Brennan and Adrian Danzig) welcome the audience into about 70 minutes of action, improvisation and original live music written by John Fournier. While a three-piece band performs Fournier's songs of family, commercialism and peace on earth, the Clowns search for the meaning of Christmas during a holiday party.

The show relies on physical comedy and audience participation, Kalina said.

"We don't put somebody on the spot and make fun of them, but the action moves out in and amongst them, and they participate as they choose. It's a real great relationship between audience and clown. Anything is up for grabs — if a cell phone goes off, that's in the show. If someone comes in late, that's part of the show. If people get up to go to the bathroom, we'll wait for them until they come back."

At one show when a man got up to use the restroom, "we had the whole audience get up and switch seats. Everybody had a good laugh; he had a good laugh."

The Christmas show deals with the reality of Christmas, which isn't always the Thomas Kincaid-esque portrait of holiday joy. He referenced Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," which is "not happy fun. It's downright scary at times."

The idea for this show came about after seeing one too many "Disney-fied" holiday films that are "tame and happy and safe," he said. "Let's not scare our kids because heaven forbid they see the truth, that there are hardships about being human. But at the end it's about a man discovering life and living again."

There is a bit of language in the performance, and it's recommended for folks 14 and up.

"Oddly enough, most kids respond well to the show, they'll say something that's even deeper than what we were thinking," he said. "It's amazing."

Everyone takes something different away from it, he said. "Some people get a great laugh and have a great time, some people are really moved," he said. "There are families that sing the songs as part of a traditional Christmas. I can't tell you how many people write to us and say they sing (a certain) song around the Christmas tree. There's a number of people who travel to see it; there's a family from Michigan — they came to New York to see the show. That's their family tradition."

"500 Clown Christmas" premiered in 2005 at Chicago's Storefront Theater (remounted in 2006), went to New York City's PS 122 in 2007, then to North Central College's Meiley-Swallow Hall in 2008.

The show is an answer to the treacle offered as commercial holiday entertainment, he said. "It's got a little more bite to it, a more realistic bite. People enjoy it because it's like 'yes, what do we do when Aunt Hildegaard comes over with her fruitcake?'" he said. "There is that quality. There's a beautiful blues number John wrote towards the end of the show, this time is about peace and loving your fellow man, and it comes out of this awful, horrible moment."

Kalina said his 90-something-year-old grandparents loved the show, and "totally got it. There's something for everybody. It's got a wide range. There's language in one song, but we play with it. If you're willing to talk to your kids about it, you can bring the kids to the show. There's a lot of fodder there, it could make for some great conversations about life."

The Christmas show is one of four productions performed by the company; other include "A 500 Clown Macbeth," "500 Clown Frankenstein" and "500 Clown and the Elephant Deal."

"When people leave one of our shows, they really feel alive," he said. "That's really what we hope people leave with — (the feeling of) 'Wow, I'm alive, what am I going to do to honor that?'"

You can get a sneak preview at

Interview With A Clown

by Molly Snyder Edler • • December 7, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News: Clowns have had to struggle to stay in business through the recession.

ST. LOUIS -- It's been about eight months since Dennis Hampel dipped into his bag of tricks to keep the business he began six years ago from pulling a disappearing act.

The recession, at that point, had slashed the number of parents willing to write a check for their kids' birthday parties.

As an alternative to bringing magic to living rooms, the owner of Hampel's Magic Center in Lebanon, Mo., decided to step up his efforts to instead bring fledgling magicians to the center's courses on the tricks of the trade.

Hampel said that placing the focus on instruction and on the company's product line of magic wands, disappearing playing cards and comedy prop kits - including collapsing chairs and the endless string of sausages - has paid off. Since March, the 47-year veteran of the circus and entertainment circuit said, a steady stream of Boy Scouts, salesmen and "guys who want to learn magic to pick up girls in a bar" have helped keep the center afloat.

Hampel's evolution, it seems, is not unique. Clowns, magicians and other independent entertainers have been forced by a fickle economy - not unlike the jobless - to reinvent themselves.

"I've had to make a lot of changes to keep myself working," said Barbara Carter of Jennings, Mo., aka "Bebe the Clown," "Mrs. Santa" and other characters. "Clowning is a competitive business in this town. People won't say it, but it really is."

To stay ahead, Carter gradually has expanded her repertoire. The payoff for adding magic and face-painting to the mix has been steady employment through the recession.

"The birthday business," she said, "never dies."

That's not to say the economy hasn't taken a toll on those whose job is to entertain.

"Discretionary money is the first to disappear," said Douglas "Dug" Feltch, who has worked with Bob Kramer for 34 of the 45 years that "Bob Kramer's Marionnettes" has performed.

The fallout from the recession, the entertainers say, is often subtle. It's the corporate client that hasn't called for more than a year. Or the hesitation of a parent before adding a smaller-than-usual gratuity while writing a check for a performance.

Feltch sees it in the school districts that have halted student trips to Kramer's theater and studio because of the rising cost of fueling a bus.

He encounters it in the whispered admonishments from visitors who might otherwise buy a hand-crafted marionette from the theater gift shop.

"We hear grandparents and parents say, 'We bought tickets for the show, but that's all we're spending,'" Feltch said.

Just A Great Clown Photo

Reuters Pictures • • December 5, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News: Mexico City Clowns Out for A Stroll

Two clowns walk on a deserted street in Mexico City December 4, 2009. The Mexican Electricity Workers Union called for another protest by blocking streets and challenging Mexican President Felipe Calderon's plans to clean up the bloated public sector after he had shut down the money-losing state-owned power utility Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LFC) on October 11.

Celebrates 25th Year Of Clowning For Macy’s Parade

By Staff Writer • The Queens Gazette • December 1, 2009

Clowns in the News
Clowns in the News: Before stepping off in the 2009 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Joe Ricevuto showed off the 25th version of his clown makeup and costume especially for the Queens Gazette.

For the 25th year Joe Ricevuto of Jackson Heights was a clown in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. “I was awake and waiting at 3 a.m.,” Ricevuto said. “I was in the beginning of the parade, so everyone was up for the fun. I was one of the confetti clowns— we threw it at the crowds and they laughed so much! And it was the best weather ever. All the people were so happy!”

Ricevuto and his wife, Teena, first took their son, Joseph, and daughter, Maryann, to the Macy’s parade more than 35 years ago. Ricevuto told his family how much he wanted to be a clown in the parade and finally his daughter sent her father’s request to the parade director. Ricevuto was called in for an interview and in 1984 for the first time donned costume, wig and clown makeup. He has been in every parade since. Several years after Ricevuto signed on as a volunteer clown, Teena Ricevuto died, but his family can be found at every parade cheering on their clown father and grandfather from the sidelines.

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