Confessions of a Clown

Just like every other teenage girl of my generation, I would wear too much makeup, funny clothes and wild, multicolored hair. But I didn't dress up like this to head out to a nightclub or a party. No, I would head out to ballgames, schools and festivals -- dressed as a clown.

An instant passion

It started innocently enough. My drama teacher offered a free class in mime. We performed at a summer festival, to great acclaim, and I was hooked. Soon I was hoarding my babysitting money to buy white-face makeup and floppy shoes. I dressed up for neighborhood picnics and the local chili cook off. I even preceded the homecoming queen in the county-wide parade -- and I even got more applause!

But I quickly learned that clowning was more than just the makeup and the crazy clothes. Sure, I could keep kids happy in a parade by doing nothing more than waving and squeaking a big old-fashioned bicycle horn. But when area churches and birthday parties wanted to hire me, I had to think of something else. Candy was my first attempt at pleasing my young audience. At only 15 myself, I had no clue how vicious a dozen sugar-crazed 4-year-olds could be after three pounds of fun mix. They really don't understand that the bag is empty!

I briefly tried magic tricks. It's harder than it looks to do sleight of hand in giant white gloves. I finally settled on balloon animals. They're easy to learn. Kids love them and they don't make them hyper and obnoxious. The only problem is the occasional pop, followed by the wails of a former balloon-giraffe owner as she holds half a balloon. However, that would always allow me to swoop in an become the hero by replacing her drooping toy.

A colorful costume

As I grew up, I went to college and became a respectable member of the community. I kept my clowning limited to the occasional family gatherings or church picnic. Most of my serious colleagues would never have suspected that my alter ego wore a red rubber nose. Over the years, I have had several costumes. The one that has worked best for me is the traditional varicolored jumpsuit made from a woven cotton blend. The suit is big enough to accommodate heavy clothing underneath if the day is cold, and light enough to prevent me from over-heating on even the hottest days. Warm days aren't friendly to clowns, and I try not to perform outside if the temperature is above 85 degrees. It's not only uncomfortable, but I get sweaty. Sweat and heavy white-face makeup don't mix.

Speaking of makeup, while traditional clowning demands greasepaint, most modern clowns use a water-based cream makeup, as it is much easier to apply -- and remove. In my years as a clown, I learned that the white face is too stark for some children, and it scares them. Instead, I use a color called "pink face." It isn't flesh colored like street makeup, but it isn't that surreal white color that so many cartoon clowns wear. I also seal the cream with a pale-pink face power. It adds another layer of more natural color to my face.

Like every clown, I chose the shapes and colors for my face carefully. For example, I have a rather high forehead, so I am able to create large eyebrow shapes. I chose triangles over my eyes because my natural eyes are large, round and deep set. Bright blue make-up brings out the blue in my eyes. So I chose large, triangular blue eyebrows. The eyes are second only to the mouth in size and color on a clown's face. Some clowns can get away with using a creative color such as green or yellow to highlight their mouth. But it doesn't work for me. I stick with red or pink to create the traditional clown smile.

But as happy as I look and act, some children (and even some adults) are just afraid of clowns. The official term is coulrophobia, and it is one of the most common fears people report, right up there with speaking in public or heights. Personally, I blame Stephen King. I mean, I know that clowns look weird, but introducing into popular culture an evil, sewer-dwelling clown that eats people, via his novel 'It,' probably didn't help. Still, I am always surprised when I perform at a street festival and grown men cross the street to get away from me. This fear has lost me several customers, and it almost caused the loss of a child.

A near tragedy

One of my worst moment as a clown occurred when I was volunteering at a local school festival. I was busy making balloon animals and clowning around, entertaining adults and children alike. A very good friend of mine wanted to bring her son to see me. She prepared him that I would be in makeup and costume, and I promised to make him a balloon sword. Unfortunately, she arrived late, just as the festival was ending and I was heading to my car. I remember that he looked at me a little skeptically. Like any good clown, I dropped down to his level and said "Hi, Josh." Apparently, hearing my normal voice coming out of the crazy makeup was too much for him. He took off running at top speed, jumped off the sidewalk and headed for the safety of his car. He never stopped to see that there were other cars in the street leaving the festival. Luckily, the car heading toward him had very good brakes, and he was not hit or hurt, but it scared us to death. And ever since, I have been exceedingly careful even when walking near the street in my clown outfit.

I don't work as a clown anymore. I actually work as a full-time writer of children's books and freelance articles, and as a part-time nanny. But I do still clown around on a volunteer basis for area churches and schools. I recently clowned at the Southern Festival of Books here in Nashville, Tenn. I've even taught a few classes in clowning to children and teens. I've found it's a great way to help shy children. And it's a great way to always put a smile on my face, for I still love to put on the makeup and be a clown!

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