Sometimes finding out that you're destined to be a clown can come as a big surprise! I for one didn't know I was going to be a clown until I saw my first circus show and was mesmerized by the whimsy of the clown alley doing their gags. A similar experience happened to today's Clown Spotlight, Gabriella (Pinkie the clown).
ME: First off, can you give us a quick outline of where you got to today as a clown? Did you always know you wanted to be a clown? If not, how'd you find out that you were meant to be one?
Pinkie: "This was a very indirect and long journey for me. My family have always believed that I would make a great actress, so when I was in my early 20s, someone anonymously signed me up for an acting class, and I happened to get laid off from a day job I had at the same time, so I took the opportunity. I still do not know who this person was. After I finished the course, I started acting in indie films and theatre for a while. One day, while I went on a family trip, I happened upon a flying trapeze rig which was open to the public and decided to give it a go. I fell in love with circus right then and there. I went to circus school and specialized in aerial arts.
One year later, I ran away with the circus. I spent 3 years touring with Circus of the Kids, but never did any clowning as I was busy with the aerial, fire, and rolling globe troupes. I secretly always wanted to try clowning, but it never happened at that time as my other skills were more in demand. Eventually, I switched paths and ran away with a magic show as an assistant/dancer (box jumper), and that’s where I got the opportunity to start my clown journey. Not only did our opening act on my first season on the show start with me and the other assistant playing clown characters, but we were also taught to make balloon animals to sell at our merch booth.
I have always loved the idea of performing, but wasn’t sure what I wanted to perform exactly, so I rode the wind and just tried whatever seemed right or interesting in the performance arts world. Again this was a very indirect and long process. In between my circus job and magic show job, I was in search for a quick Halloween costume for a last minute Halloween party invite. I went to Value Village and picked out some items that I then mixed with some accessories I had from my circus days, and .....Voila! It was the birth of Pinkie the Clown, my favourite clown character in my tickle trunk. When I put on my costume creation (which by the way was put together in one hour), it felt right. I went to the party and worked it. It was a very safe place to try it out in front of people. No one judges or notices trials and errors at a Halloween party, but you can still sense a positive reaction. By the end of the party, I knew I was eventually meant to do this."
ME: Care to share a favorite story of yours of a time you were in clown?
Pinkie: "I think that I have already shared my favorite one in the contest, but I guess I can give you another. On November 4th, 2008, my Grandfather passed away. We were extremely close; we had an incredible bond as I lived with him until I was almost 11 years old and then again as an adult from 2005 – 2007 (in my circus off seasons) to help him out and be able to spend more time with him. I was devastated. I had plans to throw a huge 97th Birthday bash for him just a couple of months away, but of course this was now not going to happen. Instead I had to start making plans to travel for his funeral.
On November 5th, 2008, I had a booking to perform in a big clown show, “Clown Capades”. This was basically 90 solid minutes of clowning. I was so sad and heartbroken, I didn’t know how I was going to pull that one off, but as they say, “The show must go on!”. Before the show, I spent more than the usual amount of time mentally prepping myself, and meditating on being in the moment and trying to put my personal loss on the backburner. By the time I stepped out on stage, I felt a burst of energy pulling me up on my emotional rollercoaster....I went with it. Much to my surprise, I was able to stay in that moment, and had an amazing show....and afterwards, I felt lighter. It was a very therapeutic experience that is hard to describe. In essence, it taught me that clowning is not only therapeutic for audiences, but can also be therapeutic for the performer."
ME: I love asking this question to fellow clowns; what does being a clown mean to you? What makes a clown "a clown"?
Pinkie: "I don’t think that you have to be a professional clown to be a clown. I think that a person who has a goofy disposition and uses it in the moment and improvises to create and give life and comedy to any situation can be classified as a clown in my world. What makes a great professional clown would be a bit more complex, but this simple basic trait is a necessary starting point for a successful journey in clowning. I don’t think that make up or a costume makes a clown. Sometimes I think my children are excellent clowns; I think Michael Richards is an excellent clown; I think Barry Lubin is an excellent clown (even if he is retired) because a person has to have some form of clown like quality in order to be able to play a clown character well."
ME: Where do you see the future of clowning in today's society and on? Do you have any advice to those who are interested in pursuing this art form?
Pinkie: "There is a real mixed bag of clowns in the world today! (Pun intended!) This is a hard question to answer. There are so many avenues in clowning that it is really difficult to have one simple answer for this. Sometimes it saddens me to see poor quality or creepy clowning take place because it turns people off from the art form, but I believe that there are enough great quality clown experiences out there that clowning is not going to make an exit from society any time soon.
If you feel the desire to try clowning, do try it, but don’t hurl yourself in it head first alone, it is harder than it looks. Find a safe place to play and try things out. You may find that some days it comes easily and naturally and it is a total blast, other days you may have to plow through and work very hard and commit to that goofy character and it may take great effort to stay with it in which case you may feel completely drained post show. Finding a fellow experienced clown that you like as a performer who can mentor you may be an excellent choice as well, or at least study the greats or styles you want to pursue.
Be your own clown self! Even if you do an age old routine, do it as your clown self would do it, not someone you watched do it, put your own twist and flare in routines. If you choose to be a face painter or balloon twisting clown, be aware that this is the most challenging form of clowning. So many people just put on a costume and make balloons or face paint and say “I’m a clown” but behave as themselves. To do it well, you have to be good at your skill, fast at your skill, and entertaining whilst staying in character, and oh did I mention put up with impatient people in line ups, sometimes rude and pushy people, but remaining in a cheery character and handling it in a very entertaining and positive manner. If you do book your own gigs, get as much info from the event coordinator as possible, and let them know what they can expect from you with their budget and situation. If they expect too much, suggest options to hire additional clowns to make the event run smoother. Keeping everyone (including yourself) happy is your number one goal!"
After being able to converse with every one of the Clown Story Contest Honorable Mentions, I believe we all came to one conclusion on one of the questions I asked: a clown is ONLY a clown if they have the heart big enough to be a clown. You can go to circus schools, put on a costume and a red shiny nose...but that doesn't make you a clown. You must have the heart. That is what connects all of us together as a global clown alley! We all come from different backgrounds, shapes, sizes and skill sets. But we are all united together with our hearts.