NH answer to clown shortage? Make 'em laugh
At left, Manchester resident Pam Bridge puts the finishing touches on a sandwich prop with a mirror tucked between two slices of foam bread. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)
The Granite State Clowns are a group of about 15 seasoned clowns who make up the southern New Hampshire chapter of Clowns of America International, a nonprofit group that offers support and education for performers and promotes the art of clowning.
This month, they focused on the uses and benefits of giant foam hot dogs and foam pizzas. Denise "Luce Buttons" Duchesne, a Granite State Clown from Manchester, was busy painting her pizza prop when all of a sudden her eyes, and her entire face, filled up with absolute, unapologetic, pure delight. "I just got it," she said as she looked over a collection of foam pizzas decked out with dominos where pepperonis are usually cooked.
Last month, the New York Daily News stunned clown fans with the news that the clown population is dwindling to dangerously low levels. Older clowns are calling it quits and retiring, the paper reported, leaving only a trickle of younger clowns coming along to fill their big, floppy shoes.
When her children grew older and headed off to school, Foristall jumped into a corporate job in the telecommunications industry. But she missed the company and laughter of kids and decided to take up clowning on the side.
"A lot of us who have been mothers or teachers find that we are missing something in life," she said. "We want to make people laugh."
The Granite State Clowns do a lot of laughing, and they share many talents and traits. Unlike specialized performers who sing or dance or play a musical instrument, clowns have a variety of skills they use for their many various audiences - at birthday parties, parades, local festivals, hospitals, nursing home visits ... Most clowns perform some magic, mime, a little storytelling, juggling, face-painting and their own brand of stand-up comedy.
"I took a class in clowning because I have a lot of nieces and nephews that I play with," said Bridge.
Bridge has gone a lot further with balloon-twisting than simply making balloon dogs and swords that kids line up for at community events. She is the official balloon twister for the Manchester Monarchs and appears regularly to twist balloons at local restaurants such as Texas Roadhouse and Applebee's.
Clowns can earn a nice secondary income performing at parades, community events and private parties, but it takes a lot of time, practice and patience. And collecting a stock of personal clown gear is an investment. The shoes alone run about $400 a pair, custom-made dresses go for about $300, and a decent red nose with adhesive is about $40.
"After a while, the white sinks into the creases of your skin and brings your wrinkles out," laughed Foristall.
Still, makeup is a big deal in clowning.
Bob Bilodeau of Hampton said he's normally a shy kind of guy. He started clowning when he was 18, but gave it up when he got busy with a family and career.
"When you are in makeup, you can do anything," Bilodeau said.
Foristall agreed; she said a clown's performing persona is often an extension of herself or himself.
Clowning stretches back thousands of years, and different cultures have different styles of clowns. In some past cultures, clowns played an important role in tending to the sick, because laughter can indeed be an effective medicine. Court jesters are often credited with keeping tyrannical monarchs in check, and sad or hobo clowns were known to help audiences understand different aspects of human life.
"That's why we do it," said Foristall. "We love fun, and we love to laugh."