Changes Under the Big Top
Many of you have seen the stories in the media about Ringling removing the elephants from their circuses.
It is a big change in American entertainment.
At first blush it sounds good:
“Why should those poor animals be made to perform unnatural tricks? They must be abused!”
PETA and the Humane Society filed multiple lawsuits. (FYI: They also were forced to pay back millions in dollars to the owners of the circus, Feld Inc., for false testimonies of said abuse.)
To make a long story short: California passed a law restricting elephants coming into the state to perform. It became feasibly impossible to keep the elephants on the show. California is an important market. Money talks. Now the elephants will only be seen in zoos. Animal activists have vowed to go after the big cats next and will not rest until there are no more animal acts.
Change; lots of change coming.
I toured with Ringling for three years and did not see abuse. I can only speak from my own experience. What I saw was a relationship between trainer and animal that was more like what you would see with a pet, a very smart pet. It was more like a working relationship like I have seen with farm animals. I saw a genuine love for the animals; their care was exemplary.
Those elephants were treated better than us clowns!
We are funny people, humans.
We are constantly looking for the next new thing, yet we want things to stay the same!
Change in is inevitable, especially in entertainment. Society evolves.
A lot has changed since I was on the Big Show. Things that used to get a laugh now get a groan and shake of the head. In circus gags, we used a lot of guns and bomb explosions in our routines. People laughed at those things back then. Now with gun violence and suicide bombers, it’s just not funny anymore.
Scary clown images and media backlash make it all the more important to have friendly, professional-looking faces.
A bald red wig used to be the epitome of a clown look. Now it is “IT” also known as “Pennywise”, the scary clown from Steven King movie.
People used to love the one-piece jumpsuits with a rainbow wig…
…you get the idea.
Clowns have always had to deal with change. We need to.
I used to tell my daughter that life wasn’t about “Plan A” it was about how we transition to “Plan B” that really counts. Sylvia Plath said “There has to be a better way to get through life than by kicking and screaming.”
I would like to kick and scream about the forced retirement of the elephants, but it won’t do any good.
I am absolutely furious about the “Red Nose Day” excluding clowns. They actually had a line on their website saying “It’s not about clowns”. That is like saying a cross is not about Christianity! Gah!
* sigh *
But I digress…
How do we handle all the changes?
Nothing stays the same. We need to be able to change with the times. Clown clubs wither under old rules and regulations.
“Why do we do it this way?” “Because we always have!” is the death knell of many clubs.
People don’t want to be tied down. Don’t be afraid to look at ways to change your club to be more welcoming to people who can’t make long-term commitments. Change your routines to be more current and “family friendly”.
I have some ideas to help you deal with change.
How to adjust to the changes in clowning:
- It’s okay to be sad about it: I feel sad about people hating clowns, and the rudeness of society. It’s okay to acknowledge that those folks are out there. But just like PETA, they are the minority; they just happen to be louder than everyone else. Most people especially seniors and little people (no matter what their paranoid parents say) still love us. Let’s focus on the LOVE, people!
- Change what you can: You may not be able to do the kind of performances you used to do due to age. Don’t be afraid to adapt! You may not be able to twist 3 gross of balloons. Book yourself in shorter time slots if need be. Try something new like puppets or magic. Get some wheels to ride for parades. Opt for a lighter-weight costume in the summer time. I have come to admit I can’t do my full whiteface and fancy costume for parades and long events. So I created an Auguste character that helps me continue clowning. I changed what I could, and now it continues to bring me great joy.
Look at change as an opportunity: “OH NO! My wig has been discontinued! I will have to quit clowning because my fans will not recognize me.” Wait – Seriously?? It is your personality your fans know and love! Humans change their hair and fashion all the time, so why not clowns, too? If you are having fun with your new look, your old friends will too. I was nervous last year at Moose Camp trotting out my new Miss Moose clown character. I know my Mom wasn’t real crazy about the new look. But I knew for my physical and emotional health it was time. The campers loved it. I have experienced great joy and excitement in coming up with new routines for this new clown friend! I have watched a friend who can no longer put on make-up due to tremors come up with a hysterical character who only wears bib overalls a hat and a red nose. He can still come and clown with the club and not be burdened by make-up he can no longer put on.
- Remember why you clown: I clown for the sheer joy of it. I clown to spend time with people I love: other clowns! I clown to share a little joy with a weary world. I refuse to let outside circumstances deprive me of my joy.
After clowning for over 35 years, change is inevitable.
I’m good with it.
I can’t wait to see what the next 35 years brings!
Read my other articles which deal with not-so-funny issues:
- How to cope with grief and keep on clowning
- When “funny” isn’t enough – Dealing with depression and suicide
- How to say “no” when you are overwhelmed
- You never know who will be touched by your presence
- How should clowns react when tragedy strikes?
- Steps you should take during an on-site accident
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Mooseburger Clown Arts Education has been running one of the world’s most well-rounded clown schools since 1996. Performers from all over the globe travel to Minnesota each summer for a fun and intensive clown training program. Each aspect of our clown camp is designed to meet your needs and boost your confidence as an entertainer.
Whether you want to join the circus, visit nursing homes, run your own birthday party business, paint faces, or twist balloons, there is something just for you at Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp.
Or call me toll-free to discuss your education and see if Mooseburger is the right fit for you: 800-973-6277