Mooseburger Camp History

“Short Version” of Mooseburger Clown Arts history:

We started out asking ourselves what is the best way to teach clowning. We had seen everything that the U.S. had to offer. I had taught in pretty much every school and convention group in the country. We felt there was a much better way to teach clowning. So we built Mooseburger University in 1994. It was the first clown training program to teach every style of clowning based on choosing one thing to really work on. So for example, hospital clowning students studied half of each day with Laine Barton and Michael Christianson of the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. They spent the other half of their days in classes that they choose to meet their personal taste and growth as clowns. It worked very well. It was also a bigger project than the Saint Cloud State University was ready for.

In 1995, we changed tactics. We put together a small school to see what could get done in a week concentrating on the basics. We worked students from morning to evening on the basics of clowning as we saw it. It became the framework for the beginning clown course that I teach at Mooseburger Camp now, Clowning 101.

Mooseburger Camp as we currently hold it began in 1996. We rented a local retreat center and brought in carefully chosen staff. We held a week long course based school that finished with a show inside of a circus tent that happened to be coming through town that week.

What a week that was! We learned as many things as the students that year. We learned how effective the course program was. We learned that when we teach from our hearts, we started with students and ended up with a family of clowns that grows every year (via carney). Mooseburger Camp Alumni was born. We still hear and see often from many of the clowns in that photo above. Many you will see in the class pictures again and again.

“LONG VERSION” of Mooseburger Clown Arts history:

Our past as a camp would be incomplete without a section on the history of clown education in the U.S. There really was not much formal education prior to 1968. The tradition of clowning was a closely guarded secret. Clowning knowledge was passed on to family or friends. Young student wanna be clowns showing an unquenchable desire to learn, would not be turned away by their chosen mentor.

In the 1960’s two things developed that began clown education in earnest in the United States. The first was the advent and growth of a clown network that was connecting U.S. clowns without ties to the circus. This group of clowns was doing parties and fairs. Shrine clowns were doing hospital visits and parades while raising huge sums to support a hospital charity network. Through these networks some clown training was starting to happen.

The other event was monumental in clown education. Mr. Irvin Feld, the driving force behind the Greatest Show on Earth in the 1960’s saw the potential for disaster in the circus clowning arena. He had an incredible clown alley with names like Otto Grebling, Lou Jacobs, Emmett Kelly, Bobby Kay, Paul Jung, Marc Anthony to name a few. It was important to Mr. Irvin Feld that their greatness not be lost to future generation of circus fans. So Mr. Feld started the Ringling Bro’s & Barnum & Bailey clown college that sadly is closed now. Its story is well told in Clown Alley by Bill Ballentine who did a great deal of the building of the Clown College.

Over the last 30 years the networks have grown considerably to include Clowns of America International, World Clown Association, Shrine Clown International and innumerable small alleys all over the world. These alleys and clubs provide a level of education in alley meetings and conventions. Generally, these consist of one hour offerings on specialty topics. They have had a strong impact on clowning in the U.S. The people who have contributed to this arena are far too numerous to mention. I would be remiss not to comment on Dorothy Miller in Chicago. She was an early mover and shaker in clown club education. Dorothy taught in the Chicago area, and went on to impact most every clown education program in the U.S.

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