Originally created 09/13/98

Meeting turns into a circus

The clowns sent themselves in on Saturday.

Hundreds of clowns staged a parade through downtown Augusta on Saturday as part of the Southeast Clown Association's annual convention.

With their pillow-fluffed fannies stuffed into hoop-waisted trousers, the technicolor crowd waged a mischievous march upon kids and adults who lined Reynolds Street for the event.

The smiles upon most children's faces left little doubt about their opinions of the floppy-footed thespians.

"Funny," was the only word 5-year-old Chad Hewitt could muster to describe the Crayola-wigged performers passing in front of him.

Chad stood spellbound as clown after clown approached him, teasing smiles from him with noisemakers and other props.

Further along the parade route, 9-year-old Crystal McDowell found it hard to pick a favorite from the marchers.

"They're good, especially Giggles," Crystal said. "Giggles is funny. And I like the one with the saxophone, and the one with all the buttons on her legs."

David Owens, 6, also found it hard to single out a particular clown.

"I liked the windup truck one, and the one that has a praying mantis, and the one that blowing bubbles, and the one that had a happy-face hat," he said. "And I liked Buttons."

Nicholas Brawner, 3, had less trouble naming his favorite part of the parade.

"Fire trucks," he said, pointing to a passing fire engine filled with clowns. "That's my favorite."

Most clowns said they enjoyed the children as much as the children enjoyed them.

"This is probably the best therapy you can give yourself," said "Jocko T. Clown," also known as George Hines of Sunset, S.C. "This is like energizing my batteries."

"Whiskers," who goes by David McCarty on most days, said clowning was his way to express himself.

"It's my outlet to the arts," Mr. McCarty said. "I can't sing, and I can't dance, and I can't play an instrument, but I can make people laugh.

"We're poking fun at the serious things of life. People need a little fun in their lives."

For "Tootie," clowning is a way to entertain children, and also a method to escape into a character other than her true self -- Pat Dean of Gainesville, Fla.

"At home, I'm a mother, wife, an office manager," she said. "There is a personality transfer when the makeup is applied. When I put on Tootie, I'm a 6-year-old who doesn't have any problems. She just wants to make mischief.

"Everybody creates their own character. It takes character development."

Many clowns practiced such development this week at the convention, hosted this year by GeorgiaLina Clowns, a local clown "alley," or association. More than 150 clowns gathered for the five-day event, which ends today.

Besides staging the parade and visiting children in local hospitals, the clowns also attended seminars to learn from clown masters such as Jackie LeClaire.

At 71, Mr. LeClaire has clowned longer than most, and started at a younger age. Born into a circus family, he began traveling when he was just 18 months old. Now, he says, he spends most of his clowning days teaching the art at seminars and conventions.

"I don't think I could make a season with the circus anymore," said Mr. LeClaire, a 1996 inductee into the International Clown Hall of Fame.

Whether experienced whiteface clowns such as Mr. LeClaire, or beginning, Red Skelton-like "tramp" clowns, most of the performers have simple reasons for pursuing the craft, said "Professor Bloono," normally known as Jim Tait of Dearborn Heights, Mich.

"Sometimes, it makes it all worthwhile to see the smile on a kid's face," Mr. Tait said. "Wanting to hear their laughter motivates a lot of us."


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