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Thursday, 02 January 2014 14:38

From makeup to juggling, workshop teaches clowning basics

Written by  Edwin Scherzer/For Walworth County Sunday

WHITEWATER -- "Stop clowning around!" Many of us have heard these well-intentioned words at some point of our lives. As a child, we listened to adults responsible for our behavior use the phrase more than once to get our attention. Later in life, a teacher, friend, spouse or someone close to us repeated those three words to get our attention.

The phrase itself is usually associated with comedy, or at the very least, what the "clown" thinks is funny. No one knows for sure how the words came to be connected with costumed behavior. What is more certain is the clowns themselves are either loved or loathed.

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In Walworth County there still is a place training those who want to clown around, and the program has a loyal following.

Elaine Frietsch has conducted a clown workshop for children and adults for a few years. The most recent classes were held recently at First United Methodist Church in Whitewater, and the new clowns even got a chance to appear in the Whitewater holiday parade.

Before their debut, however, Frietsch, along with help from the Funny Face Place, taught five children and two adults all the aspects of clowning.

From makeup to juggling, and all the antics in-between, adults and children alike find out there’s more to being a clown than big feet and a red nose.

"Various clowns teach the different skills," Frietsch said. "Each clown face is taught by a separate clown that has that style face. The juggling and balloon animals are taught by two clowns (JoJo and Chuckles) called "The Tissue Brothers," who do entertainment shows without clown makeup."

Other clowns teach skits and walk-around, the backbone of clowns who don’t use props or have a tiny car to cram into. 

One serious side to the workshop -- community outreach -- is personally handled by Frietsch.

"I also teach clown ministry and take the rookie clowns to visit nursing homes and other places," she said.

There also is a special program for those who get that "scary clown" feeling. This is especially important for small children and others who have never had a good experience with clowns. It begins with one or more clowns walking into a room just as they are and explaining how clowns are people like you and me.

The makeup process is then shown, followed by a wig, and maybe a hat.  Sometimes children get to pick out the costumes used. Once the clown is fully dressed and made up, they might do some magic or make balloon animals. After the visit, the clowns show how they transform into a real person again by taking the makeup, costume and wig off.

Frietsch credits Funny Face Place, which started in Chicago in 1975, for making the local clown program a success.

"They were a very active clown group and held workshops for many years," she said about Funny Face Place. "Without them we would not be able to offer these classes and workshops now as we do."

As to who is the biggest clown, place your bets on the kids.

"The children are very active and get into their clown character very easily," Frietsch said. 

The ultimate goal is to get a laugh and make people smile.

There is no class cost for the new clowns, and they must provide their own makeup, wig and costume after the first few classes. Clown students are allowed to experiment with class items to decide what type of clown they would like to be. Each type has a different face, costume and character.

In February, a group of Frietsch’s clowns will celebrate Mardi Gras time with residents of a local nursing home.

And when they inspire and get a laugh, then it’s definitely OK to clown around.

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