By Barry Warner
‘All the world loves a clown,’ and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) Clowns R Us Troupe loves to make people happy. Many members carry out shows and skits to bring joy and laughter to school children and people in senior centers, nursing homes, hospitals, plus assisted living residences. The Training and Apprenticeship Program provides the highest level of professionalism in ‘clowning.’ Recently, three members of the Troupe brought tons of smiles to the residents of St. Zita’s Assisted Living Facility in Monsey.
Some clowns do slapstick by falling down or act out their skits instead by using magic, juggling, telling jokes or using puppets and hand props. Each clown must create his or her very own ‘face,’ character or personality. Clowning is a traditional and complex art that requires a great deal of practice and discipline to become more expressive, open and communicative.
The mission of RSVP in Rockland County is to help address community needs by recruiting volunteers 55 and older to lend their time and expertise in community service to nonprofit agencies and proprietary health care facilities, in order to provide them with meaningful ongoing volunteer opportunities.
Clown Irene ‘Flapjack’ Fink has been volunteering for 14 years. “It makes me feel good to make people laugh,” she told the Rockland County Times. “We go to places such as nursing homes where people have a hum-drum life, and when we do our acts, everyone’s a kid again.”
Clown Susan ‘Rainbow’ Morlitz has been volunteering for three years. “It gives me a lot of joy to see the faces of people in the audience light up,” she said. “There’s nothing better to hear at the end of a show that the people in the audience want to know when we’re coming back.”
Clown Linda ‘Lacy’ Zentman volunteered for her first show. “I have always wanted to give back,” she stated. “I was in the field of education for 50 years and now I want to have fun being myself.”
The four types of clowns are the White Face Clown, the Auguste Clown, the Tramp Clown and The Hobo Clown. The White Face Clown is the most artistic of all the clowns and is usually the clown in charge. His makeup is all white, with regular features (eyebrows, nose and mouth) painted on in black and white. The head is covered by a cap with no hair and a cone shaped hat.
The Auguste Clown is the character clown, the most slapstick of all the clowns. This clown gets away with more and bigger pranks. His red or black features are exaggerated in size. His wig is usually red, yellow or orange and the hat is too small and sits on top of the wig.
The Tramp character is the only North American Clown. This character grew out of the tramps who rode the freight trains across the country looking for work. He wants everyone to feel sorry for him. He does everything in his power to avoid work. His face and neck are painted to make them appear dirty and unshaven. Red is added to the beard line to make the face appear sunburned and the mouth and eyes are white where the tramp has wiped away the dirt with his hands. The costume is usually a two- or three-piece suit, which is extremely worn and ragged and a rope might be used for a belt or suspenders.
Lastly, the Hobo Clown may be down but certainly is not out and appears to be happy. He smiles and his eyes generally appear larger and more wide awake. His costume is similar to the Tramp’s, but contains brighter colors.
To make your own clown costume, you will need large and colorful clothes, decorations like buttons, suspenders, makeup, a red nose, colored wig and enormous shoes. Red paint is used to make the nose seem larger by making it stand out against the white or flesh-colored base paint used on the face.
Anybody can volunteer to be a clown. Apprentices first go to shows to see the clowns in action. Then they meet with the clowns who help them with costumes and make-up, and teach them how to perform in front of an audience. For further information about the Clowns R Us Troupe, call 845-356-6818.