CLOWN COLLEGE OFFERS A DEGREE IN SILLINESS
March 12, 2004 11:00 pm
Helen Donohue shows how to tie balloons. ().
Helen Donohue shows how to tie balloons. ().

Pilot story and photos by Clicking Clarence

(a.k.a. BILL LUNDQUIST)

Life is too short to take seriously.

With that guiding philosophy, about 15 senior citizens recently gathered for a two-part four-hour crash course in, well, silliness.

The goal of Clown College, said organizer Jan Norwood, was "learning how to develop skills to change a life of depression into one of sunshine, and to pass it on to others."

Norwood, famous for her monthly Hospitality Tours, is a well-known purveyor of sunshine.

She said Hospitality Tours will continue, but Clown College was the genesis of a new group called Hugs.

Hugs is intended to be a smaller group, said Norwood, that will do the kind of hands-on activities the larger Hospitality Tours has outgrown.

March featured Clown College, and April will see the Hugs group making, taking and baking their own pizzas at Figaro's Italian Kitchen in Harbor.

Those wishing to join the group, including at least one pizzaholic reporter, should call Norwood at (541) 469-4909.

While Norwood organized the Clown College activity, the classes were taught by a professional: Hattie the Rainbow Clown, also available at (541) 469-5895 for party planning, balloon making, face painting, magic and fun.

Hattie's non-clown name is Helen Donahue. Another professional, Cool the Clown, Mary Jo Anderson, also attended.

The students of Clown College took up clown names for the class, names like Ditzy Chic, Silly Sally and Pinky Poo.

They also brought props to the party: silly hats and just about anything that would honk, whistle or beep.

Hattie showed them how to make "whammers," driftwood sticks hung with objects that would sparkle and jangle when the base of the staff was tapped on the ground, kind of like a wizard's staff, only, well, silly.

Besides a truly silly hat, said Hattie, one device a clown should never be without is an old-fashioned bubble blower to wave through the air to produce soap bubbles.

"You really smile when you see bubbles," she said. "Carry one in the car with you. You'll be shocked at how many people you can make happy. That's what you're trying to do, make people smile and be happy."

Clowns also do magic tricks, said Hattie, though her preferred brand of magic is really just simple, amazing science.

For her first trick, she challenged each student to try to fold an ordinary sheet of typing paper in half 10 times.

No one could do it, even the two who were given large sheets of thin tissue paper. By the ninth fold, even the tissue paper was bending more than folding.

Another trick was trying to crush a raw egg in your hands. If one end of the egg is placed in each palm, it will withstand an amazing amount of force as the open palms move toward each other. Try the same trick with the side of an egg and it will crush instantly.

The Chetco Community Public Library, said Hattie, is a great source for books on science magic.

Clowns also use music, song and dance to produce smiles. Hattie admitted she is not much of a musician and plays CDs for her background music.

She recommended using songs that most people in a group will know. Libraries and music stores are good sources for songs, she said, along with It's A Party & More in Brookings.

Face painting is another reliable smile-maker for clowns, and children love it, said Hattie.

She prefers to use a special type of crayon that is dipped in water before being applied to the skin. The color also washes off easily. She said the crayons are available from Michael's in Portland.

Norwood said $1 jars of washable acrylic paints, available at Fred Meyer, also work well.

Ironically, Hattie's face is too sensitive for much paint. She advised trying it out on small areas for a short period of time to avoid skin irritations.

"Don't make face painting difficult," she said, especially when working with children. "Do it fast," she said. Simple stamp pads work well for impatient young children.

Finally, no clown would be complete without balloons. The balloons used to make balloon animals are actually a special clown product available on the Internet at www.clownsupplies.com. The New Hampshire firm's phone number is (603) 679-3311. The company also sells inexpensive pumps to blow up the balloons.

Leave a couple of inches uninflated at the end of a balloon, said Hattie, to allow the air to expand as the balloon is twisted into a fish, sword or flower. She said the library also has balloon art books.

For clown costumes, said Hattie, look no farther than your own closet.

"You've got something in your closet that will make you laugh," she said. If you don't, she said, a local thrift store probably does.

All the clowning around actually had a more serious purpose: to lift the spirit and fight off depression.

"You're the only person who can get up and say "it's gonna be a great day," she said.

Others can help. Norwood said her husband used to wake her up early with an electronic singing flower pot.

There were some dark days when her husband passed away, said Norwood, so she constructed a "blessing bag" that she could reach into and pull out a slip of paper telling her something for which she could be grateful.

A "pity pot" is similar. The outside can be covered with self-pitying quotes like, "Oh poor me," while the inside is full of quotes to cheer a person up.

Clown College featured Eggbert, an indescribable stuffed animal who sits on a pity pot all day and whines.

Participants made their own pity pots and brought them in. One pity pot had a stuffed animal sitting on a miniature toilet.

Clown College let out a bit early so its students would have time to attend a lunch meeting of the Red Hat group, which has grown to nearly 200 in Brookings.

Norwood said the name of that group was taken from the opening lines of the poem "Warning" by Jenny Joseph. "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, with a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me."

True to form, Norwood was wearing purple and a red hat.

"Silliness is the comic relief of life," she said.

Cool the Clown recommended it to "heal your body and delight your mind."