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May 29, 2017

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Clown industry hit hard by recession

NORTHBROOK, Illinois -- In a global recession, being a clown is no laughing matter.

That was the somber verdict as the World Clown Association wrapped up its annual convention on Saturday after a decade which has seen their numbers dwindle.

More than 230 clowns from the around the world attended the event outside Chicago, gathering to share skills and hopefully encourage a new generation to don a red nose, make-up and a pair of oversized shoes.

But it's an art pursued more as a labor of love of laughs these days than for a living.

"There are very few clowns who do it full time anymore," says Deanna Hartmier of Winnipeg, the president of the World Clown Association and a clown for 18 years.

"When big companies that, for 10 years, hired 12 clowns for their Christmas party suddenly has budget cutbacks, well guess what? They are hiring less clowns."

Her organization touts 2,500 members worldwide, a nearly 30 percent decline since 2004. Most are over 40.

That includes Arthur Pedlar, 81, of Southport, England, who started clowning in 1938, when he was a child.

Unlike many on the circuit, Pedlar — a "tramp" clown who goes by the stage name Vercoe — does not perform at children's parties, but mainly presents his silent comedy, often involving a unicycle and musical instruments, for audiences comprised of the deaf, handicapped, and elderly.

Modern-day Vaudeville

While cruise ships have become the modern-day equivalent of the vaudeville circuit, many young performers drawn to clowning opt for higher wages by becoming aerial performers, which are more in demand, he says.

"There is a shortage in Europe of first-rate clowns," he says.

At the convention, Pedlar shows DVDs of clowning icons of the past like Emmett Kelly or Buster Keaton to a new generation of clowns, aged 6-15.

He said he wants "to expand their thinking that clowning is not just blowing up balloons or throwing a pie in somebody's face."

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