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Teresa Chandler, one of this year's Honorable Mention winners takes us center stage today. Away we go under The Big Top! Congratulations Teresa...
When I was 22 I tried to run away and join the circus!
I auditioned as a clown for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. It was a thrill, being in the center ring under the Big Top in the presence of some of the world's greatest clowns. I passed the standard clown skill set: physical pratfalls from various heights and positions, juggling, etc. and was invited to do a brief performance of my own act as my clown character, Bebop.
I didn't get the job. They said 22 was too old to be molded into a proper circus clown.
So. I didn't join the circus. But the skills of working as a clown have served me well. Public speaking is reported as the #1 fear. It is a given that we are all bound to make mistakes and occasionally play the fool so, the more we embrace that inevitability, the easier it will be. I can promise you that being willing to make a fool of oneself is enormously freeing.
Being a clown requires one to fully embrace your clown persona--to put it bluntly, it means that things I would never think of doing, Bebop does without thinking twice. Clowns follow their foolishly brave open hearts.
There is an age-appropriate range with children for even the sweetest of clowns. Too young and they are terrified--a bit older and they just want to break you. One fateful day, working a children's birthday party, I learned that boys on either side of five years old are in the prime range of, "Come on! Let's kick the clown and see if its arms will come off!"
Poor, unsuspecting, Bebop. I showed up at the party with my vintage clownish suitcase full of magic and delightful tricks and was led to the "stage"--a small table in the yard in front of 30 pint-sized chairs. Straining to be heard over the wild shrieks of boys doing some kind of battle with rubber swords the adults called out, "The Clown is here! The Clown is here! Come get your cake and take a seat!"
A sea of wild-eyed boys shoveled cake and ice cream into their mouths and laughed and jostled each other while I did the first set of my magic show. It was short. Short sets are best for 5-year-olds. Some of them were having fun but as the chocolate-smeared plates dropped to the ground around the chairs, the sugar kicked in. The birthday boy got out of his chair to claim a balloon animal. He took it from my hand and then with a big grin, reared back and kicked me in the shin. That's all it took. Suddenly, I was like a chicken in a pack of hyenas--except I was fighting them off with balloon animals. The adults seemed to think it all very funny and part of the act but as soon as the little demons ran off to get their rubber swords I abandoned my magic suitcase and made a beeline into the house and the safety of the bathroom.
I sat on the toilet, my heart thudding in my chest, my head in my hands and my clown pants down around my clown shoes. To my right was the door back to the party. To my left, the bathroom window was cracked open and I could see my little blue Volkswagen beetle sitting at the curb. I tapped my big red feet and thought long and hard for at least two or three minutes and then I did what any sane clown would do. I pulled up my pants, unlocked the bathroom door and went foot first out the bathroom window. I drove away in my clown car and never looked back.
Sometimes, when I'm feeling stuck, I ask myself, "What would Bebop do?"
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