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Bring in the clown

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April 30th, 2009

Acting silly comes naturally to Tallgrass Creek resident

By Mark Abromaitis

Many people would be offended if you called them a clown. But not Tallgrass Creek resident Dick Knapp. "I would consider it a compliment," he says.

That s because Knapp knows the work it takes to be a great clown. He spent more than 15 years trying to be the best clown possible and pass along the storied clowning tradition.

"It s a craft," he says. "It s about how to put on your makeup, but there is more to it. It takes years of practice, and at the heart of it is really just making people smile and spreading goodwill."

Jingle all the way

Without his makeup on, Knapp is a mild-mannered man. But on a routine basis, he would transform into Jingles, his clown alter ego.

Knapp estimates that it takes most clowns one to two hours to fully apply their costumes. He explains that getting into character often requires patience and layers upon layers of makeup.

Once in character, Jingles performed for family, friends, and children. Occasionally, he entered local parades and clown competitions. "In the competitions, they would rate you on your makeup, then you would perform and be judged on how much the children liked you," he says.

Knapp specialized in the classic whiteface and auguste makeup style. (For more on auguste makeup, see What type of clown are you?) "I don t know why, it just seemed like the right fit for me," he says.

From the beginning

Knapp discovered that clowning was the right fit for him through the Shriners.

"I wanted to be involved in the parades, but the motorcycles and motorcars just weren t for me," he says. "I thought the clowns were more my style. I wanted to help people out and brighten their day."

So Knapp enrolled in the Shriners Clown College and started his journey into clowning. He says the biggest challenge was developing a persona. His persona was a classic auguste clown being a buffoon. "I didn t have one particular gag or stunt that I would rely on," he says. "But I did all the classic things, a few magic tricks, and of course, some balloon animals."

When asked about his name, Knapp says it wasn t directly connected to a bit in his act like some clowns . "When I started out, I was called Beeper." He admits, "I liked to use a hand beeper a lot. But I later took the name Jingles to honor a good friend of mine and a great clown that had passed away."

Passing along the tricks of the trade

After much study and practice, Knapp reached the esteemed rank of Assistant Boss Clown. "I didn t want all the responsibility of being the Big Boss Clown," Knapp explains. With that accolade, he was responsible for serving as the director of his local Shriners Clown College and writing the lesson plans.

Knapp says clowning has allowed him to make some great friends, many that he keeps in contact with today. He s even been asked to offer a clowning presentation and performance for Tallgrass Creek residents and their grandchildren. "I ve since hung up my big shoes," he says with a laugh. "But of course, I d be happy to help out if someone wants to learn."

What type of clown are you?

Whiteface

Whiteface clowns use white makeup to cover their entire face and neck so none of the underlying flesh color is showing.

The whiteface character is often serious, all-knowing (even if not particularly smart), bossy, and cocky. This clown is the ultimate authority figure.

Auguste

The base color for auguste makeup can be red or flesh tone. Auguste clowns have more exaggerated features; the eyes and mouth are sometimes encircled in white, while other areas are highlighted, traditionally in red and black. They may be costumed in baggy plaids accented with colorful polka dots or loud stripes and sport wide-collared shirts, long neckties, wild wigs, and oversized noses and shoes.

The auguste clown is often an anarchist, joker, or fool. Whiteface characters instruct the auguste character to perform their bidding. The auguste often has a hard time performing the task given, which leads to funny situations.

Character clown

Character clown makeup is a comic slant on the standard human face. It starts with a flesh tone base and may incorporate anything from glasses, mustaches, and beards to freckles, warts, big ears, or strange haircuts.

A character clown adopts an eccentric spin on some type such as a butcher, baker, policeman, or housewife. The popular "hobo" or "tramp" clown falls in this category.

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