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Clown College Was Serious Business

Jul 4, 2008
It's been said that a person has a better chance of getting into Harvard than the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. This fact highlights the extensive admission process and the seriousness of learning to be a clown. The clown college only accepts about 50 applicants per year from a field of thousands of would-be students.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College was opened in 1968. It was originally located in Venice, Florida and later moved to Sarasota, Florida. Irvin Feld had the idea to start this college. He was the owner of the circus and understood the importance of having a ready supply of performers. He saw the need to train people in the ancient art of clowning.

In 1984, Feld's son, Kenneth, took over the management of the school, but closed it in 1997 because the needs of the circus had changed. The college wasn't profitable and many of the graduates were privately teaching others the skills. There was even a video produced that taught the same techniques used in the school's classrooms. Although the circus no longer has a "pool" of clown graduates to hire, they regularly hold open auditions for their circus performances.

Clown college was a unique program for many years, from 1968 to 1997. To apply, an extensive personality profile needed to be submitted to give the school's directors a clear understanding of the prospective student's psychology and motivation. Most notable was the free tuition offered, but this did come with a few stipulations. The graduates had to agree to a one-year contract with "The Greatest Show on Earth". Any student not offered this contract would be required to work in some other capacity within the organization.

The classes at the college included courses like make-up application, juggling, pantomime and acrobatics. The students studied movies of classic performers like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. The humor and action of cartoon characters like Wile E. Coyote and Bugs Bunny was also analyzed and applied.

In a way, the entire college experience was really a chance for the circus to spot, select and train new talent. The teachers were told to note students who were able to perform in certain capacities with an eye to filling positions at a future date with the circus.

The clowns were required to create routines that would be seen in the large arenas. They honed their movements so they could be seen from any seat in the audience. Props and sight gags were especially created to fit the needs of the Ringling shows.

Clown college was an excellent way to train a new generation in the old arts of performing. A degree from this school not only benefited the student, but also audiences everywhere.
About the Author
Sebastian Marders loves writing about a variety of things and sharing the website that inspires each piece with his readers. If you are in the mood for an assortment of funny junk, including some very funny videos, and a collection of funny pics then please visit.
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