Nearly two decades ago, Deanna "Dee Dee" Hartmier decided to hire a clown for a birthday party. As it turned out, Winnipeg wasn't exactly teeming with clowning talent. In fact, there was only one and they'd taken a sabbatical. Deanna decided to try it herself and fell head over heels with the art.
In the years since, Dee Dee the Clown attended clown school, has traveled the world (most recently to India) and was named president of the World Clown Association in 2013. I talk to her about why clowning is important, the future of the art form and why people just need to get over their fear of clowns.
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First things first: Tell me about your trip to India.
It was an amazing trip and we were treated like rockstars. We did a six city tour. We clowned around in the shopping malls. It was just amazing. The police actually called one of the malls wondering what was happening. There was a seven kilometer traffic jam. Over 35,000 people had gone into the mall and no one was leaving. It was the most foot traffic they'd ever had.
Are there a lot of clowns in India?
There’s basically one clown like us in all of India and a couple others just starting to learn. For the most part, when Indians hear of clowns, they think of the circus clowns they have, which are mostly little people or people with deformities. It's very backward thinking.
You did some hospital visits while you were there as well, right?
Yes. One hospital we visited, there was a young girl who has not responded in two months. She has brain cancer and wouldn’t talk to anyone. Non-responsive, period. We went into see her and I held her hand. She managed to get her eyes moving. By the time we left, she was smiling at us and actually waved goodbye to me.
Did your heart explode?
It did! But it goes one more. Two days later, he parents brought her to our show at the mall. She walked up on stage for pictures. You just never know how you might affect somebody. There are countless clowns that have had experiences like this.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the conversation about clowns in the western world, especially with the current season of American Horror Story. There’s a lot of talk about clowns being creepy.
People have to realize that there is a difference between professionally trained clowns and actors dressing up in clown costumes. They’re not real clowns. They are portraying a character.
When people say they are afraid of clowns because they have watched the movie It, my response to them is, you mean to tell me you’re really afraid of all clowns because of one movie? Okay, then if that’s the case, you should be afraid of your own family members. There are more movies out there about murder by family members and a lot of those are actually based on fact! It kind of puts it into perspective.
As a clown, you cover your face with makeup. Do you think part of the fear is you can see us, but we can’t see you?
If that's the case, you should be afraid of people who have beards and mustaches. When you look at a lot of clown makeup, it’s only highlighting their expression. When I were my Auguste style face, I wear a little extra white on my eyes, red lipstick which goes a little beyond my own lips and blush. Really? You’re afraid of that. I’ve seen some women out there who wear a lot more makeup.
People play the fear up. It’s the latest fad. And of course you have media that just hypes it up. I was on the phone the other day with a radio station. They weren’t looking at the truth, they were looking to portray [clowning] as evil.
And what people need to realize is that clowns are the ambassadors of joy. Real clowns, like myself, are there for the enjoyment of people. To make people happy.
What kind of training does it take to be a clown?
Well, if you’re looking at hospital clowning, it’s how to deal with people in situations like that. You have to know the sanitary procedures, you have to know that you can’t take latex into hospitals, there’s a lot of things you have to be aware of so you don’t interfere with the apparatuses.
You also need to know how to talk [to patients]. If we walked into a child's room jumping around and acting crazy, it might terrify them. We always ask if we can come in [to their rooms]. You might not think that has any value, but when you're in the hospital, people are always coming in and out of your room, whether you like it or not. By asking if they want us to come in, it gives the patient a sense of empowerment. It’s as simple as that.
In India, I held that young girl’s hand. If I hold her left hand in my hands and stand on her left side, my heart is the closest point to her heart. If I'm watching how she’s breathing, I can breathe along with her. If she’s panicked, she’ll start relaxing with my breathing and my heart pattern.
I also teach life and fire safety, which means I go and get education from firefighters and police. I went to the Arizona Fire and Burn Educators Association for training. If you're going to be teaching thing in schools, you better be teaching the right stuff.
And of course there’s the juggling, magic, music, face painting, balloons, comedy movement, slapstick, paper folding, the list goes on. Even knowing how to put a show together. A person can’t just put on a clown costume and know all this stuff.
Is there still a lot of interest in becoming a clown? Are there many young people clowning?
The World Clown Association has a junior joey program for people 6-15. here is a young gentleman who started clowning at the age of 3. He’s 12 now, but he's still clowning. He’s in a performing arts school and he juggles, rides unicycle, does professional falls like the Ringling Brothers do.
Most kids aren't going to clown school. You go to college. Then, you're focused on your career, you find someone and fall in love, end up having a family. If you do clowning, it’s only on a part-time basis. You can’t do it full-time because you need to survive. It’s not until your family is grown that you have the time and energy, and capabilities to do it more full-time.
Advice for someone who says they're afraid of clowns?
Remember there is a difference between professional clowns, non-professional clowns, fiction and non-fiction. Don’t label everyone the same if one thing has scared you. Just because you get into a car accident once doesn’t mean you should never get into a car again. Take a look at the fear and what has made you afraid. Then stand up to it.
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