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A Clowning Starter Kit

Discussion in 'Newbies to clowning' started by sillydaddyatl, Jul 30, 2016.

  1. sillydaddyatl

    sillydaddyatl Member

    So this is a question for the veterans. If you were putting together a "Starter Kit" for a new clown, what would you put in it that isn't costume or makeup related?

    For example, let's say a friend of yours wants to try clowning. What specifically would you put in an entry-level clowning kit so he/she could get started? Starter props/walk-around stuff? Balloon stuff? A certain joke book? Beginner skit scripts? Juggling items? Easy magic tricks?

    I'd love to hear your thoughts.

    • Useful Useful x 1
  2. Sir Toony Van Dukes

    Sir Toony Van Dukes Well-Known Member

    I somewhat agree with Pinkberry, there isn't one book, prop, or other item that I would say would be useful to a new clown. Experience is a great asset.

    I think that being a clown requires an examination of self. It is an extension of who you are and what works for one person may not work for everyone. There are also so many different places a clown can go to perform. People might associate clowns with birthday parties and the circus, but those aren't the only places that clowns go to entertain. They can work at hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, parades, picnics, and just about any place people gather. Some even work in a church. A clown can entertain just by being there to listen, such as at a hospital or nursing home. They can entertain by putting on a magic show, leading people in games and dances, interacting with puppets, or just being silly.

    Another aspect of being an entertainer is understanding the audience. A lot of the clowns I have met at conventions rely on wordplay and dialog in their performances. While this can be effective, it does require the audience understands what the performer is saying. A young child might not get the context of a joke or reference to current events the way their parents might. There are a lot of people in the United States who mainly speak languages other than English. A lot of the international performers rely more on physicality. Just about anyone can relate to the struggles of picking up something heavy, trying to close a suitcase that is too full, or twist off the top of a jar that won't budge.

    I think the thing that goes best with experience is observation. What people. See what they do and how they respond to situations. Watch videos of entertainers from the past to see what they did.
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  3. Squirty

    Squirty New Member

    I'm just starting out myself, granted I don't consider myself even an amateur and I don't expect to do this for paid gigs. I just do this for my one charity and any gigs they set up. I'm working on what Dukes and Pinkberry said. I want to do a lot more introspective look. A clown should be a clown even without the props. It's just who he is. I'm lucky that I get a pre set stage where I can walk in a parade and try things or do a couple meet and greets. The audience just expects me to smile, hug a couple kids, and take some pictures, but I want to deliver more than that. I want to do what Pinkberry said, get a 3 minute act or find 1 minute to polish. At the same time I want to learn to take advantage of my surroundings for a quick joke when I see it. Obviously a clown needs something inside, but the physical stuff I started with are:
    Makeup - duh
    A clown outfit I made from Goodwill stuff, dyes, and paints - duh, gotta have an outfit
    Balloon animals - I started with a $5 pump and balloons with some youtube videos. I've progressed to a decent two way pump and real balloons that don't pop as often. Good for a quick thing for a kid, but bad in a big crowd.
    I picked up a beginner's magic kit to play with. I like the foam balls because I can pull them out anywhere and do a quick trick. I have a magic stick that changes colors, another pocket sized quick trick. The other tricks are fun, but more of a stage thing and I'm a walk around kind of guy.
    I tried some bird whistle things. They were fun, but in the parade my mouth started getting dry and it didn't work like I wanted it too. It might just be me, but I'll stick with talking. Figure out if your clown is mute or not, but it might be a fun thing.
    I'm thinking about adding some mouth streamers for fun and the endless bandanna trick.

    I wish I could help with a good book, but I mostly read the interwebs, and checked out books from the library. Most of what I'm getting is character development, practice, and some stage skills that aren't typical stage skills.

    If anyone has good suggestions for easy to reset pocket sized gags or magic tricks I'd love to hear about them in some other thread so we don't take over this one.
  4. sillydaddyatl

    sillydaddyatl Member

    Good stuff here. Thanks for the responses!
  5. Heather

    Heather New Member

    I love this thread and I'm watching it as a newbie too! To start I bought a decent Snazaroo face paint kit, a set on Amazon of 100 qualatex balloons with a pump, and the basics to do my makeup. Oh! And a purple wig. :) Outfit I am cobbling together out of bright colored clothing I have already, decorated with some extra bling from the craft shop.

    I'm also working on memorizing some good jokes for kids.

    Next clown purchase is a magic kit. I've never tried magic before so I think a kit with a bunch of tricks would be a good way for me to start thinking about what I can pull off best.

    For practice, I have just been offering to entertain friends and family members kids for a little while during family barbecues and the like, just to see what I can do and how it goes, get a little practice. I've been pleasantly surprised by how easy kids are to entertain with my very basic knowledge at this point. :D
  6. Squirty

    Squirty New Member

    If you're buying magic and you've never done it, like me, I recommend going to a good shop where they can demonstrate the act and the secret for you. Youtube can do a lot, but nothing beats the guy explaining it and helping you learn. My kit had a bunch of super simple tricks, but it depends how you work to see if they work for you. I had:
    The disappearing ball in a vase
    Pencil through the card
    Turn a penny into a dime
    A hot rod - stick with 6 colors, you pick the color and it magically turns to that color
    Stabbing sticks through a quarter
    The ever popular cups and balls. Great stage trick with lots of options.
    and I bought some foam balls to do those tricks to.

    My favorites are the hot rod and the foam balls. I can do the hot rod trick and instantly reset it when I put it in my pocket and go to the next kid. Also next to no learning (good for me)
    Foam balls are great because you can make them appear from nowhere, multiply, appear in someones hand, the list goes on. Plus no reset beyond putting it in your pocket and they're small.
    The other tricks are easy with some practice to make it look good, but I walk around more than do prepared acts so it's easier. They would work great for a party though.

    I'm looking at getting some mouth coils for a quick trick and maybe the quarter you bite a piece out of. They look simple, like me, and make a quick gag with no reset.
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  7. tim

    tim Have red nose, will travel

    Post of the century!
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  8. tim

    tim Have red nose, will travel

    But, but, but......THAT is what Ringling's publicist told me to attract my interest in attending an audition for Clown College!

    What's next? I need something more than a top hat to be the next Ringmaster?
    • Laugh Laugh x 1
  9. Sir Toony Van Dukes

    Sir Toony Van Dukes Well-Known Member

    Anyone can do a magic trick following the pre-written routine. A good entertainer creates their own routine.

    Years ago, I decided magic wasn't my thing. I learned a variety of card tricks, rope tricks, and other fairly easy to perform routines. A magician might say, "watch me perform a trick." I think that a good clown entertainer instead can tell a story and just have the magic happen, like a visual aid to the story. A common magician's prop is the Change Bag. It is often used with silks that change color each time the magician pulls one out of the bag. Let's say you have a story line to follow during your performance. Since it is a birthday party, you need to get ready. First, you need some decorations. Fill out an order form and place it in the change bag. A few seconds later, pull out a dozen balloons, or streamers, party hats. Then, you need to get the cake, so you fill out another order form and this time, place it in the dove pan and a few seconds later find the cake ready to go.
  10. Sir Toony Van Dukes

    Sir Toony Van Dukes Well-Known Member

    At Moose Camp, one of the instructors Rex Nolen showed a way to do Professor's Nightmare. This is the rope trick with the small, medium, and long ropes that suddenly become three ropes of the same size. Instead of performing it as a trick, he told the story of three brothers who were invited to a costume party. One brother was very short, another was very tall, and the third was somewhere in the middle. Since they needed costumes, they went to the local costume shop only to discover they only had worm costumes and they were all the same size. They were concerned the costumes wouldn't fit properly, but went to try them on. The first brother came out and said it fit perfectly. The other brothers also came out saying their costumes fit perfectly. As they stood there together, they were all the same height, no longer was one brother very short and another very tall, they were all like the brother who had always been somewhere in the middle.
  11. Squirty

    Squirty New Member

    That's where I'm at now. I've got a couple tricks I can do, and I generally know the pre-written routine (I need more practice - always with the practice), but I want to make it my own. Just a little time, practice, and trial and error will get it done.
  12. tim

    tim Have red nose, will travel

    It's not so much what you do, it's how you do it.

    Ultimately, what your audience wants isn't all kinds of stuff. It's YOU!
  13. sillydaddyatl

    sillydaddyatl Member

    Agreed. In a way, I kind of look at the "stuff" sort of like an icebreaker. It's something that can get the ball rolling. It's the jumping off point. It's like the difference between doing improv where a situation is given to you vs. having to build the whole thing on the fly. It's the MacGuffin.

    For example, the first time I visited a nursing home, I had no clue what I was doing. I looked like a clown, but I felt like a deer in headlights. Fortunately I was with experienced clowns who set me up with a couple of little walkaround props, and, thankfully, a LOT of coaching throughout the visit. Those little walkaround bits were quick things, but they opened up a dialogue with the audience and helped me get into clowning.

    So I guess those are the kinds of things I'm thinking of in terms of a "starter kit". What are the little things to help someone find the clown inside and bring it out, but NOT stuff that can become a crutch for them. Just as they often help actors find their character, I think costume and makeup may fit this bill, but they seem to be too obvious and sort of overstated so I wondered what kinds of things others would give their apprentice clowns getting their feet wet.
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  14. tim

    tim Have red nose, will travel

    Spinning plates. A juggling hat. (Ideally a throwable hat that you can catch on your head.) Peacock feathers. All offer amazingly interactive possibilities with an audience. (I regularly gig doing walkaround based largely on this.)
  15. Squirty

    Squirty New Member

    Hand stamps are great for parades and our group likes to hand out bead necklaces. Just quick conversation starters.

    I usually keep some balloons and a couple foam balls in my pocket to make an animal or do a trick. I also keep a kazoo, because why not.

    Cheapest, easiest thing, learn a bunch of bad jokes. Costs you nothing but time.
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  16. The NORMAL One

    The NORMAL One Active Member

    I started out by getting my costumes, wigs, make up and great deal of props, and other stuff I thought I needed. Over the years I have refine my clown . I realize did not need all that stuff. I would tell you to keep it simple and as you develope add props you need. Also find a mentor who been clowning for while. If possible join a clown alley or group.
    Laughs and smiles your way.
  17. Pookie

    Pookie Well-Known Member

    When possible, with magic tricks, I usually follow Stan Laurel's example, and kind of have it just happen, like it is the most natural thing in the world. Otherwise, as has been suggested, I work in my own patter that fits my character. Or, it is a little more difficult, sometimes I try to make it look like the trick is going in one direction, and then go in a completely different direction.

    One I did, that got a surprising amount of interest, is to get a sleep mask and cut out the inside panel. This will allow you see well enough to get around and do some simple things. Once the mask was on I talked to the crowd while facing in the other direction. Take out a bunch of blown up balloons, I used ones that were all white, and several colored scarves. Ask an audience member to pick a scarf and you will guess the color and get a balloon of that color. Once the scarf was picked, I guessed it was the wrong color and then went through the white balloons and pulled one out and presented it the crowd, who informed me that I picked the wrong balloon. I took off the blindfold and asked if they were sure. Suddenly the balloon burst in a flurry of powder and confetti, revealing a balloon of the correct color.
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  18. LarryTheClown

    LarryTheClown Well-Known Member

    When I started out, I wasn't really that great in magic. Mainly did some balloon twisting and then went on to juggling.

    Magic is the best way to keep kids engaged though. In my personal kit I have the following:
    - Magic coloring book
    - Chinese magic box (don't know if there's a more PC name for that now)
    - Magic thumb with hankerchief
    - Multiplying carrots trick
    - A mop string that you can use for an easy "2 strings to 1" magic trick
    - A foam ball
    - Four Altoid containers to do a shell game trick

    I gathered these bits over the last few years and just kept accumulating them. The coloring book is probably the easiest one to do and the most awe inspiring.
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  19. Iowa_newbie

    Iowa_newbie New Member

    Loving this site so far. great ideas
  20. Dylan

    Dylan Active Member

    I would say "Creative Clowning" by Bruce Fife et al. This is the book I started with back in the late 90s and it is still the book I look at to learn new things. Unlike a lot of clowning books I have read this one focuses on the skills that make a clown, not the personality needed. There is a section for every variety art and even though it is starting to show age, the information in the book is timeless.

    The second thing I would say is a sign that says "Don't spend money on clowning yet." There are a lot of props/costumes/etc. that you can drop a boat load of money on, when in reality you don't actually need them. My first juggling clubs were plungers, my first costume was a thrift shop special, and the list goes on.

    Once you have figured out what your focus is going to be initially then drop some dollars on the props you need. Don't end up a clown hoarder with a room full of props that you haven't mastered or didn't like once you received them. Also, you only ever need one unicycle.

    If you are going to spend money starting off, spend it on make-up. That would be a great thing to include in a beginner kit. Because your face is the hardest and most important part of being a clown. Everything else will build off of that.

    So for the kit I guess:
    -Creative Clowning
    -Make up kit

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