ENGLEWOOD — International Clown Week is an opportunity for Barbara Waters-Riddle and her Clowns Like Us troupe time to put their best faces forward.
International Clown Week started in 1971 after a proclamation was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. It allows governors and mayors to declare their own personal clown week proclamation in their state or city. Clowns Like Us has received more than 15 proclamations over the years, since Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1997.
And to celebrate, they’ve planned a series of events from Thursday through Aug. 7 in Englewood and Port Charlotte.
“We have six adults and one junior participating,” said Waters-Riddle, who founded Clowns Like Us in 1996 to teach and share the art of clowning. “All of us here have the same feeling, trying to pass smiles through Englewood. It’s a time-honored tradition.”
Waters-Riddle started her life as a clown in 1970, and professionally since 1990. She performs under the name “Nuzzles” the clown.
“We started at the Lemon Bay Playhouse where we had clown classes,” she said. “We stayed until we outgrew the place.”
The group offers weekly courses from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Suncoast Auditorium, 700 Medical Blvd., Englewood.
“We have skill classes in stilt-walking, facepainting, magic, balloon-twisting, juggling, skits and parade ability,” Waters-Riddle said. “We repeat week after week. We’re not circus clowns.”
Genie Zimmerman never thought she would be performing as a clown, but a little over a year later as “Be-Bop” the clown, she’s become the “cool” grandmother of her family.
“The only clowns I’ve seen before were Shriner’s clowns,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said as she trained, she found she liked face-painting, but wasn’t good on stilts.
“I stick with the same basic look,” she said. “I never had makeup where it would be scary. I just like to be a happy, bubbly and energetic clown.”
Zimmerman said her participation last year was hindered by her work schedule, but she plans to be more active during this year’s International Clown Week.
“I think anytime you’re out there, you need to be a role model,” she said. “Children repeat what they see, and you want to make sure what you do is appropriate and it leaves a positive impression.
“It’s about the same with crowds. If they’re afraid of clowns, you want to be more mindful.”
Zimmerman said when she learned about origami (Japanese paper folding) and showed her grandchildren, they passed on what they learned to the classroom. Bette Harrington and her 8-year-old granddaughter went one step further and joined together.
“I’ve been with Clowns Like Us for five years and performing for three years,” Harrington said. “I enjoy entertaining people. It’s a great family thing to do.”
Harrington performs as “Peaches.”
“We’re working on juggling, which takes a lot of time,” she said. “Face-painting is difficult because it takes a lot of creativity. I’m not really that creative. My granddaughter doesn’t seem to have that problem.”
“I think it’s an awesome thing (being a clown),” Zimmerman said. “I wish people were more aware how great this is.”
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