Manuela Markham lives to clown around

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 10, 2003

Special to the News-Herald

Manuela Markham hasn’t always been a clown.

But it’s become almost second nature to the Suffolk woman, who has been practicing the joyful craft since she was 17.


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&uot;Clowning has affected my whole personality,&uot; said Markham, a professional clown. &uot;Everything that I am is because of clowning.

&uot;My family, my friends, everyone I know, are all affected by my being a clown. …It’s part of me.&uot;

The past week has been a special time for Markham, a Suffolk resident and an officer in two local clowning organizations.

Markham and her fun-loving colleagues celebrated International Clown Week Aug. 1-7. In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon issued the proclamation setting aside the days to recognize the joy and laughter that clowns bring into people’s lives.

Over the past week, Markham appeared at a variety of venues promoting the weeklong celebration. Made up into her clowning persona, Markham has applied face paint and doled out stickers and balloons to dozens of children across Hampton Roads this week. For example, on Aug. 2, she and fellow members of the Christian Clown Club and the Jubilee Jesters visited Portsmouth City Park. And on Aug. 4, she went to the Blessing of the Clowns at Hickory Neck Episcopal Church in Toano.

To the onlooker, clowning appears to be all fun and games, Markham said. But anyone who has ever tried it knows just how challenging it can be.

&uot;It’s not easy,&uot; Markham said. &uot;It’s tough work. You have to be physically fit to stand in 90 degree weather with layers of clothing piled on.&uot;

But the happiness a clown is able to share with others makes all the extra efforts worthwhile.

&uot;There’s no better feeling in the world than making children laugh,&uot; said Markham. &uot;The gift of laughter is unbelievable. And if you can do it, you are truly blessed.&uot;

A New Jersey native, Markham began clowning in the 1980s at an amusement park. Fourteen years and numerous clown classes and conventions later, Markham is now the president of the Jubilee Jesters in Virginia Beach. She also edits the newsletter for the Suffolk-based Christian Clown Club of Virginia and runs Bubblehead Entertainment.

The clowning community has two major international trade organizations: Clowns of America International and World Clowning Association.

Clown clubs are usually referred to as &uot;alleys,&uot; honoring the circus days when clowns would be gathered in one section of the big top called &uot;Clown Alley,&uot; Markham added.

Markham and her husband, Scott, have two sons, Kyle, 14 and Zachary, 12.

The Christian Clown Club next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Liberty Baptist Church. Visitors are welcome.