Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: The art of clowning is serious business at Clownfest 2013

Do you have what it takes to be a clown? Do you have parade-ability? This could be your chance as novice and advanced clowns from across the country converge in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Aug. 22-24, for Clownfest 2013.

Formerly held in Seaside Heights, N.J., this year's 32nd Clownfest will attract the sillies under one roof at the Lancaster Host Resort & Conference Center in East Lampeter Twp., Lancaster Co. There will be classes for caring (hospital) clowns, ministry clowns and puppeteers, and restaurant performers, to name a few. Specialty vendors also will be on hand with clown and magic supplies and costumes. Trophies will be awarded in clowning competitions involving makeup and costumes, parade-ability, balloons and face painting, along with performance coaching and certification in the clown arts.

On Fri., Aug. 23, the colorful wonders will join the Lancaster Barnstormers minor league baseball team as they entertain the crowd at Clipper Magazine Stadium with a meet and greet, a Clownfest parade, and throwing out the first pitch.

So just what is parade-ability, and how can you tell if you have it? Clownfest producer Vincent A. Pagliano – a clown, himself – is happy to explain.

"In clowning, you have to be able to instantaneously entertain a group, making it fun and simple," he said. "Then you have to reset by walking across the street and doing it again. It has to be quick, funny and smart. And it has to be understandable, minus any written words, so even a kid can understand."

Pagliano is producer and chairman of the National Clown Arts Project, Inc., based in Colts Neck, Monmouth Co., N.J. He's also in the parade business as owner of Funny Factory Productions. His first clown event in 1981 came about as the result of his friendship with a restaurateur in Asbury Park, N.J., who collected – what else? -- clown memorabilia and encouraged the local chamber of commerce to support a clowning event. Pagliano was the originating producer of the "Garden State Clown Convention," which became the "Asbury Park Festival of Clowns," and finally "Clownfest."

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Pagliano, left, was a corporate advertising executive who said he was experiencing "corporate burnout." He was doing clowning part-time until an entertainment company called him about his act. "I never looked back," Pagliano said. For the next 37 years, his professional clowning would take him across the country and around the world performing at fairs, parades, and even before royalty in Morocco. He said his clowning even reached the Lehigh Valley some years back with a grandstand performance at the Great Allentown Fair. His act was an opener for the demolition derby and involved a simulated explosion in a comedy clown car.

As "VAPPO" (Vincent Anthony Pagliano Professional Oaf) the clown, Pagliano said he continues to delight audiences by riding his four-wheeled Calli-A-Bike, part bicycle and part calliope, and his comedy and stunt cars. He's also performed with his Funny Factory Clown Band at Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parades.

"I'm addicted to laughter," he said. "When people see me entertain, I want them to leave saying they had a great time and ‘when can we experience that again?'"

A regular attendee of the Clownfests is Bill Meck, right, of Lower Macungie Twp., Lehigh Co., known as "Schmooze the Clown." Dressed in a red-and-white striped shirt, baggy plaid pants and tailored tails, Meck has been clowning for about 25 years and primarily performs now at corporate events. He retired in May 2006 as a foreman with PennDOT, where he worked for 38 years and developed its safety awareness program for schools. He also clowned throughout the commonwealth for PennDOT's employee recognition program.

Meck said Clownfest keeps him abreast of relevant issues in the profession, such as liability and security measures and, of course, how to keep the laughter coming. Whereas people don't take the time to stop and smell the flowers, Meck said, "People need to stop and watch the entertainer. They need to leave feeling good about themselves."

Meck not only is a professional entertainer, but he's an auctioneer with Zettlemoyer Auction Company in Fogelsville, Lehigh Co. He said there are many times, sans makeup, that his clowning skills come in handy at the auction platform. He also takes the stage at local Pennsylvania German Groundhog Lodges and at the annual Kutztown Folk Festival as "Hanswascht the Clown."

Among the specialty vendors at Clownfest each year is John Spear, who's been making custom soles for clowns like Pagliano and Meck for more than 30 years. His company, Spear Specialty Shoe Company in Springfield, Mass., also outfits major sports mascots like the "Umpire Bird" of the Baltimore Orioles, film stars like Jim Carrey in the Universal Studios production of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000), and most of the Broadway cast in "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical." He's also worked with Cirque du Soleil and Walt Disney World.

Spear said he credits Johnny Carson with making him "a kitchen name" in the clowning industry. He explained that it was on TV's "The Tonight Show," when Carson was host and Doc Severinsen was bandleader. Severinsen wore a spiffy Western-style outfit one evening that caught the attention of Carson in his opening monologue. Carson commented in jest to his audience how all that was missing from Severinsen's outfit was "a pair of bright yellow clown shoes." Spear said he was looking at the show that night and immediately sent a pair of bright yellow clown shoes to Carson who, when he received them, actually brought them on the show. It was when Carson was doing his skit as the turbaned psychic, "Carnac the Magnificent," that he tried on the clown shoes and credited "John Sears" instead of "John Spear," and his specialty shoe company.

"We never forwarded a correction," Spear said. "We never even asked for recognition. We were just so excited when he mentioned us and literally made us a kitchen name after that."

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The Reading Community Players presents the children's production, "The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley, Jr.," through Sunday, at 403 N. 11 St., Reading. Stanley Lambchop, played by Nicholas Panase, is your ordinary 10-year-old with a normal family, but that's the problem…life is too normal. When the unexpected happens to him, that's when he scours the globe for a solution to his unusual problem.

The cast includes Alex Goshert as his mother, Pete Clauser as his dad, Sharon Borkey as the littlest Lambchop, Arthur, and Nina Botvin is Mrs. Cartero, the narrator. Director is Debbi Silas, assisted by Julia Minotto.

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The Museum of Indian Culture in Allentown holds its 33rd annual Roasting Ears of Corn Festival on Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., rain or shine, at 2825 Fish Hatchery Rd. Grand entrance is at noon.

Master of ceremonies is George Stonefish, with live music and dance performances by the Silver Cloud Singers, White Buffalo Singers, Aztec Fire Dancing by the Salinas Family, Matthew White Eagle Clair, Mikmaq hoop dancer, and American Indian performers. There will be hands-on activities for children, along with life skills and cooking demonstrations.

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Allentown Public Theatre presents Sam Kuglen's modern adaption of "Pinocchio," beginning Friday through Aug. 25, at St. Luke's Church, 417 N. 7th St., Allentown. Director is Marcie Schlener.

In 1883, Carlo Collodi created the popular story of Gepetto, a poor woodcarver, and his mischievous puppet, Pinocchio, who comes to life complete with a nose that grows with every lie he tells. Pinocchio dreams of becoming a real boy and through his misadventures learns about the consequences of his actions and what love and family mean.

The cast includes Lana Brucker as Pinocchio and Stephen Aguirre as Gepetto/Puppet Master, with Jen Kurtz, Vivian Rose and Kate Hughes.

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Third Mask Theatre Company presents the Tony Award-winning, "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," Friday through Sunday, at Northeast Middle School, 1170 Fernwood St., Bethlehem, with Charlie Brown and friends from Charles Schulz' revered comic strip, "Peanuts." Though Charlie Brown is considered a "good man" by his friends, he can't seem to win heart. Eventually all come to realize what makes them truly happy.

The cast includes Brady Hill as Charlie Brown, Victoria Scovens as Lucy van Pelt, Vince Rostkowski as Snoopy, Adam Conti as Linus van Pelt, Dustin Brinker as Schroeder, Kelly Chemidlin as Sally Brown, Madison Donchez as Peppermint Patty, Elizabeth Boehm as Marcie/Little Red-Headed Girl, Dimitri Mitchell as Franklin, and Ben Adams as Pig Pen.

Artistic/musical director is Nick Conti, who founded Third Mask with Jon Hoffman in 2010. Both are graduates of Freedom High School and credit theater teacher Jennifer Wescoe for their love for theater. Conti also performed at the Freddy Awards in Freedom's musicals and was nominated for his lead role as Albert Peterson in "Bye Bye Birdie" and supporting role as the Tinman in "The Wizard of Oz." He will pursue graduate studies in music performance (he plays the trumpet) at Arizona State University this fall. Hoffman, a graduate of Lehigh University, is currently a counselor at a community center day camp for children ages 4 through 12.

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