Clowning Around Union Square

I was walking down Madison Avenue with a friend (actually, it might have been a date…gray area…but that’s another story) this weekend discussing irrational fears. My personal contribution was minimal. I once had a fear of needles though it never reached phobia-level; health issues that required repeated needling of my throat forced me to over come it. Now I’m just afraid of boring, rational stuff like vulnerability and failure. He on the other hand, revealed a fear of clowns. Clowns! This is a man who rates relatively high on the masculine scale: he isn’t afraid of blood infections (he’s had multiple) or spending the night in a pitch dark woods, not of skydiving (he’s been twice), nor of climbing buildings while somewhat inebriated (no comment). Yet, he’s afraid of circus performers, child entertainers. The poor guy revealed to me his biggest fear and me? I laughed. I’m a jerk.

I know it is a fairly common fear, technically called coulrophobia. If you yourself suffer from it, I apologize, and you may hate this post.

What can I say? I like clowns. In part thanks to witnessing expert clowning by Bill Irwin and Lorenzo Pisoni (my latest stage crush). I like clowns so much, if I hear a clown parade is taking place in Manhattan…I’m there.

The New York Clown Theatre Festival began this weekend. Festivities kicked off with an opening day parade at 5:30PM in Union Square. Apparently, clowns like to arrive fashionable late, like all New Yorkers. When I arrived at 5:25PM, I could count five funny looking people: two of them were goth teenagers and three of them had slightly worried, painted faces. “What if no one else shows up?” their expressions read, “I’m going to look like an idiot!”

One early-arriver waits anxiously, not yet putting on her shoes incase she needs to flee the scene.
Another feels a little tight around the collar and tries to hide behind a trash can.
But this one said, “So I’m the first clown at the party, so what! I can entertain these kids all by myself!”

But show up they did. By 5:45PM Union Square was crawling with people in colorful clothes, red noses, and silly faces.

Bags of red noses were opened and passed around, instantly transforming any civilian into a clown.

The kids are the best part. Their giggles and squeals of laughter are really what clowning is all about. I miss entertaining kids. The little blonde boy was my favorite. I think this was his first clown experience. Barely three, he was intrigued and trepidatious simultaneously. He was single minded about his mommy turning clown though, “oh hell no”. He hurled that nose off her face seconds after I snapped the photograph. Still, I think he had a positive experience. Perhaps he’ll be blogging about his love of clowns in 20+ years.

I was far from the only one behind a camera. Like most parades, this was a media hub, those being photographed all too eager to pose and ham it up for the camera.

At about 5:55PM a circle of photographers formed around one clown. Everyone peered around to get a closer look. It was a drag Marilyn Monroe clown, posing over a subway grate, flapping up her dress periodically to reveal polka-dotted briefs. The cameras loved her.

Most were on the subtler side of clowning. A silly, colorful outfit and perhaps a red nose.

Some were more on the zany side of traditional costumes- oversized pants, (aptly named) clown shoes, roller skates.

Still, no one was exactly a clown cliché- full face of make-up, red wig, flower that squirts water, etc. It seemed these performers know all too well the dangers of coulrophobia. They want to avoid ever being a “scary clown”. Clowning really is a type of performance, it’s a shame it is now more associated with a type of look. These performance have the main goal to make their audiences laugh, it must break their hearts when they induce terror rather than smiles.

It was all smiles at the Clown Parade. I didn’t see one frightened looking person, heard no screams of fright. Everyone seemed amused or bemused as the clowns paraded past them around the square.

A subway ride of clowns piled into a train car followed this parade. The destination: a climactic pie fight in Brooklyn. I did not attend, but there is a whole tumblr devoted to pictures of it here! Looks super silly!

The Clown Theatre Festival continues for the entire month of September with nightly performances at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn. I don’t know if my love of clowns extends so much that I will actually attend a performance, but I am considering it. I do know it was certainly a whole lot of fun to watch them clown around Union Square!

I think it is hilarious that the New York Clown Theatre Festival coincides with New York Fashion Week. I wrote a post all about the similarities of Fashion Week and the circus two years ago, can the timing of these events possibly be coincidence?

This lovely young lady was walking through Union Square during the festivities and I had to take her picture. I couldn’t tell if she had dressed for fashion (mixing floral prints is a huge trend right now) or for the clown parade. Regardless, she looks fabulous!

And you? What’s your take on clowns? Assure me none of you a traumatized by this post!

About New York Cliche

NYC lifestyle blog by Mary Lane. Events, adventures, epic mistakes, dating, life, humor. A 20-something trying to make it (and make out) in the city of dreams.

5 thoughts on “Clowning Around Union Square

  1. I’ve always liked clowns. My first memory of them was at the Ringling Bros. circus in NYC when dozens of clowns magically exited from a very small car. The timing – this one has gotta be the last…wait, here comes another! – was perfect. Your photos are terrific. Like the Roosevelt Island post, they illuminate places that are hard for me to experience directly. (Just as when I was a child, I’m stuck out here on boring old Long Island.) My favorite aunt took me to that circus long ago, and I love it that you, Cliche, take me places too.

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