Archive for Thursday, January 13, 2005

Serious Clowning

Local clown juggles being mentor, entertainer; finds balance beneath balloons and make-up

January 13, 2005

Eudora resident Rita Winter prefers the title of professional clown. She says it makes people stop and think.

"I'm not a physical clown. I won't take a pie in the face and I don't belong to the circus," Winter said. "I am a caring clown. I am a professional."

Auguste Human Exemplifier is the technical term used to describe Dizzy the Clown, Winter's primary entertaining personality and what she jokingly refers to as her "alter-ego."

By Winter's definition, an AHE is a clown whose character is an exaggeration of the human condition -- a prankster with a slapstick sense of humor.

When nothing seems to being going right Dizzy will take the fall, but she can stand -- sometimes with a little help.

"I just adopt their personality," Winter said. "It's good therapy for me. You lose all of your inhibitions and become someone else. Things that have happened to Rita haven't happened to Dizzy."

It all started nine years ago in Great Bend where Winter was living with her husband.

While volunteering at a fund-raiser for the Britspaugh Zoo in Great Bend, Winter created a rag doll mascot named Marigold and wrote a short story for children about Marigold living in the zoo.

"Before it was all over, I realized that I had agreed to be Marigold and dress up," Winter said. "I had never done anything like that before."

The first time Winter became the woman behind the make-up, she was very careful to cover her face completely.

"I didn't want anyone to know who I was," she said. "It didn't occur to me that I was a clown. I was a doll.

"I wasn't being a clown by any means, as far as I was concerned. I was offended if you called me a clown."

It was this accidental spoof that led Winter to the realization that not only did she enjoy playing the clown but she was also good at it.

The next year, Winter moved to Texas where the character of Dizzy was created.

"When I realized that I could walk up to people and talk to them as this character without them knowing who I was...I loved it," Winter said.

When others were at their worst, Winter was at her best, and she considered it her duty to put a smile on their face.

Winters goes by many names. Most often she is Dizzy the Clown, but she also takes on the personalities of JoBe Joy, J.J., Sparkle, Flutter, Mrs. Anna Claus, and most recently Scarlet O'Hot Flasher.

Winter said clowning around was now her business as well as her job. While most of her clowning is volunteer work, she is also a clown for hire. Through her business "Clowns & Stuff" Winter will perform at events from birthday parties to open houses, grand openings, school carnivals and wedding receptions.

Winter may be a clown, but she takes her job seriously. She is a member of both Clown of America International and the World Clown Assn. She attends at least one clown conference a year and goes to training workshops. She's even been to clown camp.

Winter mentors other younger clowns through her Jayhawk Joey's 4 Jesus program, she volunteers at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, and is president of Clown Club.

Dizzy the Clown comes complete with a corky outfit, wig, make-up and a wonderful support system.

"My family has been understanding and supportive," Winter said. "They've even helped out a little along the way,"

Rita still can't convince her husband to "clown-up," but that doesn't stop him from lending a hand when she volunteers.

Even her 4-year-old grandson Lucas Griffith is learning how to tie balloons to create animals. His favorites are the cat, dog and giraffe.

"I like a really tall giraffe," Griffith said. "When I grow up I want to be a doctor, a KU basketball player and a clown."

Griffith said when he starts entertaining, his clown name will be Bizzy.

"Without a doubt this is one of the most rewarding, humbling and fulfilling things that I've ever been involved with," Winter said. "When I put on the make-up, I'm not Rita at all. But now Rita can do a lot more than she ever did."

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