SOME women become accountants, some become doctors, and some may even train as teachers, office workers and even ‘fisherwomen’. But Noeleen Breen from Strangford has done something completely off the wall and everyone is literally laughing at her… because she has become a professional clown! Her clown name is Silly Tilly.
Since training with the Belfast Circus School in 1992 and taking part in the ‘grand tour’, Noeleen has dedicated herself to becoming an entertainer who makes children (and adults) laugh, marvel and jump for joy. Having started clowning as a hobby, it was not long before it took over her life.
“I am very involved in the clowning and festival scene. Over the year I get invited to join in a number of festivals far and wide and the farthest I have travelled is Slovenia for an international festival.
‘Through the year and into the main summer season I am involved with my business called Kablitz in running workshops, summer schemes, clown shows and puppet shows. I have taken part in the St Patrick Parade many times and people would know me from being one of the stilt walkers. This can be a bit of a dangerous job especially when the road surface is wet or it is windy. I remember one day coming down Irish Street in a bit of a run as I was afraid to stop in case my grips skidded. When I got to the bottom I stopped in a spectacular 360 degree spin which looked impressive and part of the act… it wasn’t!
“I also teach at the Belfast Circus which is great fun helping the newcomers to clowning and street performing. In the Down area there is a new organisation called Circu Sanguine. We are trying to get this off the ground. It is to provide youth circus training.
“If a group wants to get involved in developing these skills I am happy to provide training and support. However, with the cutbacks in the arts generally groups are finding it harder to find funding to support these innovative schemes as arts budgets are cut. Young people really benefit from taking part in them. It is great for boosting their self- confidence and self-esteem.”
Noeleen has taken part in the Clown International, a major clown event held last time in Bognor Regis. “This is the show case event for clowns and any clown who wants to get up to the dizzy heights will take part in it,” said Noeleen, “There are professional development talks, skills workshops and lots more for a busy clown to get involved in. At the end of the event there is a grand parade. This takes place in the end of February into March usually, being out of season as many clowns have bookings from Easter through the summer.
“In 2014, this event will come back to Ireland in Cork. It travels round the world. It will attract 3000 jugglers alone. One of the stipulations for the organisers is that those bidding to have the event must have camping facilities for 3000 people and be able to put on a big show attracting thousands.
“So clowning is a very organised profession. I just love doing it. I get a great buzz from seeing happy faces and hearing the laughter and seeing the reactions. My nephew Stephen (9) is also really enjoying his clowning. Stephen’s clown name is BB Bubbles, and previously as a 2-year old he was known as Baby Bubbles.
“When you become a professional clown, you have to get registered and this process involves you getting your face painted on an egg by a specialist painter. These eggs are stored at the Clowns’ International Museum in Wookey Hole in England which is a big tourist attraction.”
“I have now acquired a range of specialist business skills. I can organise street entertainment for festivals, understand risk assessment etc required and can advise on this. Clowning is similar to being a butcher or baker, as there are some basic business activities one has to do such as keeping the books and records.
“But for me, putting on my red nose and my clown attire is just something I love to do. In the old days clowns tended to paint their whole faces when performing in circuses and theatre in order to make their expressions more poignant. But these days some children may find these fully painted faces a bit scary. I use a red nose and a little make-up which works well.
“There will always be clowns while there is laughter. I love my work, but really it is a labour of love. I’m lucky to be doing something that gives me so much pleasure.
“In the future I hope to develop my clowning business Kablitz further. Silly Tilly is just warming up.
“I can with a bit of notice get a wide range of entertainers to events. The list includes: living statues; clowns; jugglers; unicyclists; stilt walkers; pirates; monsters; trolls; Santa Claus; Mrs Claus and elves; comedy waiters, doormen and tradesmen; ghostly characters; fire eaters; living history guides, murder mystery nights, party paparazzi, face painters, baloon modellers; character actors and theme nights.”
But Noeleen has another secret passion in her life that drives her on. She is a second Dan black belt in Shotokan karate. She explained that many clowns go to the gym to keep fit as their work can be demanding physically, but Noeleen is already super-fit with her training in the dojo. And Noeleen is currently developing a new karate clown routine which should be a killer!
I just can’t visualise Noeleen doing a flying kick with her big clown shoes on. Karate and clowning may be worlds apart, but in her case they have become so very complementary. They are all about stamina, timing, focus, practising the skills until they are second nature, plain intuition, and being in control always.