By FOX News Radio’s Tonya J. Powers in New York
Clowning around is serious work! I spent a recent Saturday morning at “Clown U”, the training session for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade clowns. It was held at the Big Apple Circus at Lincoln Center and is a crash course in clowning (which is a lot harder than it looks).
The day gets started with a welcome from Amanda Kistela, who is a manager in Event Operations for Macy’s, and runs the Clown U program (in addition to the many other hats she wears). Part of her job is keeping track of all those clowns. “We have about 900 clowns in the parade and they’re all very, very excited to be here”. They learn how important it is to wave to everyone – not just the people on the parade route, but also to those higher up in buildings, and those watching the parade from home on TV.
These clowns take their work seriously (well, sort of). They take the “Clown Oath” and are sworn in before they are trained.
(Due to the Top Secret nature of the Oath, I can’t reveal its contents. Well, that, and I can’t remember all of it.)
Then it’s time for a warm-up! All the clowns get out on the circus arena floor and work it out in preparation for the hard stuff – a little choreography and a lot more clowning around.
Interaction with the crowd is fundamental… and one of the reasons some clowns, like Shannon Bain, who’s been in the parade for four years, and keeps coming back. This year, he’s one of Santa’s Toy Box Clowns.
They have the coveted spot in front of the Big Guy himself, and get to tell kids Santa’s coming. I asked him why he does it. “Why would you not want to do this? It’s amazing. It’s a lot of fun. You get to run through the streets of Manhattan that you never would get to run down, shaking five million hands.” He says it goes by pretty fast, and his favorite part is the children. “You see thousands of kids and you wouldn’t think you’d get little moments but you get little moments to bend down and talk to kids and make their day a little bit brighter. It makes you feel good.”
The clowns are volunteers, and not just anyone gets to do the job. The clown ranks are made up of Macy’s employees, as well as employee friends and family members. Employees can recommend potential clowns, which is how Betty Regan joined the group this year. Betty told me it’s been a dream of hers for decades. How long? “Fifty years”, she said. “I’m so excited.” Her kids gave her the gift of being a Macy’s Clown this year for her 83rd birthday. “They searched, they were working on it all year.” Betty said she saw her first parade when she was six or seven years old, but wasn’t able to go every year. “We didn’t go often when I was a kid…we had too many kids. I really got crazy about it when I got to be about 55. Everybody I saw (I’d ask) do you work for Macy’s?” Betty told me people ask her why she wants to be in the parade. “I think it’s not a very good question, because I thought everybody wanted to be in the parade!”
Shaleah Marshall is a Patriotic Clown this year, and is serving as a Clown Captain for the second year. They’re the leaders of each group who pass along clowning techniques and advice to new clowns. She has worked for Macy’s since 2012 and was recruited by a coworker. “You always hear, growing up, about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and to be in it, of course, is something I checked off my bucket list.” She says she’ll be back next year.
Clown U is one of the happiest places I have ever been. Everyone is smiling and laughing, having a great time. And I can assure you… those smiles you see on TV on Thanksgiving morning are for real. These clowns love every minute of their — sometimes cold — stroll through Manhattan.
LISTEN to FOX News Radio’s Tonya J. Powers reporting from “Clown U”: