Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Barbara Klein.
And I’m Christopher Cruise. Clowning has been a part of show business for hundreds of years, across many cultures. In the circus, at theaters or birthday parties, clowns bring laughter to young and old. This week, we look at the people who wear the colorful wigs, big shoes and red noses. We also hear from a young magician. And later in our program, we learn about a business gaining in popularity across the country.
The main idea behind clowning is the same today as it was in ancient times.
“Clowns don’t normally tell a lot of jokes, they are the joke.”
Elena Day is director and co-producer of a multi-media production called On the Nose. In the show, clowns Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell play a professor and his assistant.
“He’s trying to give a lecture. He’s already studied. He knows everything.”
Their performance includes parts of a film documentary about clowning.
“You see on the video, you see these clowns interviewed, talking very seriously, well - not always seriously, but they are talking about clowning, the intellectual side, the theory and the issues of clowning.”
Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell are husband and wife in real life. They also operate a performance company called Happenstance Theater. Sabrina Mandell says their two worlds are interconnected.
“It’s there all the time. Like sometimes we take off the makeup and we’re walking around and we’re still a clown. So, I love it.”
Clown and actor Matthew Pauli says face paint is an important part of a clown’s identity. To him, the paint does not cover the face, but is instead more like a magnifying glass.
“The white is very specifically a lot like putting a little spot light on a part of your face. I white around my mouth a little bit so that the movement and expression of my mouth is easy to see from a distance. But I would never paint on a smile or a frown, or a particular facial expression because then I’m limited.”
Elena Day says interacting with people is what makes clowning a unique performing experience. But she says it also is serious business that takes training and education.
“Many of the top universities teach clowning now. They teach theatrical clowning."
She notes that modern clowns might not always look like the performers of the past, but they are continuing a tradition.
“The clown may not be wearing white face makeup, crazy wig, they may not even wear the red nose and yet all of the other qualities of clowning are there.”
Mark Jaster says those qualities include the ability to connect with crowds through facial expressions and physical skill, and -- a sense of humor.
“Mime became an important element of the clowning because of the language barrier. A kick in the seat of the pants is funny in any language, providing it is somebody else’s pants.”
Magic tricks are nearly as old as written history. In modern times, magic is a stage show where buildings can disappear and women are cut in half. But it is more than just smoke and mirrors. It is about the show and the magician.
“I’m Josh Norris and I’m going to show you a really cool trick that you can do with a toothpick. In a moment we’ll come back, and I’ll actually teach you how it’s done, but first, check it out! Gone. All you’ve got to do is reach up in the air and grab it.”
Some people spend a lifetime in search of a calling. But sometimes it just comes naturally.
Josh Norris spends a lot of his time performing magic tricks for his family and friends.
“I’ve been doing magic since I was 12 years old… but right away I knew this was something I wanted to do the rest of my life.”
But he says the real magic is in the show…
“Do you have a fruit or vegetable in mind? Take a look at it.
“Oh, it’s ripe, yeah?? Okay, okay, you got a good one. Drop it in the bag. Drop it in the bag.”
“It’s really about the performer and his character. Each performer has his own style.”
“What is the fruit or vegetable that you’re thinking of?”
“A lime. Inside the bag, I reach down and I get, check this out, a little lime.”
But he pulls out an egg.
“It’s not really about the tricks that he does… but the way that they do them and the story that they tell.”
“Reach down inside and show them the egg.”
“Let me try one last time… Inside the bag we get… a lime.”
“Everyone in my entire life has told me I’m crazy, yeah, except for my family.”
That is partly because Josh Norris graduated with honors from the University of Maryland. He rejected several job offers and decided on a career as a magician.
“It wasn’t crazy, because this is something I loved, and what’s crazy about pursuing your passion?”
It is a spirit of showmanship that keeps Josh performing, and the crowd in its seats. This night, however, he performs for some special guests…
“The president of the United States of America… Barack Obama! … You all looked!”
“Barack Obama, ladies and gentlemen!”
Even if that is a trick, too. Because sometimes the show is about the performer, and not as much the trick.
Since the economic problems of two thousand eight, surviving has been difficult for businesses in many industries. But in Los Angeles, one kind of business that has grown during recession times is the blow-dry bar.
A blow-dry bar is not your usual hair care salon. The workers at Dry Bar do not cut or color hair. Their goal is to make everyone look like a star with a top quality shampoo and blow dry. The price for everything is thirty-five dollars.
College student Adrienne Zubia loves this kind of service.
“It is such a good deal that I am willing to set aside thirty-five dollars every week for it. So I save my money on meals, because this is more worth it for me than going out to eat."
Alli Webb is the founder of Dry Bar.
“We feel like we are not selling blow-outs. We are selling happiness and confidence that comes with a great blow-out, and I think women everywhere want to feel that way.”
Alli Webb opened her first blow-dry salon in Los Angeles.
“I found that there was a really big hole in the marketplace. There was either a high-end salon where you’re paying upwards of $80, $90, $100 or there was the discount chain where you kind of don’t know what you are getting, and I just felt like we needed a place where you can go in and get a great blow-out at a great price.”
Hollywood stars including Julia Roberts and Cindy Crawford have gone to Dry Bar to get their hair styled. Business has been so good that in just two years, Ms. Webb has set up a total of sixteen blow-dry businesses across the United States. By the end of next year, she expects to open nine more.
But Dry Bar is not the only hair salon of its kind to find success. Gretty Hasson owns MyBlow LA.
“They are popping up every single day in a different location and they are everywhere all across the U.S."
Gretty Hasson started the business two years ago.
“We realized it was a big trend that started. It was in San Francisco, in Canada and some in New York of these blow-dry bars opening up, and we realized what better place than Beverly Hills to open one up. We opened up during the recession time. It actually helped us in a way, a lot, because women who were going and getting their hair done once a week and paying $70 were now able to go and get their hair done twice a week and pay $70. And women who weren’t really able to get their hair done for $70 were now able to go and get their hair done for $35.”
She will soon be opening her second blow-dry bar.
Many blow-dry bars offer women a spa-like treatment. A visit may include sparkling wine and something to eat. Some salons even play movies. Susanna Brisk says she likes the ability to get good service without paying a lot.
“I am a writer, actor, mom kind of person. I am not a lady who ‘lunches.’ I am not going to go and get $500 hair cuts every week. So yeah, I love it. I think it is really good.”
Gretty Hasson says blow-dry bars are not just a popular trend. She expects them to be on every street in every city, in the not so distant future.