By Patsy Isenberg
“Turning frowns upside down one smile at a time” is the motto of the Mott Campus Clowns. And in a Nov. 30 appearance at Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary School, they appeared to do just that, along with delivering gentle but serious anti-bullying messages.
The event was for pre-K through third grade students and was hosted by Principal Angela Ascencio-Mindlin, Community Schools Director Chris Collins, and all of the teachers.
The word “SMILE” provided an acronym for anti-bullying advice offered by the troupe: S stands for “speak up,” M for “move beside the one being bullied,” I for “inform an adult,” L for “leave no one out of activities,” and E for “embrace friends of all kinds.”
Near the end of the show the kids were asked to recite an oath: “I, (their name), do hereby pledge to not bully others. When I see bullying, I will step in and say: ‘That’s not funny! Quit clowning around!’ From this day forth I will turn frowns upside down one S-M-I-L-E at a time.”
The 90-minute show was performed twice that day, once at 10:15 a.m. and again at 1:15 p.m. Collins estimated there were about 130 children at the second show. Earlier that morning the clowns visited classrooms to read students the book One by Kathryn Otoshi. The book “provides lessons on accepting each other’s differences” and is geared to young children.
The Mott Campus Clowns are a 12-member troupe trained and headed by Dr. Brian Ivory (aka “Dr. Bubby”). He started the Mott Campus Clowns in 2011 as part of an honors course he teaches at Mott Community College (MCC). The course is Social Diversity and Civic Engagement Lab (HONS 251).
Ivory’s clown spokesperson, Alyshia Turner (aka “Tinkers”), said that after the book reading they spend time with the students in small groups asking “what they think bullying is, what they’d do if they’d seen a bully” and also whether they have questions about clowns.
“Typically we get a lot of questions about our clothes, where we come from, and so each of the students (clowns) has a story made up about themselves. It’s about their character. That way we’re not giving actual details… and they’re (the stories) all funny,” Turner explained.
Ivory is director of the Mott Honors College and is also a graduate of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. He worked as a professional clown until 1994 when he began his doctoral pursuit at Ohio State University. But he says the Mott students only have “seven and a half weeks to become clowns, get trained for the show, and learn how to interact with the audience.”
The colorful costumes and makeup worn by The Mott Campus Clowns clearly show professional guidance. Their expressions, movements, and humorous involvement with the students (and each other) seemed to really inspire the kids. The auditorium filled up with laughter, singing along, and hand movements, as the students followed along with the clowns.
The clowns began the show doing tricks on each other and magic tricks. Then they took funny fake pictures of teachers, along with a boxing match between two clowns. They brought out a magic sewing machine to fix a tear in Dr. Bubby’s shirt, and threw a pie thrown into Chris Collins’ face.
One of the troupe’s clowns, Wall-E (aka Tirstan Walters) became obsessed with finding his lost “undies” all through the show and even undergoes a magic “thought eraser” box placed on his head to get him to stop obsessing. The box appears to twist his head around multiple times by a crank on top, very cleverly done. It didn’t work. But at the end of the show his “undies” reappear hanging on a final “thank you” banner.
Several gentle examples of bullying are acted out by the clowns too, as they demonstrate ways for students to defend themselves and their peers. On stage behind the show are the letters “F-R-O-W-N” and by the end of the show the letters turn upside down to read “S-M-I-L-E,” illustrating the clowns’ theme of “Turning Frowns Upside Down One Smile at a Time.”
Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary School is at 1518 University Ave. Support for the Mott Campus Clowns is provided by Mott Community College, the MCC Honors Program, and student activity fees.
12/5: this story has been updated to correct the name of the Durant Tuuri-Mott principal. She is Angela Ascencio Mindlin.
Banner photo by Patsy Isenberg.
EVM Staff Writer Patsy Isenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.