Clown shortage: Appeal for new recruits in Northern Ireland

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Silly Tilly on her wedding day in 2017Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Noeleen and Henrik Fries Neumann on their wedding day in 2017

"There's a lot more to being a clown than just putting on a big red nose and a big baggy pair of pants."

That's according to David Duffy, co-owner of Duffy's Circus, who is appealing for people from Northern Ireland to become clowns.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a shortage of the performers, as many returned to their home countries when the first lockdown came into force in early 2020, according to Mr Duffy.

But what makes a good clown?

"Someone who's willing to make themselves vulnerable," says Noeleen Fries Neumann, known professionally as Silly Tilly.

"Not everybody likes to be laughed at but for someone who is a clown, your worst nightmare would be to not be laughed at," Mrs Fries Neumann told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

Image source, Noeleen Fries Neumann
Image caption,
Noeleen and her husband Henrik set up a big top tent in their garden during lockdown

"You have to be able to poke fun at yourself, it's not about poking fun at other people."

During lockdown, Mrs Fries Neumann and her husband Henrik, who is also a clown known as Jarl, set up a big top circus tent in their garden, allowing them to continue to rehearse and perform.

The couple first met at an international clown festival, before having a clown themed wedding in 2017.

But lockdown was hard for Mr Duffy and his circus has been closed for more than 500 days.

It will soon be able to tour in Northern Ireland again, following changes Covid-19 restrictions.

But performers have been able to get work in other countries that have opened up more quickly.

Image source, Pacemaker
Image caption,
Silly Tilly (right) says it's important to be able to be laughed at when you're a clown

"Because all the circuses in Europe and in England have been up and operational for the past six months, that huge pool of EU artists are already back at work and up until last week we haven't been able to even get visas issued for non-EU artists and entertainers," Mr Duffy said.

"That's why we're trying to reach out for any of our folks at home who feel that they can give it a go."

'Really adaptable'

In order to be a clown, Mr Duffy says you have to be "really, really adaptable" and be able to think on your feet.

"When you go into the circus ring and you've got 700 to 800 people looking at you, no matter what sort of mood you're in you have to light up that circus ring," he said.

"A clown actually can be the loneliest place because you're in there on your own and you have to be able to read your audience, in a short couple of minutes you have to be able to get a rapport going with them and interact and feed off them."

Aspiring clowns will be performing a short piece during online auditions being held by Mr Duffy as he tries to recruit a new team of performers.