"Dazzle" prepared to leave the costume store. The clown had tried on every wig in the place, and none of them were her - until she fit that ballet dancer's tutu on her head.
Dazzle, a k a Suzanne Labrum, 44, a Sandy mother of four, wore her distinctive white net wig to clown school auditions at the ZCMI Center Friday afternoon. With two other Salt Lake hopefuls, she stumbled, strolled, ad-libbed - and, well, basically just clowned around - to the strains of circus music while construction workers hammered in the background. The three candidates tried out for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' Florida Clown College, the only school of its kind in the world."How many want to run away with the circus?" asked announcer Jack Hart of the assembled mall shoppers and lunchers, many of whom clustered with children in tow.
Dazzle was one who answered "yes" to that question as she climbed into the ring - although she admits that, as a mother, she doesn't quite know what she would do if she were accepted to the school of slapstick, pantomime, juggling and stilt-walking.
"I'd love to have to work around that dilemma," she giggles.
A graduate of the local "U-Clown-U" class, she has been clowning for about three months now.
Dazzle's husband - who she says is a "very left-brained" computer programmer - doesn't quite understand her need to perform behind blue eyebrows, valentine cheeks and a red glitter-dusted nose. Her kids, however, think it's "cool."
Meanwhile, clown school graduates - the professionals - sported bulbous noses and yellow teeth in contrast to the white of their painted faces. They acted as emcees, entertainers and judges, using some old standard clown gags: a whipped-cream topped pie, a water sprayer and a set of juggling balls.
"It's all right. It's OK. It doesn't hurt - much," said professional clown Sean Conklin, a vision in green plaid, as he encouraged bystanders to get involved.
Patrick Cummings, 20, said an announcement of the audition on the radio caused him to literally throw his hat into the ring. A cook in a seafood restaurant, he thinks clowning "would be the best job in the world."
"Stumbles" - that's Joel Ashton to his friends - dressed in his straight orange-hair wig and his every-which-way-striped suit for his third clown school audition. Stumbles, 28, of Midvale, works at an industrial ceramic company. He first dressed as a clown six years ago to join the Days of '47 parade but said he was always a tease. "That's how I got started and I've never stopped."
He's worked as a clown about three or four times a week since graduating from the University of Utah's Clownology class.
Clown Mike "Hillbilly" Weakley, 24, of North Carolina, has been touring with The Greatest Show on Earth for two years. His alma mater receives more than 3,000 applications annually, he said, but only about 60 are accepted.
Hillbilly wore red coveralls with a blue polka-dot scarf draped around his neck. His lips were painted blue to coordinate with his shoulder-length, bushy blue hair. He performed on his own - "a birthday party, singing telegram" kind of clown - before getting accepted to school.
Clown applicants are judged on originality, creativity, and most of all, expressiveness, Hillbilly said. "That's what clowning is, acting larger than life itself."