Clown finds satisfaction in Kelly Miller Circus
'Old-fashioned circus experience' slated in Wheaton Oct. 18
The Kelly Miller Circus will arrive in Wheaton for performances at 2 and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 18, and among the colorful cast of characters in the circus troupe will be Melvino the clown, who is in his second year with the company.
Melvino, 32, who declined to reveal his true identity, has been a professional clown for 10 years, mostly with other traveling circuses.
"I was about four when I decided I wanted to be a clown," Melvino said. "Everyone thought I'd grow out of it. I showed them. No one ever tried to discourage me. By the time I joined a circus, I'd talked about it for so long that no one was surprised. It's worked out pretty well so far."
Melvino no longer recalls what first intrigued him about clowns, but can quickly identify what keeps him in the act.
"For me, it's all about the interaction," he said. "I do a trick or a joke or fall down, I get a reaction, mostly from the kids. I get something back."
Melvino targets his audience at younger children.
"Middle school age is about the worst audience for me," he recalled. "Age 14 or 15 is way too cool to laugh at a clown."
There are always tricks of the trade to perfect. Melvino does a lot of juggling, riding his unicycle and balancing objects. His signature move is to toss his beany hat and scoot under it so it lands on his head.
"My formula is very simple," he said. "If I mess up, the kids laugh. If I mess up and hurt myself, they laugh more. I don't really worry about them understanding I'm not hurt. It's like being a cartoon character. Sometimes they laugh. Real little kids may start crying. I tell them it's okay. But, it really does hurt."
Melvino has his role models in the business. He got to study with Glen "Frosty" Little, a legendary clown with the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, who died in 2010. He also pointed to Lou Jacobs, a 6-4 clown who would cram himself into a little car.
"It isn't what I learned from them" he said. "I don't look like them or do like them. It's more like an inspiration. Then I go off and do it my own way."
Melvino travels with the circus about nine or 10 months a year. In his time off, he has not yet decided whether to winter at the show's quarters in Hugo, Okla., or join up with another show.
On this latest circuit, the Kelly Miller Circus performs in El Dorado Springs and will leave from Wheaton for Decatur, Ark. The routine is to do come into town as a convoy, raise the tent, do two shows, tear down that night and head off to the next town.
"It's an experience to watch the tent go up," said Gene Robinson, with Body of Christ Outreach, the sponsor for the Wheaton show. "We're inviting people to come watch."
The 75 people who travel with the circus bring an African elephant, eight tigers, zebras, a llama, camels, ponies, dogs and ducks as part of their show.
"It's a good old-fashioned circus experience, pretty much like they did it 150 years ago," Melvino said. "A few things have changed, but not as much as you'd think."
Melvino does not include animals in his routine.
"I have enough trouble getting into the places I want to go," he said.
Not a popular career choice, the job of clowning has raised concerns among professionals.
"Clowns of America International put out a story that membership is dropping and that there is a clown shortage," Melvino said. "I still see people coming into it. I think it's changing, but I don't see it going anywhere. I stay in it because of stubbornness, because I'm good at it, it pays the bills and it makes people laugh. I'm right where I need to be."
Advanced tickets for the Wheaton show are available in Whaton from L&S Grocery, D&D Oil, SOS Poultry Supply, Michael's Hardware and Security Bank in Wheaton and Cassville, Proceeds will be used to support the food outreach and Christmas programs offered through the church.