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Clown Dreams: A Rookie Steps into the Ring


Glen Heroy
by Glen Heroy

"I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down."
-Ray Bradbury

I felt a tug, and I could hear the pop of my left calf muscle tearing even over the band playing. I went to step down and the pain was medieval. There I was in the middle of my act, in the middle of the ring, and I couldn't walk. It's just plain embarrassing and equally as silly being carried out of a circus tent on a stretcher dressed as a clown. And between the times I was in the ambulance on my way to Mass General until I was medically cleared to go back into the show three weeks later, I was granted a lot of time to reflect. Perhaps it was the painkillers (Percocet taken three times per day with food. My food of choice being ginormous-sized Crumbs Cupcakes.) But as I thought about the past months, I got nostalgic and even a little emotional.

I had done it. I had run off and joined the circus. And it wasn't all popcorn and cotton candy. I left a job I loved, my home, and a very patient wife in order to fulfill a childhood fantasy. And I had to develop a whole new set of performance muscles. For the eight years prior, I'd honed my clowning skills on the pediatric floors of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as Dr. Bovine, clown doctor. And the transition of my hospital clown skill set that was perfectly suited bed-side for one child, to performing alone in a circus ring for 2000 spectators was not just challenging -- it was downright frightening.

And it's OK, almost preferable, if you allow yourself to get a little scared from time to time. In my opinion if you choose to be a performer you had better keep challenging yourself. If you become too comfortable, you run the risk of becoming lazy and then you're dead in the water. I shifted from a very successful commercial acting career to becoming a professional clown at 38 years old. Scary. I was 44 when I learned to walk stilts on a cruise ship during a hurricane. Pretty damn scary. And I was 3 years shy of my 50th birthday when I first stepped into a circus ring.

And every show, right before I stepped into the ring, every time, I had no idea if my act was going to crash and burn or soar. All I could do was take a breath and jump. It's all worth it when it works, and a tent full of people are laughing and children are smiling and you never feel more alive.

If I tell you a secret do you promise not to tell anyone? Promise? Even with all the fear and doubt and hours of driving, the sweat and torn muscles and time away from loved ones, the exhaustion of 12 shows a week or three shows in one day sometimes, and the sacrificing of your holidays to make strangers' holidays more special. The secret is I would do it all again, tomorrow, and for free.

Share Your Story

Heroy traded in the comforts of home, threw caution to the wind and stepped into the ring as a rookie clown. What childhood dream would you cash in the 401k and quit the nine-to-five in order to pursue? Tell us.

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