THE clowns are back in town, andthey mean business.This week more than a hundred clownsconverged on the National Culture Centerin San José to study the finer arts of mime,juggling and the comic fall at the ThirdInternational Clown Convention.“This is a convention with the principalpurpose of teaching clowns. There areclasses on unicycle, makeup, body movementand child psychology,” said OscarFlores, 44, one of the organizers.The clowns spent the week attendingworkshops led by Flores, a professionalclown from Mexico, and other leaders inthe field. The workshops took inexperiencedclowns from their profession’sequivalent of Clowning101 to advanceddegrees in everything from mime to magic.Flores said the 110 clowns at the conferenceare mostly from Latin Americancountries, including Costa Rica, PuertoRico, Mexico and Guatemala.FLORES, who goes by the clownname Timmy Bond (“James Bond’scousin”), can’t contain his enthusiasm forclowning around.“This is a profession in which youenjoy yourself, and you get to be in contactwith children, and children have beautifulenergy,” said Flores, who has been a clownfor 26 years. He describes clowning as adifficult profession.“I’d say that out of a hundred clowns Isee, two are going to be good. Becauseeven if they can apply makeup well, ordress well, they may not have the mostimportant thing, an angel in their heart,”Flores said. “And they have to have anability to develop the art of the clown, andthey have to do it all with grace. This iswhy it’s so difficult to be a good clown.”Marta Cedeño of Alajuelita, south ofSan José, is undaunted. This is her secondconvention, but last year she didn’t haveenough experience to participate in all theevents.“I decided to become a clown ten yearsago, but it’s taken me a lot of time becauseI had to take care of my children,” saidCedeño, 40. Her daughter, 22, and son, 17,are both clowns as well, but couldn’tattend the convention.“I’m taking notes for them,” she said.CEDEÑO said she has been a realclown for a year. Family and friends werenot initially supportive of her decision, butshe said her husband’s assistance allowedher to make an investment in a wide arrayof clown gear.“In Costa Rica, clown shoes are¢30,000 ($68), and it’s ¢5000 ($11.36) fora nose,” Cedeño said. “It’s very expensive.”Now that she has committed herself toa life of laughs, Cedeño is glad to be at theconvention.“We are learning to be better clowns.For me it has been a very enriching experience,”she said.PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco and theMinistry of Culture, Youth and Sportsissued a statement in March in support ofthe convention.“Clown theater constitutes a pleasantand caring form of approaching children,as a healthy alternative of fun and entertainment,”the statement read.Clowning, according to Flores, haslong been an important part of society. Itwas born in the Greek plays, and developedamong royalty’s court jesters. Jesterswho displeased their patrons had theirtongues cut out and – voila! – becamemimes.“That’s why we are brothers, themimes and clowns,” Flores said.Flores added that clowns use their costumesto comically represent their culture.“All of this has a cultural and historicalcontext,” Flores said, explaining that thefine clown with a white face and glovessymbolizes the upper class, the colorfulhappy-go-lucky clown the middle class,and the hobo clown – with his painted-onstubble and ragged clothes – the lowerclass.THOUGH Flores plays the tramp, hecertainly isn’t living a sad life.“I have a college degree, but I wouldn’ttrade my career as a clown for anything,”he said. “I chose to be a clownbecause you can learn more about life. Ina traditional career, you have your collegediploma, you have your title, you haveyour company, you sit at your desk, butI’ve been all over the world.”“And most important is that you givelaughter, you give happiness,” he added.“You walk down the street, and peoplegreet you without knowing you. And childrenstop and take your hand, and hug youand say, ‘Hello, clown!’”The week culminates in makeup, costumeand balloon art competitions.This afternoon, the final day of theconvention, the clowns will perform forthe public at 1 p.m., and there will bemagic, games and clown merchandise forsale until 5 p.m. For more info, contactGerardo Leitón at 362-6357.