San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

No Clowning around at Clown Convention

Heroes come in all shapes and shoe sizes. If you ask any of the more than 200 Ticos who work as clowns in the country, they’ll tell you so. Armed to their big red noses with gags and youthful insight, they manage to charm and enlighten people across the land from any generation.

Next week, a worldwide delegation of clowns will descend upon San José for the sixth annual International Clown Convention.

The payasos will meet fellow entertainers and fine-tune the art of their profession, known in Spanish as payasería.

Aside from public exhibitions and balloon-bending workshops, the event’s most important goal is to raise awareness for Doctores de la Risa (Laugh Doctors), a nonprofit organization of hospital clowns who provide free entertainment for children dealing with ailments and older patients with terminal cancer.

Gustavo Chaverri, president of Doctores de la Risa and organizer of the convention, said an event like this one, with an expected turnout of more than 100 clowns, is unique in Central America. While the majority of clowns who participate are Costa Rican,  Chaverri said this year’s international guests will include clowns from Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama.

“There’s no other convention like it,” said Chaverri, who splits his time between teaching art in schools and performing as “Mundy” the clown.

Clowning is an art form that’s growing in popularity in Costa Rica, according to Chaverri. Many clowns work for free, but a good number are also able to support themselves with their art, Chaverri said.

He said circuses don’t often come to Costa Rica because it’s “just a bridge from one point to another” for them, so clowns make their livelihood working at parties.

The greatest benefit of being a clown, however, has little to do with profit, according to Chaverri.

“It’s knowing that you brought someone happiness,” he said, “and nothing more.”

Hospital clowns in particular offer a social service, Chaverri said, acting as colorful figures in the eyes of hospitalized children who otherwise see only “the black and white” of doctors’ clothes.

“It changes lives,” he said.

According to Chaverri, the function of bringing people joy makes being a clown one of the most important jobs in the world. A clown’s nose is like magic in the way that it draws people’s attention and transforms average people into characters.

“It’s the smallest mask in the world,” he said.

Convention events will take place at San José’s NationalCultureCenter (Avenidas 3/5, Calles 11/15) and Plaza Avenida (Avenida Central, Calles 7/9). Workshops for clown arts such as face painting and magic tricks will be held at the culture center while public exhibitions will take place at and around Plaza Avenida, allowing viewers to learn a thing or two about clowning for themselves.

Among the exhibition highlights are a fire juggling show July 10 at 6:30 p.m. and a special homage to the circus clown arts July 11, also at 6:30 p.m.

Clowns pay ¢2,000 to register, but attending is free for the public. For more info about the convention, call Chaverri at 226-6697.

The Many Faces of a Clown

Clowns have different looks and personalities, just like the people for whom they perform. These different styles are recognized internationally in competitions and clown communities.

Clowns have been around since 2500 B.C., according to the Clowns of America International Web site ( While over time a plethora of clown varieties have popped up, the three most popular styles to this day are the whiteface clown, the auguste and the tramp.

The whiteface clown (top left) is known as the most elegant and highclass member of the clown community.

While other clowns draw laughs by being goofy, this one normally uses his or her wits and artistic ability to charm the audience. Clad in a traditional jumpsuit, this clown has an overall more conservative clown look.

The auguste clown (right) is more flamboyant. From crazy hair to floppy feet, the auguste clown is splattered with loud colors matching his or her energetic personality.

Whether tripping over their own feet or having a bucket of water dropped on them, nothing seems to lower the spirits of good auguste clowns. They’re also the mischievous ones, so don’t let them out of your sight.

Then there’s the tramp (bottom left), a loner and the least talkative of the bunch. The tramp’s makeup normally includes a five-o’clock shadow, and his clothes are dark and raggedy. Tramps can have sad or happy personalities, but they are always the brunt of the joke when working with other clowns. Find a tramp clown who hasn’t been hit with a pie, and he’ll show you how to live under a rock.


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