On a national level, they're a disappearing group, but at Illinois State University, Gamma Phi Circus has never been stronger.
"Maybe in some places, where there's not that many and interest isn't that big, but we're there,” said ISU senior Albia Aye, who has the clown name Bunny. “We're just not as well known, I guess."
According to the National Clown Registry, there are 1,000 fewer clowns now than there were a decade ago, but Gamma Phi's numbers have stayed steady.
"We love being the exception to the rules," said Marcus Alouan, director of Gamma Phi Circus:
Nationally, the competition is intense for the top spots like Ringling Brothers, and a full-time clown career doesn't always pay well. Clowns can earn more if they’re headliners than if they perform an opening act, but at ISU clowning is still cool. Many consider doing it on a part-time basis after graduation.
"We're a program that's trying to promote leadership and prepare these students to be better teachers, better doctors, lawyers, whatever it is they choose to pursue,” said Alouan.
When sophomore chemistry major Andrea Wolski joined the Gamma Phi Circus in 2012, she didn't know what to expect.
"When I first walked in on the first day, I saw all these people flipping, all these crazy things, and I thought, ‘I cannot do this,’” said Wolski, who goes by the clown name Pockets.
It's all part of the new circus tradition. It includes acrobatics, riding bikes, telling jokes, and working together.
"We can make it bigger. We can work off of each other because personal reactions off of other people is what makes it funny,” said Aye.
"There's lessons that can be learned from the silly things we do."
And teamwork, Aye says, will showcase a better product that stands out.
"If I do, I would pursue it with him, because we work really well together, but I definitely plan on sticking with my major for now, but I won't stop clowning."
Gamma Phi Circus has been on ISU'S campus since 1929. The group will be performing for the public at Redbird Arena on April 11 and 12. The Friday show will start at 7 p.m. On Saturday, there will be a 1 p.m. matinee and a 7 p.m. show. For more information, click here.
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