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Cotton in the News!
Durham Herald Sun October 10, 2017
BY COLIN WARREN-HICKS
SEPTEMBER 08, 2017 4:11 PM
Fear of clowns – coulrophobia – is a genuine psychological phenomenon, brought to the fore this weekend by the film “It,” based on the Stephen King novel. UNC Chapel Hill psychology professor Jon Abramowitz said a fear of clowns is like most phobias in that if it’s going to appear, it is most likely going to develop in childhood. “Clowns on one hand are humans. But they can be unpredictable,” Abramowitz said. “I would say it’s the unpredictability that causes the fear. Clowns wear these costumes. You can’t really see their faces.”
Looking at a clown, you see a clown’s face. “It’s confusing what their real emotion is,” Abramowitz said. That face expresses an emotion so exaggerated feeling is blown into hyperbole – a caricature of human sentiment. Some clowns grin and giggle to the point that a child, teenager, or adult may perceive them as laughing maniacally.
But, sometimes, clowns frown. Because, often, professional clowns disagree with the villainous, killer-clown characterizations pop culture depicts in movies, like those based on King’s novel. Set in Maine, “It” opened in cinemas Friday and centers around Pennywise the Dancing Clown terrorizing of a crew of youngsters into their adulthoods. It made a huge splash on its opening night Friday. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it grossed $51 million in ticket sales opening night, the biggest opening ever for a horror movie or for a film which premiered in September. It was expected to haul in more than $100 million on the weekend. The Hollywood Reporter added: “New Line and Warner Bros.' film adaptation of Stephen King's novel is jolting the domestic box office back to life after seven straight down weekends, resulting in the worst summer in recent memory, as attendance fell to a 25-year low.”
Based in Raleigh, Tricia Cotton Dean has performed across the Triangle as Cotton the Clown for decades.
When audiences invariably ask if she’s seen “It,” Dean said, “Ooo. Pennywise? Oh, yeah. Mmm, he’s a cutie.”
Dean graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts without any intention of being a clown. She prefers intellectual humor over slapstick and did musical programs for kids at museums, libraries, schools and on the coffee shop circuit, she said. After four or five months though, she found her offered family entertainment sold much better when she packaged herself as a clown.
But, Cotton the Clown stopped painting her face white years ago.
“I do not understand the origin of that fear,” she said. “It’s just. It’s got to be, really? Very? What’s the word I’m trying to think of … it’s like … it’s real, basic.” That base terror must stem from a repulsion ingrained into the bedrock of such psyches, she said.
Cotton lost her makeup forever after a day spent performing at a street fair in Wake Forest during the mid 1990s. That day, Cotton clowned down the street encountering a 75-year-old woman, who upon seeing Cotton the Clown – in full white cosmetic, red-lipped glory – panicked, screamed and with unusual agility for a woman her age, threw herself behind her companions.
“There are people who like clowns and ones that don’t like them,” Dean said. “I think there are certain people, for one reason or another, develop this fear of not being able to see a person’s real hair and real face. I wish I could help them.”
Abramowitz once helped cure a man of clown phobia. Phobias are treated with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which primarily involves repeated confrontation with the stimuli of fear. Working in Philadelphia in the late 1980s, Abramowitz employed CBT to help a patient overcome his clown fear, by first starting with pictures. The patient was made to repeatedly view magazine photographs of clowns. Next, a birthday party clown was booked for a therapy session.
Abramowitz said his patient showed classic fight-or-flight symptoms. The clown entered the treatment room. The patient’s heart pounded as he gripped his seat. His breath quickened and shortened. An urge to flee the room mounted in the patient until the storm of anxiety climaxed and calmed. After a while, the sight of the clown didn’t bother him so much. So during his next session, the psychologist and patient visited a clown show, Abramowitz said, and eventually the phobia subsided.
University of Virginia Department of Drama Professor Emeritus of Circus History LaVahn Hoh taught the only college accredited course in America on the history of the American circus for 32 years until his retirement. Since the debut of the “It” miniseries in 1990, students have perennially told Hoh they were afraid of clowns because they saw it.
“To me, what it’s doing is making it difficult for clowns, who have tremendous backgrounds and who are very good – whether they’re birthday party clowns or however they are working,” Hoh said, “making it very difficult for them to get work.” There were no scary, mean, killer, viciously hissing, psychopathic clowns in the traditional American circus. “No. Nooo-oh-oh-noo. Clowns were friendly,” Hoh said. “They were wonderful people.”
Modern clown get-ups and personalities trace their ancestry back to the Italian Commedia dell’arte and Harlequin, its most famous zanni or comic servant characters, which have their roots in the 16th century. “In modern day clowning, you have a white face clown and in Europe that would be the authority figure,” Hoh said. “Then, you have the Auguste clowns. The ones with the baggy pants, crazy hairdos and large shoes. Augustes take the pies in the face and other pratfalls.” The professor believes that when you look at a clown, the clown is reflecting something from society.
“You have the tramp clown,” Hoh said. “During the days of the Depression, people could relate to those clowns. What they did in the circus ring, people out in the audience might say, ‘Yeah, I know about that.’” Between spring and fall semesters at UVA, Hoh taught the history of clowning at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, and the first thing clowns were taught there was “Let the child discover you. Do not go up to the child,” he said. Because when a big person with big, crazy buttons approaches a little tyke and says “Hey, how ya doing?” Hoh explained. “You’re going to have nothing but a dirty diaper to deal with.” Well-intentioned parents may cause as much clown trauma as clowns themselves, he added. “Parents will drag a child to see a clown and say, ‘Meet the clown. Cause they’re Funny! Funny!’” Hoh said. “Well, funny is not in That! Voice!” Only once in 32 years, did Hoh teach a class in which no UVA student raised a hand after the professor posed the question: Is anyone here afraid of clowns?
The 1980s were a golden age for birthday clowns. David Bartlett left the Navy and moved to Durham with his wife and two children in late 1980. The couple started looking for jobs but David didn’t find one quickly. He sat around the house and “drove his wife crazy,” he said, until she signed him up for a balloon animal course through N.C. State University to get him out of her hair. “I thought that was the dumbest thing she’d ever done,” Bartlett said. But one thing led to another and David began making up his own balloon animal designs. Eventually “I became quite famous for the balloons,” he said. “I had a series of 19 mostly balloon videos, and there were some clown entertainment videos.”
Bartlett became Mr. Rainbow – a clown. After the videos were filmed and sold he made enough money and gained enough recognition that never had to work again – without wearing a red nose. “Clowning is taking anything that happens and turning it into a humorous opportunity,” Mr. Rainbow said. Mr. Rainbow is bothered by representations of clowns as evil, because, Mr. Rainbow is “bothered by any clown that isn’t funny.”
Can Cotton Fully Entertain the Kids at Your Party? A picture is worth a thousand words...
"...Just wanted to thank you again so very much for yesterday! I’ve gotten nothing but glorious reports as to how much fun the kids had. The best report though was from (birthday girl, name withheld) who, when going to bed last night, asked “Can Cotton come over and play with me and (her older brother, name withheld) soon?” Doesn’t get better than this!
Thanks again and take care!
L. G., Durham, NC--February, 2015
Another Satisfied Customer!
Undefeated since 2009, Cotton is the area's FAVORITEST!
You were absolutely wonderful! You are so talented and the children were so delighted with their face paintings. I'm so glad that we had a lot of children... Now that we know that there should be lots of children at such events, I agree that it would be best to have 2 face painters. It is very good to know that you have someone who can work with you.
Again, thank you so much for being the best ever!! It was a pleasure having you at our first [Country Club Event!]
Cotton entertains several ages simultaneously!
Parachute party fun!
I wanted to thank you for Saturday. You did such a great job with the kids. Everyone was impressed by your work, they all loved the fact that you perform different forms of entertainment for the kids. You really understand that one size does not fit all, because at the end of the day you kind of catered to all the children's needs. If a child doesn't like magic,they might like the sing along songs, if that doesn't work they might like the face painting or the balloon art or even your cute clown outfit lol. Thanks for understanding that, and that's what makes you uniquely different from other entertainers. I'll definitely refer you to everyone I know who has kids. You are my number one entertainer and I look forward to working with you in the future.
From a very greatful and satisfied client, S. (Raleigh)
Mrs. Claus and Storytime at Kidz in a Minute Drop in Childcare.
Most people think “clown” and picture a red, squeaky nose, white face paint and maybe some curly red hair. Oversized feet and squirting flowers are, of course, standard.
But Tricia Cotton Dean, aka Cotton the Clown, defies expectations. In clown guise, she has pink, straight hair, perhaps a colorful frock and a large bow in her hair, but her face is her own, unblemished by white powder or a red, bulbous nose.
She used to dress like your more traditional clowns, but gradually found that it could be off-putting for some people.“I found that I would encounter anxiety not only from children but from some very seasoned adults,” she said.
Clown anxiety has become something of a running joke in today’s culture, but for those who make their livelihood dressing as modern day jesters, it can be serious business.
Cotton the Clown draws a crowd at a local Drop-In Child Care in Raleigh.
“I think you see a lot more stranger anxiety now than you used to,” Dean said. “I just like to not deal with the fear factor.”
Dean is a Raleigh gal, born and bred. She left for a little while to experience the big city life of the Washington, D.C., area but eventually found her way back to her native land. She never set out to be a clown, but after she and her husband separated in 1991, she knew she needed to do something.
She is a graduate of the UNC School of the Arts and has some mean artistic and performance skills, but she had never tried to turn those skills into a career.
"I've always been incredibly thankful for the talent I have and the intelligence I have," she said. "But I never learned to push it further than I had to, because I never had to."
But the separation forced the former stay-at-home mom to find a path of her own.
It all started when somebody who knew of her artistic proclivities asked her to do some face painting at a party. She went and noticed many of the other face painters were clowns. An idea was born.
“I did not really care to do any kind of clown stuff, but I had to do that,” she said. “It gave people something to identify with. If you said child entertainer, it was kind of too vague.”
Her clown career took off from there. Dean is based in North Hills but performs all over the city, including large swaths of North Raleigh. “I don’t pass hardly three blocks without seeing somewhere that I’ve performed at one time or another,” she said.
Indeed, she recalls a point when she was making the performance rounds at nine bookstores and coffee shops each week; and her popularity just grew.
“All of them were just packed. It just created an incredible notoriety for what I was doing,” she said. “I didn’t have enough time or I would have gone to other places, too. I couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized.”
She was so well-liked that businesspeople would often ask her to incorporate their businesses into the songs she performed. “One guy was detailing my car out in the parking lot while I was singing, just so I would mention his service to everyone there.”
Helping people on the inside
Songs are a big part of her business. She plays guitar and likes to have the kids come up and sing along. Face painting, too, is a mainstay. And sometimes, singing telegrams.
“I even had a judge hire me to break up courtroom proceedings,” she said. “I got to ride up on the sheriff’s elevator and everything. That’s like the ultimate in power, to break up court proceedings.”
And though she changed her costume to assuage some of the public’s clown fears, Dean has phobias of her own: balloons.
“If I had a party where we decorated with balloons, I would put them in the backyard and hope they’d pop because I couldn’t pop them myself.”
Thankfully, she worked through her fear and is now a competent creator of balloon animals.
As a life-long Raleigh resident, Cotton appreciates the growth of the city, though she thinks that the modern sprawl has led to some depersonalization. She sees her job as Cotton the Clown to bring that personal touch back into people’s lives.
“This is about helping people on the inside,” she said. “Helping people see the humor in things and have a good time.”
And knowing how things are in the world, who doesn’t need an extra helping of humor now and again?
Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond.
"Cotton,Thanks for encouraging me [at your show yesterday] to put aside my agenda, and do what was more important...You are such a dear person...I met someone tonight who I've seen at your shows before but have never officially met. We talked about how wonderful you are, and what a blessing your shows are. She and I had an immediate common bond..."
~E.F. Raleigh, NC
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Cotton the Clown Receives 2015 Best Businesses of Raleigh Award
Raleigh Award Program Honors the Achievement Raleigh, November 25, 2015 --
Cotton the Clown has been selected for the 2015 Best Businesses of Raleigh Award in the Clowns category by the Best Businesses of Raleigh Award Program. Each year, the Best Businesses of Raleigh Award Program identifies companies that we believe have achieved exceptional marketing success in their local community and business category. These are local companies that enhance the positive image of small business through service to their customers and our community.
These exceptional companies help make the Raleigh area a great place to live, work and play. Various sources of information were gathered and analyzed to choose the winners in each category. The 2015 Best Businesses of Raleigh Award Program focuses on quality, not quantity. Winners are determined based on the information gathered both internally by the Best Businesses of Raleigh Award Program and data provided by third parties. About the Best Businesses of Raleigh Award Program
The Best Businesses of Raleigh Award Program is an annual awards program honoring the achievements and accomplishments of local businesses throughout the Raleigh area. Recognition is given to those companies that have shown the ability to use their best practices and implemented programs to generate competitive advantages and long-term value. The Best Businesses of Raleigh Award Program was established to recognize the best of local businesses in our community. Our organization works exclusively with local business owners, trade groups, professional associations and other business advertising and marketing groups. Our mission is to recognize the small business community's contributions to the U.S. economy.