Clown Camp To Close

After 29 years, Clown Camp to bow out after this year

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Paint on a sad face for the Clown Camp.

The long-time annual event that attracted thousands of clowns to La Crosse since it started 29 years ago will cease after the 2009 session ends Friday at Viterbo University.

Clown Camp teacher Lee Mullally, A.K.A. Juggles the clown, demonstrates his balloon art skills, including hats and animals, during a class Wednesday at Viterbo University. This is Clown Camp’s final year in La Crosse after a 29-year stint. PETER THOMSON photo

Participants say Clown Camp’s closing is no laughing matter.

“This has become a family reunion,” Stephanie “Bubbles” Payne, of northeastern Nevada, said as the camp opened Wednesday. “Why we have fun doing what we do — these people understand what we do.”

Founder and director Richard “Junior” Snowberg said he’s shutting down the La Crosse camp to have more time for other activities. He will offer “more manageable” programs in Singapore in 2010 and Japan in 2011.

“I actually retired nine years ago from the university (of Wisconsin-La Crosse),” Snowberg said. “The program is encompassing and time consuming … I’m retiring, and no one else took it over.”

The first camp, then at UW-L, drew about 35 people in 1981 and was intended to be a one-time affair, Snowberg said. This year’s event has 191 staff members and participants from more than 30 states and several foreign countries, he said.

The camp has remained focused on education during its nearly three decades, Snowberg said. Attending clowns receive a 200-page notebook and take classes that teach them the finer points of their craft.

Payne, 36, learned the business of clowning — to make balloon animals, take a pie in the face, perfectly spit water — during her nine years at Clown Camp.

“I am here because I take my clowning very seriously,” she said.

Payne is a professional clown who works at birthday parties, family reunions and company picnics. She has added school visits and library programs to her repertoire, thanks to skills learned at Clown Camp.

While she can study clowning elsewhere, Payne said it won’t be taught as well.

“There will never be another experience like this,” she said. “There are other camps and other things to do as a clown, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

On the Web: clowncamp.org

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