Clowning is serious business for Terry Ricketts — at least in between the chortles and chuckles he so loves to hear. “Clowns are all about making memories,” says Ricketts, 50, of Mesa. By day, Ricketts works for Arizona Public Service Co.’s creative services department. In his spare time, his alter ego, Malcolm the clown, comes to life.
On Saturday, Ricketts will join more than 100 fellow clowns from APS’ volunteer clown troupe and other volunteer organizations at Rawhide at Wild Horse Pass in the Gila River Indian Community as part of Rawhide’s 13th annual Clown Day celebration. The event, billed as one of the largest clown gatherings in the Southwest, has become a tradition at Rawhide and a way for Arizonans of all ages to commemorate National Clown Week.
Ricketts, who has been clowning on behalf of the company for nearly 15 years, says the troupe was formed in 1989 after volunteers in the company realized clowns would make good ambassadors of APS’ message of energy conservation and education to children.
After hiring a couple of clowns, the volunteers wondered why they bothered recruiting others when they could slap on some makeup and clown around themselves for a good cause.
“Ever since then, the troupe kept growing,” says Ricketts, who estimates the group now has about 125 members who appear at schools, charity functions and local events.
Ricketts was an accomplished clown long before he came to work at the utility. He says he donned his first wig and red shiny nose as a high school sophomore in his native Indiana after being asked to be a clown for a day at a carnival. It didn’t take Ricketts long to get hooked.
“I was already a class clown at the time,” he says. “Even at that age, just making someone laugh and helping them forget what’s bugging them was a sign of success to me. It was addictive.”
Ricketts says not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of clowning.
“It’s a daily experience for me,” he says. “I watch Charlie Chaplin movies . . . and have a collection of clown statues and pictures around my home.”
He adds that he also has an understanding wife and a built-in crew of critics at home: Son Justin took up clowning as well, but his most dedicated fan is his 18-monthold grandson, Caleb, who takes delight in his grandpa’s — or, rather, Malcolm’s — zany antics.
COUNTDOWN TO THE SHOW
During last weekend’s rehearsals at APS headquarters in Phoenix, Ricketts and his team altered their costumes to go with Rawhide’s Western theme.
“We’ll be adding cowboy hats, chaps and vests to our wardrobes,” he says. Then there was practice, practice and more practice to get it right. After all, Ricketts says, this generation of children can be tough to please.
“We have to constantly freshen up what we do,” he says. “We’re up against some heavy competition — video games, 24-hour TV channels and iPods. We want to make sure these kids are entertained.”
But according to some clowns who have performed at Rawhide before, clowns still rule.
“The kids all think I am wonderful. I get lots of hugs,” says Marsha Berland, 58, of Chandler. “I’ve had such wonderful young faces look up at me in awe,” says Mary Jeffries, 60, of Scottsdale. “(The kids) are happy you are there.” Ricketts says there’s nothing like seeing a child experiencing the magic for the first time. “The reward is all the smiles and laughter,” he says, “and creating that moment in time for the kids.”
First of May clown: A novice clown
Joeys: How established clowns refer to each other
White-face clown: Traditional old-style clown. The leader of the group of clowns performing.
Auguste clown: A buffoon. The clown who gets into trouble all the time.
Tramp or Hobo clown: A downtrodden yet happy clown. Typically follows along with the other clowns.