PITTSFIELD

T
his would be a funny story if it wasn’t so sad.

There’s a shortage of clowns.

Real clowns. Not the ones we know in politics, sports, or other areas of our lives. Circus clowns. The ones that make us laugh.

According to the New York Daily News, membership in the country’s largest clown trade organizations has plummeted during the past 10 years. Declining interest, old age, and higher standards are listed as the most significant reasons for the decrease.

Apparently, the older clowns are passing away, while younger people aren’t interested in pursuing clowning as a profession any more.

"The challenge is getting younger people involved in clowning," World Clown Association President Deanna (Dee Dee) Hartmier told the News.

Her organization, the country’s largest trade group for clowns, has seen its numbers drop from 3,400 to 2,500 since 2004. Most of the members in her organization are over 40.

I haven’t been to the circus in at least 16 years, and the last time I went it was in an official capacity. While working in the South County bureau I volunteered to be The Eagle’s official representative when the Big Apple Circus visited Great Barrington in the summer of 1998. The Eagle sponsored the show that year.

My duties consisted of walking into the center of the ring with the ringmaster at the beginning of the troupe’s first performance, staring into a microphone while a spotlight nearly blinded me, and yelling something like "enjoy the show.


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" I remembered to yell the words because I tend to mumble and wanted to make sure that everybody heard me. I was greeted with polite applause.

On a side note, I had actually met the ringmaster the year before when, again acting as The Eagle’s official representative, I was recruited to throw out the first ball before the Pittsfield Mets annual Fourth of July Fireworks Night game at Wahconah Park. I actually followed the ringmaster to the mound because we both delivered balls to the plate (I guess The Eagle and the Circus were co-sponsors that night).

So what does all of this have to do with clowns? I can’t imagine seeing a circus without them. The animals and acrobats are always great to watch. But when I was a kid, I always looked forward to the clowns goofing around between acts, or watching a group of clowns cram themselves into a little car. Like those asides that characters often perform in Shakespeare’s plays, clowns always served to break up the tension in a circus, create a little levity, and remind the audience that it was there for fun.

Who would perform that role in a circus if clowns weren’t around?

Thankfully, there are still some people who want to be clowns. According to AL.com in Alabama, 531 people applied to attend Ringling Bros. Clown College last year, but only 14 were selected to participate in a two-week boot camp program. Eleven of those folks were offered jobs with the circus.

Ringling Bros. current troupe, which just finished a series of several shows at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., had only 12 new clowns. The company keeps 26 clowns on its roster for its three touring shows.

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Talbots Inc., the women’s clothing store chain, celebrated the 50th anniversary of its store in Lenox on Thursday day with an open house that included a red rose for each of the first 50 people who stopped by. The store officially opened in Lenox in March 1964.

We’ve mentioned major anniversaries that local businesses have reached before, but this one is particularly significant. Talbots currently operates 500 stores in the U.S. and Canada, and has a thriving catalog and ecommerce business. But the company’s Lenox outlet is the third store that Talbots ever opened behind the ones in Hingham (1946) and Duxbury (1955).

We have a lot of national chain stores in the Berkshires now, but as far as I know none of them opened as early in the process as the Lenox Talbots did.

So why did Talbots decide
to establish a store in the Berkshires?

In 1967, the store’s original manager told The Eagle that the chain’s founders, Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Talbot, viewed the Berkshires as an answer to a demand throughout the area for "well-made, sophisticated sports clothing sold at reasonable prices."

When Talbots opened here, only one other business in the Berkshires, Elise Farrar in Pittsfield, offered the same type of merchandise. That was a long time ago.

Tony Dobrowolski is the business editor of the Berkshire Eagle. He can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com.