Mrs Fries Neumann is known professionally as Silly Tilly and whilst she agrees that “not everybody likes to be laughed at,” for her, it’s an essential part of the job. As she told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster program, “for someone who is a clown, your worst nightmare would be to not be laughed at.”
But clowns in Northern Ireland have a problem. When Covid-19 happened, everyone was forced to go into lockdown, travel restrictions came into force and crowds became a big no-no, so there was less and less need for clowns.
For the clowns working in Northern Ireland, many went into lockdown with families in other countries and have not returned. And now, as circuses get ready to reopen in Northern Ireland, that’s becoming a problem. Many clowns have since gone to work in circuses across Europe, which have been operational for months, and it has become increasingly complicated to get visas for non-EU clown artists.
David Duffy, a co-owner of Duffy’s Circus, is now appealing for people from Northern Ireland to become clowns, whilst admitting it is not the easiest job. He told the BBC, “when you go into the circus ring and you’ve got 700 to 800 people looking at you, no matter what sort of mood you’re in you have to light up that circus ring.” Duffy added that “a clown actually can be the loneliest place because you’re in there on your own and you have to be able to read your audience, in a short couple of minutes you have to be able to get a rapport going with them and interact and feed off them.”
Tara Gerbola, co-owner of Circus Gerbola told The Times that the government had caused the recruitment issues in the Northern Ireland circus industry because of delaying the opening after the pandemic—circuses have been closed for 500 days.
Northern Ireland lifted restrictions on indoor venues yesterday, on October 4, as reported by Newsweek.