Life as a clown began for Ray Hapner in 1994 when he went to his local library and saw an ad on the bulletin board for clown school, an organization run by the Smiles Unlimited Clown Ministry program. Several weeks and $75 later for make-up and other supplies, he became what’s known as an “auguste” clown – or a clown with flesh-tone paint on the face, and white paint on the eyes and muzzle.
Ray has been clowning it up ever since. Known as Sunbeam, Ray is part of High Hopes Clowns, a non-profit clown group that visits nursing homes, hospitals, and entertains at community benefits. In the two decades since Ray became a clown he has realized it’s true what he was taught in clown school.
“If you’re doing it for the money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.”
Clowns are a luxury item and in a down economy there isn’t much demand for clowns at birthday parties, corporate events, and community gatherings. For example, in a good economy, in a market like Chicago, a clown could make $200 a party says Ray, but in a market like Fort Wayne, even in the best of times, you might only earn $60 or $70.
Clowns, real clowns, become clowns so they can spread joy and laughter to the hearts of those they entertain. Clowns are also cyclical. Sometimes there are a lot of clowns, and sometimes there is a shortage. When Ray first became Sunbeam the clown, there were only a handful of clowns in his class. But, the same clown class had more than 40 participants in 1999.
Ray spends his time going to clown conventions, entertaining patients or residents in nursing homes, hospitals, or other care facilities.
And, it didn’t take long for his sister, Ravenna, better known as SonSong the clown to get into the act. Ravenna became a clown a few years after her brother. She’s a white face clown, so her whole face is painted white. Ravenna’s specialty is painting faces, but she’s marched in parades, and entertained in nursing homes and attended community events like the recent Race for the Warrior. Ravenna is more religious than her brother, and she says in the body of Christ, she’d be the funny bone.
During their 10-week clown school, they learned how to spread joy through skits, parodies, tricks, and gags – gags like rubber noses, rubber chickens, and the same kind of slap stick clowns…like Red Skelton, Lucille Ball or Carol Burnett.
Yes, Red Skelton’s Clem Kadiddlehopper was a clown, a hobo clown, the third of the three major clown types (auguste and white face are the first two).
Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball were also clowns, according to Ray and Ravenna, they just weren’t in costume. “They found themselves and their clown identity and showed it to the world without costumes,” says Ravenna.
For more information about these and other clowns or to schedule an event, call Ray Hapner at 260-723-6789 or Ravenna Hapner at 260-747-9127. You can check out Smiles Unlimited on facebook.com.
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