MEXICO CITY — Tricks with water, how to make balloon animals, makeup technique — take notes, there will be a quiz.
A festival offering a syllabus only a class full of clowns can truly appreciate opened this week in Mexico City, attracting magicians and jugglers to lectures with titles like “The Art of Making them Laugh.”
In Mexico, get-togethers for clowns and other performers are common. There are clown conferences, congresses and jamborees held across the country. Last month, more than 300 clowns paraded to the capital’s central cathedral, where they held a mass prayer for Mexico’s patron saint.
“Bankers have conferences like lawyers and doctors. Why not clowns?” asked Alicia Lopez, a 37-year-old who led a seminar on opening jokes at this week’s “Festival of the Clown” in Mexico City.
Organizers expect 300 clowns, magicians and other performers to attend the four-day workshop, which is in its second year. Most of those attending are from the Mexican capital, but other parts of the country are well-represented, as are Latin America countries as far away as Chile.
“It’s a profession of smiles and making children happy,” said Marco Antonio Guerrero, a fifth-generation magician and the festival’s coordinator. “But it is still a profession. We are professionals.”
In two small theaters, eleven professors offer seminars on everything from magic to musical timing. Clowns pay $18.50 to attend up to 10 classes a day, and a clown gala finishes off each night.
On the sidelines of the festival, juggling abounded. Bowling pins and rubber billiard balls flew through the air in groups of three, four and five, as did fruit, stuffed animals and kitchen utensils of all shapes and sizes.
The juggling stopped once classes began, but things never got too serious there, either. During one session, a pair of clown associates carried balloon animal instructor Eduardo “Chatolin” Yanez to the stage while he pretended to struggle.
“How many of you wear gloves when you’re working? It’s easier if you wear gloves,” Yanez eventually told the audience of nearly 100 clowns — some of who came in costume.
Nearby, a market allows attendees to stock up on such essentials as makeup, masks, wigs and circus outfits in a dizzying array of colors. Floppy shoes large and small — a few even featuring fake Nike swooshes — can be had, as can rubber noses to fit any face.
The festival also allows those looking to hire clowns for birthday parties and other events to meet possible candidates, a kind of circus-style networking.
“An educated clown is a clown who brings home the big bucks,” said Chocho Chochito, a 48-year-old clown whose name offstage is Jose Ortega.
Ortega, who founded “Payasos Ejecutivos,” or “Executive Clowns,” a comedy troupe that now features 120 clowns, said he’s been doing children’s birthday parties, restaurant openings and school visits for 30 years.
“There’s no offseason,” he said. “You say, ‘The kids are out of school for the summer, there’s no work for the clowns.’ But people always want to laugh.”
Lopez — the “opening jokes” seminar leader — said she’s constantly updated her act through her 16 years as a professional clown.
“What interests the public changes. Funny today is not funny tomorrow, sometimes,” she said. “The people want to laugh, but, with some, you really have to work at it.”