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Eastwood students take clowning around to a whole new level

May 6, 2018
In this Saturday, April 28, 2018 photo, Cupcake T. Clown, and Starfire aka Addie Brisbois greet a resident of Riverview Terrace, a residential living facility for seniors, before a show presented by the Eastwood Clown College in Roseburg, Ore. For the past four years, the program has taught students from Eastwood Elementary School in Roseburg how to be clowns. (Mike Henneke/The News-Review via AP)
In this Saturday, April 28, 2018 photo, Cupcake T. Clown, and Starfire aka Addie Brisbois greet a resident of Riverview Terrace, a residential living facility for seniors, before a show presented by the Eastwood Clown College in Roseburg, Ore. For the past four years, the program has taught students from Eastwood Elementary School in Roseburg how to be clowns. (Mike Henneke/The News-Review via AP)

ROSEBURG, Ore. (AP) — It’s the one place at Eastwood Elementary School where kids are actually encouraged to clown around.

As members of the Eastwood Clown College, seven students experience a program that’s more than fun and games.

With the help of clown makeup, colorful outfits and crazy hair, miracles happen. When Luralea Wheeler teaches kids to find the funny, many gain confidence and overcome stage fright.

If you ask Wheeler, she’s only known as Cupcake T. Clown, a professional clown for nearly 40 years. The former educational director of the Western Regional Clown Association is hesitant to reveal her non-clown name — because that’s the clown way.

For the past four years, the after-school program has been teaching students how to be a clown. Wheeler has seen Eastwood Clown College change lives.

Eastwood Elementary School Principal Nicki Opp has seen that transformation in her own daughter when she was in the second grade. She got such stage fright at a school variety show, she couldn’t move.

“I had to go up and carry her off the stage,” Opp said.

“Nicki called me after that and said, how about starting a clown club,” Wheeler said.

Opp’s daughter has gone from being terrified on stage to performing the lead role in Annie at Joseph Lane Middle School, a transformation that Opp said is exactly what the program can do.

“I think that’s a great example of the impact the program can have,” she said.

On a recent Saturday, the kids made an appearance at Riverview Terrace in Roseburg, a residential living facility for seniors. It was one of several appearances they’ve made around the county this school year, where they’ve performed at other schools, senior centers, senior care facilities and even the Spring Fair at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

The clowns had the residents at Riverview Terrace laughing and clapping during the show that included mind reading, magic tricks, silly jokes, a food baking demonstration and even a few skits that send some important messages. This year they’ve focused on bullying.

The principal and teachers pick the students that they think would most benefit from being in the group.

“We looked for kids that were natural showmen, that tended to participate on the fringes because they’re embarrassed or self conscious, and for kids that have a potential to be great role models,” Opp said.

“The kids take these skits and make them our own,” Wheeler said. She added they’ve learned how to adapt when somebody makes a mistake, and they just cover it and go on.

The program has given students such as Dr. Babbles, played by fifth-grader Elijah Nelson, a chance to shine. He said he owes his participation in the program to a teacher who thought he was funny.

“She thought I was one of the funniest people in the class, so I told her I would be a clown, because I am a very funny person,” he said. “The best part is watching the people laugh and their reactions make me happy.”

Fifth-grader Iola Nestripke, who plays Bubbles, said being a clown has made a big difference for her.

“It helped me not be shy anymore and get closer to people,” Iola said. “I like people’s reactions and I like making them laugh.”

The residents at Riverview were very appreciative of how well the clowns handled themselves.

“I think their stage presence and what they learn from doing things like this is great, and it’s good to be out in the public,” said Jeanita Richter, a resident at Riverview. “This is not easy for kids this age to do that, but I think because they’re dressed up and kind of camouflaged it’s easier for them.”

Rounding out the troupe are Sir Jump A Lot, played by fifth-grader Steven Snook, I Don’t Know, played by third-grader Keaton Pelke, Sparkles, played by second-grader Danika Opp, and Starfire, played by second-grader Addie Brisbois.

Cupcake T. Clown normally doesn’t perform in the skits, but she filled in for fifth-grader McKenzie Fummerton, known as Lulu, who had a family emergency and was not able to attend the Saturday performance, although she’s been in every other show this year.

The other adult clown is Chip P. Clown, also known as Sharon Haag, who’s been working with Cupcake for many years, and provides music for the group.

Wheeler said there are a lot of people involved in making the program a success.

Cindy Long makes the costumes, and Anthony Opp, the principal’s husband, build all the props, then set them up and take them down for every performance. Shanna Pelke, who works at the school, books all the performances for the group.

“It’s not just me — it really is a team effort,” Wheeler said.

“I think it was outstanding. I was just amazed at how young they are and how well they perform,” said Wilma Llewellyn, another resident at Riverview Terrace. “It’s wonderful for us. That’s the kind of thing we need the most ... this kind of interface with the young people. They came around and shook hands with us. They were so gracious, and thanked us for coming; it was just outstanding.”

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Information from: The News-Review, http://www.nrtoday.com

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