Clown Art

The Wilton Arts Council Presents
Summer
Clown Workshops for Children
An Article from The Wilton Bulletin



Pongo the Clown (also known as Paul Mordoff) performed on the
Fourth of July
at the Shorehaven Country Club in Norwalk. He is teaching
classes on
clowning for the Wilton Arts Council this summer. An example of
one of
Pongo’s balloon sculptures is seen below. – Bryan Haeffele photo


Clowning
Around
with Pongo
by BEN
SANDERS

The Wilton Arts Council has
officially sent in the clowns. Or at least, one clown: Norwalk’s Pongo the
Clown (a.k.a. Paul Mordoff) who will be teaching a selection of clowning
classes this summer for kids entering grades one through eight.

Mr. Mordoff, whose experience in clowning goes back 20 years, has
been performing as Pongo since 1996. He’ll be offering four different
classes this summer, all of them being taught at the United Covenant
Church on Westport Road.

“The classes are going to be geared for
the different ages:” said Mr. Mordoff in an interview last week. For the
youngest kids, grades one through four, he will be teaching Creativity for
the Creative Child. His students will use props, storytelling and creative
play to explore their theatrical sides, he said.

“It’s a chance for kids to really have fun and use their
imaginations” said Mr. Mordoff. There will be a similar class for older
students, called Finding the Clown Inside. This class will offer a lot of
practice in improvisation and teach basic clown skills as the students
work through skits and scenes.

There will be two classes on the
more technical skills of clowning, juggling and balloon sculpture, for
students entering grades five through eight. “The juggling is going to be
a lot of fun” said Mr. Mordoff. He plans to teach the children the basics
of three-ball juggling. As they get the hang of that, he hopes to move on
to more advanced tricks like passing balls back and forth or stealing them
from other jugglers. “I’m going to tell them all to practice 15 minutes a
day,” said Mr. Mordoff. “If they do, they’ll all be juggling by the end of
the class.”

Students in the balloon-making class will learn to
make a number of different animals, as well as flowers and hats. One thing
they won’t have to do is blow up the animals the old-fashioned way. Mr.
Mordoff uses a pump when he performs, and he teaches his students to do
the same. First off, the balloons are very difficult to blow up and could
pose a choking hazard for his younger students. Additionally, the powder
inside the balloons that helps prevent premature popping can cause lung
problems in the long haul. While it wouldn’t cause problems for his
students in a two-week class, it’s something that someone who blows up
1,200 balloons a month (like Mr. Mordoff) has to think about, he said.

Mr. Mordoff has quite a repertoire of balloon sculptures at his
disposal. He can twist the long, snake-type balloons into anything from a
flower to a dog to a penguin. His most complex is probably the
Tyrannosaurus rex. “That’s a really popular one,” he said. “It can take
four or five balloons.”

Mr. Mordoff said he picks up new designs
from a variety of sources: Videos, Web sites and at clown conventions, for
example. Depending on the complexity of a new design, it can take him a
few hours to master a new design.

Each class will be offered in
three two-week sessions, between July 14 and Aug. 22.

Beginnings

Mr. Mordoff got his start in clowning
back in 1991 working for a company that offered “Gorilla-grams” and other
costumed performers for birthday parties and provided singing telegrams.
He started dressing up as a clown there, and found he liked it better than
the heavier costumes of the other characters. It let him have a lot more
freedom of movement, and freedom to improvise.

A theater major in
college, Mr. Mordoff has also worked as an actor, with small parts in
films, commercials and plays. “It’s fun to see yourself on the screen,” he
said. “But at the end of the day you realize you don’t get paid that
much.” Mr. Mordoff has been a performer in one form or another since his
childhood. He was in touring, acting and choir companies in high school.
He has also ran a couple of touring theater companies.

His last
day job was for a company that recruited foreign workers to come to the US
as camp counselors. He worked on the crisis team there, traveling all over
the world to meet clients’ needs. He left that two years ago, to
concentrate on his career as Pongo. “Eventually I decided I had to make my
life easier and go full time with the clowning,” said Mr. Mordoff.

Full-time Clown

These days, he gets 4 to 10 jobs a
week. He’ll do up to six or seven on the weekends, plus one to five during
the week. “I’m getting a decent reputation,” he said. He gets a lot of
repeat business and a lot of referrals.

He also follows up on
every gig, to make sure the customer was satisfied with his performance.
Mr. Mordoff sends the customers letters asking them whether he met their
expectations and which parts of the performance they liked best. He said
he gets responses from 80% of his clientele, and that the responses have
all been good.

For more information on booking Pongo the Clown:
866-0543 or http://www.pongotheclown.com/experience.html

Being Pongo

Once the make-up goes on, Mr. Mordoff
becomes Pongo the Clown, inside and out. “Somehow, I become funny. I’m not
sure how that works,” he said. “I do become a different character.
Absolutely. It’s not me anymore”

Mr. Mordoff has a set routine of
15 to 20 bits that he uses for a typical birthday party, but he jumps
around between them depending on the mood of the room. For instance, if
the audience is getting restless, he’ll involve them in a high-energy game
like Pongo Says.

He has his set comedy pieces, plus he improvises
and plays to the crowd, working with the kids as he goes. “There’s
something so special when you get belly-laughs from 15 kids” he said.

He works some magic and some juggling into his shows. “The magic I
do is more comedy magic” said Mr. Mordoff. “You think you’re going to make
a chocolate cake, and you end up with a rubber chicken”

Miracles

The struggle is part of the fun when he
gets to juggling. He has the kids talk him through the process, feigning
an inability to keep the balls in the air. “Pongo miraculously learns to
juggle at every party,” he said. It’s that struggle that the kids really
enjoy, he said. “Part of the humor of clowns is that the kids are more
intelligent than you are.”

The hardest part of his job can be
controlling a room of energetic children, while still staying in character
and staying funny. If parents aren’t helping him, that can be difficult.
He said difficult parties are few and far between, but they can be quite
taxing. Kids also confuse clowns with cartoon characters every now and
then, thinking that they can take the sort of punishment a TV character
can. He’s had children jump on his clown shoes, kick him in the shins and
even punch him in the face.

His act is also a strain on his body.
“I’m a very physical clown, a high energy clown:’ he said. By the end of
his third or fourth show in a given day, he’s pretty much exhausted.

Humor and Healing

The classes in Wilton won’t be
Mr. Mordoff’s first time teaching clowning. He has been involved with
Health and Humor Associates (HAHA) at Stamford Hospital for five years,
and was elected president of the organization this year. Depression can
slow people’s recovery, he said, but HAHA helps to stave that off. Mr.
Mordoff trains people in clown skills so they can entertain patients and
visits patients himself.

When he’s not performing, Mr. Mordoff is
spending time with his two sons, ages 7 and 12. The two boys are somewhat
split on their father’s clowning career. “My younger one loves it,” he
said. “My older one is like ‘Get that sign off the car!” Mr. Mordoff’s old
car had a big “Pongo the Clown” sign on it, but he bowed to his son’s
wishes and got rid of that. “It’s boring’ ” he said. “But I’ve got to be a
father, too.”

Instructor Paul Mordoff as ‘Pongo the Clown’ entertaining children
at Shorehaven
Country Club in Norwalk on July 4. – Bryan Haeffele photo
* * Learn more
about Paul


 

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