Their smiles are turned upside down.
Three entertainers — two clowns and a character actress who often performs as a princess — have for years brought smiles to their audiences.
That audience is now sheltered in place with their parents to protect them from the COVID-19 virus. And those performers who make youngsters and their parents smile are wondering when they will again see and hear the laughter of their audiences. They miss the joy of making people smile and laugh, and their own smiles are strained by an uncertain future.
All of the performers — Roger Fojas, Kendra Montagna and Nick Kane — have either entertained in or live near South Pasadena.
“This is the worst time for clowns,” Kane explained. “My friends are devastated. I have one friend who is a clown who is about to become homeless. He’s going insane. He’s used to be on national TV and being in these mega-festivals and now he’s preparing to be homeless.
“And you have to wonder when this thing is over,” he added, “what things will look like?”
Now, clowns and other entertainers aren’t the only people who are losing their jobs in this pandemic, but these entertainers are supposed to be around to make us — and themselves — happy.
“I’m a character performer. It brings me joy to spread joy and right now, I can’t do that which is heart-breaking,” said Montagna, who often appears at children’s parties as a princess. She even sings like Princess Elsa, in the movie “Frozen.” She definitely doesn’t consider herself a clown. She was scared of them when she was a child.
Montagna moved to L.A. from Indiana when she was 19 and she has dedicated her life to performing in one form or another. She has 18 Screen Actors Guild credits, and uses her talents to volunteer in a program called Young Storytellers, which allows children to write plays and actors to act them out.
“Performing is something I’ve always loved,” she said. “It has helped me cope healthfully in any situation and now I’m dedicating my life to it.”
Coping is hard these days, but said she will get through it.
“Right now, I’m just trying to take it day by day. We’re in a state of the unknown,” she said. “We’re all hoping that we can get a sense of structure.”
Montagna isn’t the only one who is scared of clowns. There is even a phobia — coulrophobia — which is an abnormal fear of clowns, particularly “evil” ones. Clowns have become an object of horror for some people because of scary clown movies or because serial killer John Wayne Gacy dressed up like a clown.
“A clown is sometimes frowned on today because of the creepy clowns in the Halloween movies, but behind the mask there is something beautiful about a clown.” Fojas said. “You are seeing more than a facade. A clown makes people laugh at humanity. There is a release and a making of one’s self happier when touched that way.”
Kane said that he’s not in the business for the money, but that is soon going to become a real problem.
“It’s the little kids who save me,” Kane said, adding that he’s never made more than $19,000 a year as a performer and he’s been doing this on his own since 2008. “You leave almost in tears seeing how much a little puppet show can mean to a child. You can’t put a price on that.”
Fojas provided a more finessed definition of what it means to be a clown.
“Some people think of children’s clowns, but it is actually deeper than that,” said Fojas, who also does catering and character modeling for animation characters. “You learn about vulnerability and how to connect with people. You feel the audience and work off the audience.”
Montagna loves to sing, and is a trained actress who does face painting, plays the ukulele and does balloon twisting. She does clown-like things like paint her face, but never with the clown label.
“I’ve always loved performing. I deal with my emotions and circumstances through art. Now I can’t interact and be silly with the kid,” she said.
Entertainers such as these three make their money on the weekends, or at large festivals, which usually pay more than parties. Many of the festivals, which pay more money than parties, have been either canceled or postponed.
Both Montagna and Kane said they were having good years financially, until the pandemic closed things down. Kane said he recently got a cancellation for an event in October.
“January and February were great and then in March, everything disappeared,” said Montagna, who has entertained at parties in South Pasadena. “I’ve got a lot of friends who are out of work. I’ve never seen anything like this. Right now, I’m going through culture shock. I love performing. It is the only thing that makes me happy.”
Montagna is doing some voice-over auditions. Kane, who has also done performances in South Pasadena, has tried doing some performing online, but said that work doesn’t pay the bills.
“It’s so hard,” said the 37-year-old Kane. “I’m back to square one. Who knows when things will turn around? I’m freaking out.”
Times such as these, when things are difficult, are when people most need clowns, said Fojas, adding that this would be a good time for the era of the clown.
“In the era of the Great Depression, you had clowns like Emmett Kelly. People needed clowns so they could laugh at something tragic,” said the 51-year-old Fojas, who lives in Eagle Rock.
Fojas has been clowning since about 2003 — working with a troupe and on his own. He has done a lot of work at festivals, which often hire lots of clowns. He also does catering and modeling for animation characters. He said that in today’s world, clowns are going to have to be more creative.
“Some people have had success on the internet,” he said. “Maybe clowns can create small events or busking. Maybe, we have to reinvent clowns.”
Fojas said that it may take a while, but that there should still be a place for clowns — even with so much sadness swirling around us.
“There is a lot of fear going around right now and clowns can make people less afraid,” Fojas said. “Clowns can make the unknown understood.”
These three entertainers can be reached by contacting them at:
Kendra Montagna: Nikki at Celebration Sensation, 614-323-8858, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Kane: email@example.com
Roger Fojas: firstname.lastname@example.org