Sharon and Richard Young’s story is about clowning, but it is also about midlife love. Married about nine years, Sharon concludes that “there are more ups than downs of married clown life.” She and Richard both cite travel, costuming and performance experiences as bringing them together as clowns and as a married couple. With grandchildren and one retirement down, this pair of clowns can teach us about what it means to live a big-hearted life.
Richard was first to take the clowning plunge. “In 2008, I’d had back surgery and was laid up for a while,” he recalls. Clowning was something that had intrigued him, so he used his downtime to investigate the local clowning scene. He discovered the Powder Puff Clown Club (PPCC) in Roseville, Minn.
“The first meeting was very scary,” Richard says. “But I’d always been told if you want to try something, try it three times.” He went to PPCC three times, and just kept going back. Sharon joined him in 2011.
“I grew up in a small-town farming community without exposure to cultural diversity,” she says. “The best part of being a clown/character has been the interaction with a variety of individuals from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds.” They are now both members (and sometimes officers) of PPCC, the St. Paul Clown Club and COAI, Clowns of America International.
As part of her rural Wisconsin upbringing, Sharon knew the excitement and spectacle of a small-town parade. Now one of the Youngs’ favorite clowning assignments is exactly that. While most (about 25) take place in summer, they do several in winter. Two are part of the St. Paul Winter Carnival (this year January 26–February 5). “We do a lot of ‘working the sideline’ in parades,” Richard says, which means walking at the edges of the parade group and high-fiving parade viewers. “I like to take that moment to interact with people, to let them know they’re special.”
Another popular winter engagement is a parade at the Hudson Hot Air Affair (February 3–5). Hudson Chamber of Commerce director of communications and programs Andrea Jorgenson offers another chance to see the Youngs in action. “My favorite event that Richard and Sharon ‘clown around’ at is the Spring Showcase on Sunday, March 19, 2017. [They] have come as Bullseye and ShyAnn (Western-themed clowns), and last year as pirates. They engage kids with warm welcomes, as well as endlessly tying balloon swords or critters to encourage a smile.”
The Youngs say their pirate costumes (BlackJack and Captain Ruby) are their favorites. One extension of their “piracy,” and their generous hearts, is a clowning venture of their own called 4-Ever Young, where they gather kids ages 12 to 18, give them access to their pirate costume stash, and with little more than a few minutes of pre-parade instruction, create a whole pirate show in four Wisconsin parades. “We turn our truck into a big pirate ship, and have four little ships built of PVC pipes and cloth,” Richard says. “The kids hand out balloon swords.”
Richard tears up when asked what clowning has meant to him. “The world needs some cheering up,” he says. “It’s nice to share such a positive experience. It’s good to see little kids sparkle.” Sharon puts it this way: “I enjoy bringing smiles to others, but have found each interaction touches my heart, too.”