Tricia Manuel was a devoted theater student throughout high school, but it wasn’t until her freshman year of college that she discovered her true calling. After one brief stint as a clown during a hometown parade, she knew she must remain one for the rest of her life.
“I was a star for that day,” said Tricia. “Making people laugh was pure joy, and everyone wanted to come over to take their photo with the funny clown. But how could I become a professional clown? Resources were slim before the internet. After some scratching around I found a copy of Clowns of America International Magazine. In it was an ad for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College, which was the only lead I needed.”
Tricia’s motivation was nicely matched by her natural aptitude for clowning. She was, to put it mildly, an attractive young woman. She was also athletic enough to endure rather jarring pratfalls. “A pretty clown falling down,” said Tricia, “turned out to be very funny. This was back during the golden age of slapstick humor. The things we did then would be considered incredibly violent by today’s standards. I think that’s part of the beauty of clowning, though – it’s always evolving.”
Tricia graduated at the top of her class and accepted a job with the circus. Now the Maple Lake girl found herself surrounded by a mélange of roustabouts, animal tamers, acrobats, and the rest of the hoi polloi who put on a circus. It was, she admits, a culture shock.
“I was terrified they might find out I didn’t actually know anything,” reminisced Tricia. “But I thought that maybe, if I kept my mouth shut and tried to learn as fast as possible, they might not send me home.”
Tricia shaped herself to this new world of wonders. Each day she awoke to put herself together in a sleeping car’s 3′ by 6′ room, and followed that act by figuring out where to find breakfast. Rather than brave a ride in the company school bus she would walk or ride her bike from the train yard to work. With her makeup painted on and props at the ready, the young clown took a deep breath before stepping into the ring.
“Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey had started accepting lady clowns in 1968, but even by 1980 there was only one other in my company beside me,” said Tricia. “Fortunately, clowns are a close-knit group. They always take care of their own.”
Tricia performed with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey for three years before breaking away to clown at Disneyland. That is where she could finally choose a suitable name for clowning. As Pricilla Mooseburger she worked in the home of a certain extremely well-licensed rodent character whose name we don’t dare print in this magazine.
“At that time I discovered the world of hometown clowns,” said Tricia, “and every hometown clown has their own unique persona. Whether they’re portraying a funny race car driver or fisherman or chef, they need to look the part. Now, I grew up in a family full of talented seamstresses. Even though I had never taken a class in it, pattern drafting was in my blood. I began tailoring costumes for clowns across the continent, a business which soon turned into Pricilla Mooseburger Originals.”
Tricia eventually perceived another great need in the clown community: more clowns. “I taught at some clown camps over my career, but I always had my own idea of what a clown arts education should look like,” said Tricia. “It should be a total immersion, with heavy focuses on character development and learning how to perform well. I wanted to take my time with students to teach them the finer points of clowning, which is why I founded Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp.
“People who want to be clowns … well, we’re just wired a little differently. We’re the ones who laugh too loud, talk too much, and always have a crazy idea. At our camp no one tells you to be quiet. If you love corny jokes, you’ll finally be surrounded by people who love the same. Wherever you come from and whatever kind of clown you want to be, you’ll feel like you’re going to a family reunion at Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp.”
Tricia’s unique ability to create clowns is frequently on display at Can Can Wonderland. There you can see her daughter Julia Bothun, who performs under the name Wanda Fool, carrying the clown flame on into the new millennium.
If you would like to finally take your clowning ambitions seriously and receive education from the world’s foremost authorities on pie throwing, seltzer spraying, and giant floppy shoe wearing, then you may enroll in Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp’s 2021 season at mooseburger.com.
By David Scheller