Reprinted by permission
Lorain Myer as Snookums delights in making people forget their troubles
By Meg Hibbert
She's always clowning around.
Lorain St. Clair Myer is happy when people laugh at her, and even happier when they laugh at her friends. The Salem resident is a Christian clown who, through alter ego Snookums delights in making people forget their troubles for a few minutes.
"You've got a gray hair on your shirt," she says, pretending to brush it off, only it's a little "hare" - a gray sponge rabbit. "People ask if I'm really a clown," she continues, clearly on a roll. "Here is a picture of my parents," Myer says, pulling a photo of two clowns out of her pocket.
You start to see it coming by then: "I've got two kids" - photograph of baby goats;" "Six little ones" - picture of half a dozen numeral 1s; "These are my pride and joy" - Pride and Joy detergent. And on and on.
"It doesn't take a lot to make people laugh," said Myer, the co-leader of an entire troupe of clowns who make up the Joy Makers Clown Ministry at First Baptist Church in downtown Roanoke.
They juggle, make balloon animals, do face painting, a little magic. Mostly, they make people smile.
For daytime shows, nine clowns out of the troupe's 15 members perform Christian skits at such varied venues as the senior luncheon at First United Methodist Church in Salem to clown fashion shows for the National Active & Retired Federal Employees luncheon, hospital visits and face-painting at a West End block party.
Even when she isn't "in clown " - clown speak for "wearing clown makeup " - Myer frequently wears her favorite purple T-shirt clown made for her by her friend and troupe co-leader, Rita Martin of Vinton. On the front is a portrait of Snookums. On the back, the words, "Normal people scare me."
This is Myer's third year as Snookums, a ditzy little thing with canary-yellow curly hair, a frilly pink pinafore, hot pink gloves and big, bright pink-and-purple shoes with polka-dot chartreuse green socks. The shoes were a birthday gift from her husband, Jim, a bank auditor.
She describes herself as "naturally goofy," and said she first thought of becoming a clown "when I read in the weekly newsletter the church wanted to start a clown troupe, I said, 'That sounds like me,' "
Timing was perfect. It was about six months before she retired from GE in Salem, and she was looking for her next identity.
"It took me from the front gate to the stop light to adjust," she said about retiring from the industry where she was for 37 years. She started out as a file clerk and finished up as a buyer.
It took a year for Myer to figure out what kind of clown she was. She first thought she was a White-Face clown, the type who exaggerates childlike qualities such as blowing bubbles, but still has tears and compassion.
"I knew nothing about clowning. I knew clowns looked different from each other but I didn't know the looks meant something," she explained.
After taking a "Clown Personality Survey" that asks such discerning questions as "Do you consider yourself a playful but somewhat controlling person?" and "If you could dress any way you really wanted, would you be content to wear the worst-looking clothes, even tattered and torn, as long as they were comfortable?" Myer discovered she was an "Auguste." That type is defined as a clown who is an exaggeration of the human condition. Augustes are the clowns who are pranksters, she explained, the slapstick comedians for whom nothing ever goes right.
Augustes paint their faces with flesh-toned paint," Myer explained, instead of clown white. "I exaggerate my features with white around my eyes and mouth, red around the white, over my own eyebrows and then I paint on eyebrows above my own. You have to figure out where your face moves," she explained. "You frown and smile in a mirror to do that."
She has a pinch-on red foam rubber nose, especially made by clown makeup master Leon McBryde of the community of Buchanan in Botetourt County.
Other clown types are the Tramp or Hobo - think the look made famous by old-time clown Emmett Kelly - and Character, such as a Keystone Cop, Raggedy Ann, or other recognizable characters.
In order to learn how to be a clown, Myer took part in three dramatic arts conferences put on by the Southern Baptists of Tennessee and a couple of clown camps, including McBryde's at Camp Bethel in Botetourt County.
"We've gone to clown camp for two years. Then we go back and teach the troupe. We pass on what we have learned. I would like to do that for other churches," she added.
It was McBryde's wife, Linda, who told Myer she was really an Auguste.
When the troupe first started out, members used regular clown face paint. Then they discovered ProFace developed by Leon "Buttons the Clown" McBryde. "It's much, much easier to get on and off," Myer said. "This makeup cuts my makeup time at least in half." That still takes about 20 minutes, she said.
"Of course, I'm a girl and we're used to putting on makeup. It takes guys a lot longer," Myer added, with a big smile.
Why does she paint her face, put on funny clothes and get herself psyched up to make a bunch of strangers laugh? "I like bringing joy to other people. I think that's just the love of Christ in my heart. I think when you're a Christian, people ought to be able to look at you and see something different."
At churches, the troupe usually presents a clown fashion show, including a bride and groom, and ends with a skit called "What is love?"
The clowns stand close together, some with arms extended. "Even though we're in clown, little kids could tell what we formed was Jesus on the cross," she said.
Myer's husband Jim plays Clyde, the straight man who wears a suit. When they met at church and married eight years ago, little did he know he was getting a clown for a wife.
"He helps out but he says one clown per family is enough," his wife said, laughing.
Other members of the Joy Makers Clown Ministry and their clown personalities include: co-leader Rita Martin, Gigit, who works at GE in Salem; Bettie Hutton, Bobo; Leon Burchett of Vinton, Mr. Fixit; Maurie Pomeroy of Cave Spring, Miss Pearl; Shirley Whitenak of Cave Spring, Lollipop; Linda Krebs of Roanoke, Libertee Belle; Mittie Sue Burchett of Vinton, who is the troupe's gopher.
Twelve-year-old Landon Pauley, son of First Baptist's minister of music, Chris Pauley, "is good with magic and face-painting," Myer said. Landon is also a member of the Roanoke College Children's Choir.
Other troupe members who help out with face painting and visiting at nursing homes but work during the day are Tanya "Sparks" Gray, Patsy "Pinkie" Marshall, Abby "Sparkles" Verdillo and Pamela "Princess Daisy" Wilson, all of Roanoke. Roanoke residents Debbie "Lavender Joy" Bauer and daughters Katherine, "Little Pinkie," 9, and Emily "Buttercup," 6, do face painting and visit at nursing homes.
Someday, Myer would like to have a birthday party business, she said. Until then, Snookums keeps 'em laughing - with a message.
"Anyone who wants to know about clowning can attend one of our workshops," she said. "We tell people all they have to have is the willingness to learn."
Troupe members hold two workshops a month to teach different skills, and invite other people to come in. Would-be clowns can contact Myer - a 1966 graduate of Andrew Lewis High School - at ALHS66@msn.com or 389-8856.