- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Clara Ross, who plays Bubbles the clown, put less makeup on her face than usual before a performance on Oct. 21 for a group of about 300 students.

It was the first time Ross, a professional clown since 1996, felt nervous about scaring youngsters at the annual Red Ribbon March & Rally - even though she’s performed at the anti-drug event for the past decade.

“I was a nervous wreck just going to the march. I didn’t know if I was going to get pulled over by police and how kids would react when they saw me in a clown outfit,” said the 56-year-old South Bend resident, who is also a special education teacher for School City of Mishawaka.

Though the event went smoothly for Ross, who was well-received by students, it illustrates how real clowns have been impacted by a creepy clown phenomenon that has recently swept across the country and to Michiana.

The craze, which has involved reports of menacing crowns, has cut the earnings of real ones such as Ross. When she’s dressed as Bubbles, people no longer view her the way they used to. They’re more cautious.

“Clowns are supposed to invoke laughter and joy, and now it’s something else. It’s fear,” said Ross, whose clown act includes games and face painting.

Sightings started in August in South Carolina, when several children told authorities that clowns offered them money to follow them into the woods. Reports of clowns have emerged nationwide since then, resulting in arrests and schools being locked down.

The World Clown Association has blamed the craze on social media, saying it doesn’t consider those participating in it as clowns.

Rumored sightings have been taken seriously by authorities, even though they’re largely believed to be hoaxes started on social media. In spite of assurances from police that threats aren’t credible, Michiana schools have sent letters to parents and beefed up security this month.

Because of the fear-driven craze, Ross estimates she’s lost about $2,000 that she would have otherwise made from her clowning.

When the national media began highlighting the craze in August, Ross decided to stop going to Potawatomi Park on Saturdays to look for people at birthday parties to hire her as Bubbles for a few hours of entertainment. She no longer feels comfortable approaching groups of people in her clown outfit.

“Normally I’d be going to the park because there’s always a birthday party going on,” she said, adding that she typically makes $200 on those occasions. “It’s hurt me immensely because I use that money buy good prizes for kids, like basketballs and Barbies. I’ve gone back to smaller prizes.”

Teresa Sibaja, 50, and her 18-year-old daughter, Adriana, have been clowns for about seven years. As a ministry organization, Smiles Unlimited in Mishawaka doesn’t get paid for its clown performances at hospitals, nursing homes and churches.

Sibaja said she and her daughter decided to scrap their act this year because of the impact of creepy clowns. “I would be fearful to go outside in my clown costume because of the way people have reacted,” Teresa said. “I would be scared for my safety.”

She noted that clowns already have lots of taboos to deal with, citing Stephen King’s popular horror novel called “It” about a sadistic clown. “All of this going on with terrifying clowns makes it even worse for us,” she said, “because people already have unfounded fears to begin with.”

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/2ezP0WI

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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