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Kids clowning around are encouraged at this camp

One of America’s top fears, coulrophobia, is a dream come true for Matthew Belopavlovich, a multi-talented instructor at The Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

While in second grade, he proclaimed his future career was that of a clown. Yet unlike most whose childhood ambition vacillates with age, Belopavlovich stayed on course and, armed with a BFA in acting, made his dream come true.

“Clowns are so much more than red noses and big shoes,” said Belopavlovich. “I just fell in love with the side of the clown that allows you to laugh at the mistakes we make as humans and just how humble they can be. I latched on to that as an only child, and said that’s what I want to do when I grow up.”

In 2012, after numerous auditions and years of perfecting his skills through birthday parties and nursing home events, Belopavlovich was offered a coveted contract as a Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus clown. He toured for two years and served as pre-show host for the circus. His original work, Laufitte, was featured at the New York Clown Festival in Brooklyn.

On Feb. 13, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., Belopavlovich and fellow former Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey clowns Dustin Portillo and Brandon Foster will give a peek behind the curtain to students third through eighth grade for the Clown Boot Camp, now in its third year at Patel Conservatory.

Students will learn basic improv comedy, how a clown warms up before a performance, makeup application and juggling. They also will be taught a short routine.

Children will watch a complete clown makeup transformation on Portillo. Often, seeing the person in real life before he transforms into the clown persona, helps to eliminate unfounded fears.

“Dustin will be demonstrating a full makeup application and talking through it, and the kids can ask a Q&A. Each child will get to experience grease paint with a red clown nose and the baby powder we use to set the makeup,” said Belopavlovich.

When asked why clowns use such big gestures and vivid makeup, Belopavlovich explained that historically, circuses were held in huge tents with very poor lighting.

Large theatrical gestures helped emphasize the comedy being shared, while white face paint enabled the light to bounce off the clown’s face.

Bright complementary colors highlighted his expressions for the person sitting in the far rows.

Following the makeup application tutorial, students will learn the art of juggling with beanbags and scarves.

What is special for this year’s Clown Boot Camp is Portillo and Foster will teach the students a portion of a real clown routine.

“They’re going to show the kids one of the routines they did on the floor during the show,” said Belopavlovich.

“They’ll be teaching pairs of kids an actual clown gag (routine) and the kids will perform it at the end of the boot camp.”

Belopavlovich hopes to show that being a clown as a career is more than just making people laugh.

“It’s an amazing experience connecting with a child or a big child — a kid at heart,” he said.

“That is really what a clown is for. They strive for these moments when they connect — making that connection is incredible.”

The workshop fee is $25 and registration is required by calling (813) 222-1002.

The Patel Conservatory offers classes in dance, music and theater for students of all ages and experience levels.

Registration and more information are available at www.patelcon servatory.org.

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