Mirabelle and Billy
I was a clown and a ventriloquist. My clown name was Mirabelle. Clowns walk the line between tragedy and comedy, but it is their failure that we most relate to. Clowns are considered sacred in some Indigenous cultures. They help us look at ourselves and heal our wounds. Clowns make it possible for us to laugh at ourselves, for we take ourselves too seriously. They enable us to experience a cathartic release.
In Mirabelle’s experience the tragedy helped establish a connection with the audience that would never have happened otherwise. I believe it is the reason I went into this profession. When I visited a birth defects ward, I would perform as Mirabelle. The children enjoyed watching Mirabelle do physical comedy and perform magic tricks. She dressed with a flair for color and had a variety of wigs - a blue afro, a rainbow afro and a bald wig with wisps of bright orange frizzy hair. She could make magic seeds appear as flowers, produce a never ending handkerchief from my sleeve, and flowers from out of a tube that belonged to an old time magician, Harry Blackman.
I became a ventriloquist due to my acquaintance with a wonderful person who became my mentor, Stanley Krammer. Stanley was an old-time ventriloquist that performed in the hey-day of vaudeville. I met him when I was set up at a flea market. He came by and we started talking. Then, I began to look around. I kept hearing a voice that appeared to be coming from underneath the table. I looked around, trying to figure out what was going on. I was hooked.
Ventriloquism is thousands of years old. Priests and Priestesses used ventriloquism to give a voice to the deceased and to predict the future. It is as old as the riddle of the Sphinx and the Oracle of Delphi. My ‘ventriloquist dummy’s’ name was Billy Star.
My goal as a clown and a ventriloquist was to bring joy to children in hospitals. I performed at burn units, incurable birth defect wards, with children that endured unspeakable isolation and pain. I distributed wishing stars made of multi-layered construction paper that kids made wishes with. On St. Patrick’s Day I gave away 4-leaf clovers. On Valentine’s Day I gave away hearts. Wishing stars were my favorite. They required no special occasion.
One of the tragedies that happened was when I was performing as a ventriloquist at a burn unit. Billy was on my lap. We were busy talking when one of the kids yelled, “Billy, Billy, you lost your leg.” I stopped. I looked down. There on the floor was Billy’s leg. I was so embarrassed. I wondered what I was supposed to do. Then I paused, looked around at my audience. I saw children in the burn unit with permanent scarring. Some in full body casts. I paused for dramatic effect, and asked, “Did you ever have one of these days?” Of course they could relate. The audience bonded with Billy.
Another time, when Billy and I were performing and his wig came off. A little girl came up and gave Billy back his wig. She was bald. She asked him, “What is it like to wear a wig?” Billy said, “It is great. You can even change the color of your hair as much as you want.”
The girl responded, “Yes, that’s not really so bad. I am going to be fitted for a wig and I am scared.” “I don’t have any hair because of my radiation treatments.” Billy became quite taken with her and professed his love. The girl blushed. I was embarrassed. But Billy had a plan.
Once when I was visiting a cancer ward, a father came running to me. He said, “Please come and help me. My daughter fell off the top bunk bed on Cape Cod. She was flown up here to the hospital and did not wake up after a brain operation. Please help me wake her up.” So Billy and I went to see her. We sat down on her bed then Billy started talking to her. A miracle happened. The little girl opened her eyes. And the first sight she had saw was Billy. The little girl was fine. They chatted up a storm. The father hugged me. He hugged Billy, and he hugged his daughter.
How great is that! When the kids asked me, is this my job? I would tell them, yes. I work for smiles.
To better understand what the children were dealing with I read every book I could find on death and dying. I did not just want to entertain the children, I wanted to help. I wanted to make a difference and help alleviate their fears.
I have heard it said, dress for success. Billy was flamboyant. He dressed with a flair for color. He liked to wear a baby blue velvet suit and a top hat or a gold lame’ suit with blue sequins. Sometimes he wore jeans and a jean jacket. He was so popular with the girls that they would slip their phone number into the pocket of his jean jacket pocket and giggle saying, “Call me sometime.” Billy was a superstar and he always had a plan.
The ‘tragedies’ we experienced during our shows became teaching moments. They allowed for our vulnerabilities to connect us in way that an entertainer normally doesn’t experience with his/ her audience.
Mirabelle was funny. She was a part of me. The part that laughs at life and has fun. Billy was a jokester and a brother to my nieces when they were young. He was a fixture at all our family gatherings. He was more than a ventriloquist’s figure. Certainly he was no dummy. While our family grew in size to include a Crystal, Billy’s sister, Grandpa George, Screech the bat, Woody the tree, Gaia the earth; Billy was my favorite. He was my first born and eldest son.