She’s Not Just Clowning Around

MOUNT OLIVE – Senior fine arts major Lindsey Merryfield will graduate from University of Mount Olive on May 5. The Goldsboro native then plans to pursue her dream of becoming a Ringling Brothers circus clown.
“My family laughed at me when I first told them,” Merryfield said of becoming a clown. “They were like, ‘you’ve gone to college for four years to try to join the circus?’  But, seriously they’ve really supported me.”
Merryfield hopes to utilize her performing, painting and writing talents in the circus.  “The possibilities are endless,” she said.  “Art comes in very handy in sewing costumes, designing makeup, making props and writing gags.  It all boils down to creativity.”
Merryfield’s creative gene was stirred early in life.  “I was notorious for getting into trouble for drawing all over the walls when I was little,” she confessed.
Although she loved to draw and perform, having participated in the Spring Creek High School marching band, concert band, and jazz band, when it came time to choose an educational path for college, Merryfield did not follow the creative avenue.  Instead, she started out majoring in agriculture with the goal of one day becoming an Ag-Ed teacher.  She changed her major twice before finally settling into her true passion – fine arts.
Sitting in the art studio in Laughinghouse Hall it is evident that Merryfield has found her niche. Applying bright yellows, greens and reds to one of her many canvases she talks about her drawings, many of which are renderings of clowns that she knows personally.
“When most people think of clowns, they think of animal balloons, big red noses, and crazy costumes.  In my drawings, I want people to wonder about the person behind the makeup.  I want them to wonder who it is and how they got there,” she said.
Merryfield’s own interest in clowning came about unexpectedly.   Her best friend from high school, Andrew Hicks, who is now himself a Ringling Brothers circus clown, introduced Merryfield to clowning.
The pair has clowned at parties, festivals, fairs, churches, and schools.  At first Merryfield looked at clowning as just a fun outlet, then she made the connection to something deeper; she realized that clowning could provide a creative outlet for her artistic expression.
“I know the exact date it happened,” she said.  Andrew and I were writing gags for a performance, but it just wasn’t clicking for me.  All of a sudden, he said, ‘This is not working; go get in the car.’”
He took Merryfield to a deserted, wooded area and then started acting crazy.  “He was dancing and spinning in circles; it was completely undignified.  He stopped and looked at me and said, ‘Now I want see you do it.’ It took me a while to break my pride.  Once I did, we were both just going crazy.  After that day, I was a completely different person, and a completely different clown. ”
Merryfield is more comfortable with herself now.  She has blossomed from the shy and reserved teenager to a confident young lady unafraid to express herself, not only in her clowning, but also in her everyday life.
“Clowning is such an emotional art,” she said.  “I’ve learned so much about myself by being a clown.  As a performer you have to make yourself vulnerable to the audience.  There is a creative process, but I think it’s more about getting out there and making people laugh.  There’s nothing better than being in a group of kids and doing something completely silly that they wish they could do themselves.  Everyone wishes that they could get up and do something crazy.  But that’s not normal.  So, as clowns, we get the chance to do what’s not normal.”
Merryfield has experienced something else that not many do…the opportunity to use her clowning to break down barriers.   While on mission trips to Nicaragua and Puerto Rico, Merryfield used her clowning to bring smiles to impoverished children.  When she returned from the trip, she captured the experience on canvas.
“The living conditions were horrible, but I didn’t want to portray that.  I wanted to portray the colors.  I wanted people to see how I felt about it.  It was a beautiful place and the people were beautiful and full of life.  They didn’t know that they were poor.  They were laughing and having fun.”
The ability to make people laugh and forget their problems, if even for a short while, is one of the things that makes clowning so attractive to Merryfield.  “In my heart, I love clowning, and I want to join the circus to be a light for others.”
After graduating with her bachelor’s degree in May, Merryfield will travel to Texas to spend a week in clown school before auditioning for the big top.  She will use the time to develop her clown character and refine her skills.   But she won’t learn how to be funny.
“I don’t think you can learn to be funny; I really think that is a trait that is inside a person.  Sometimes I look at a person and think, ‘that person’s got a little bit of clown in them,’” she smiled.
University of Mount Olive is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park, Washington and Jacksonville.  For more information, visit