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Faces of the fair
Clown, Tree Man entertain crowd
The fair circuit can be an unwieldy beast, especially for a clown and a walking tree.
Flo the Clown and the Walking Tree Man were two new attractions to the Yuba-Sutter Fair in Yuba City this year.
Linda Hulet’s four clown characters include Flo, a ’50s diner waitress, the cutesy Shylo, nerdy P.J. and silent Gladys Pumpernickel.
Hulet has been a full-time fair clown since 1988. She does about 32 fairs a year from California to Louisiana. In December and January, she teaches clown school and performs overseas.
“I enjoy seeing the country, going town to town and meeting people,” Hulet said. “It’s always an adventure.”
Hulet lives in her 38-foot trailer year-round, but bought her first home in Logandale, Nev., this year.
“Every place you go it’s different, so the excitement and love of what you do never gets old,” Hulet said.
Her favorite part is interacting with children and adults. Their smiles and people she sees year after year keeps her in the business.
But it’s an expensive line of work. Along with wearing heavy makeup, a red nose and fake buck teeth, she has to buy a new dress every month for about $400, a new $125 cotton-candy colored wig every few months. Her clunky polka dot clown shoes have to be specially made for $375.
As a woman in “a man’s business,” Hulet said she tries to bring something new into her act every year. Last year it was a clown car and this year was a tricycle.
The “fair family,” the group of people that travel the circuit together, make traveling easier, she said.
“Whether from the carnival, to food vendors to entertainment, they are there,” Hulet said.
Cliff Spenger works about a dozen fairs a year as the Walking Tree Man. He spent about 450 hours sowing each of the canvas oak tree and latex pine tree costumes he brought to the fair.
The 11-foot tall costume weighs about 100 pounds, but half of that is in the legs. After 30 years as a circus and fair tightrope walker, he mastered the balance to stand tall about the crowd.
“Every move I make is like a rock climber,” he said.
Spenger travels all over the country doing fairs, but calls San Francisco home. His subject matter makes him a bit of an abnormality among the fair circuit, he said.
“It’s hard to do something different. It’s easy to entertain and they clap,” he said. “This touches people.”
He tries to spread the message that people need to be connected to nature and take care of it, he said.
Fairgoers’ response is his favorite part.
“They drop the jaw and kind of go ‘I can’t believe what my eyes are seeing,’” he said. “You can see the gears trying to turn in their head.”
The triple digit weather is what gets to him. He wears a bag of ice on his head to stay cool and bows out when he starts to overheat.
His costume creates a fear factor because of its size and non-human form, he said. And until fairs see how much people like him, it’s difficult to find work.
“It’s not easy being green,” Spenger said.
Appeal-Democrat intern Ashley Gebb can be reached at 749-4724 or firstname.lastname@example.org