Afraid of clowns? Better talk to Rumples

Marcia Denton, as Rumples the Clown, paints a child’s face at the Federal Way Farmers Market in May. - Mirror file photo
Marcia Denton, as Rumples the Clown, paints a child’s face at the Federal Way Farmers Market in May.
— image credit: Mirror file photo

Folks who are afraid of clowns can relax.

There is a way to tell the difference between a real clown and a not-so-nice clown or an impostor.

Real clowns, who are always friendly, have rounded lines painted on their faces. They never, ever, have sharp corners painted in their makeup such as stars, triangles or square shapes.

It’s one of the rules 62-year-old Marcia Denton learned in clown school 16 years ago.

Real clowns also never have any designs painted on their upper lips. They never show any skin, wearing clothing that covers from their wrists to their feet to their necks. And they never swear.

Denton has been performing as Rumples the Clown at Federal Way community events since she attended the four-week clown school in 1992. She attends Relay for Life, the Federal Way Farmer’s Market, Federal Way’s Festival Days, the Kiwanis salmon bake and other community gatherings. Most of her work is volunteer, although she occasionally gets paid.

During the day, Denton works as an office manager in the Federal Way School District’s transportation department. She has held several jobs within the district and has also performed as Rumples the Clown for preschool students.

In 2005, Denton was honored as the Washington Education Association’s Education Support Professional of the Year for her work helping with district food drives, cookie sales and other benefits for needy families in Federal Way.

Most of her performances as Rumples the Clown occur during the summer when school is out.

As a clown, Denton paints faces. She also performs magic tricks, child-appropriate comedy and improvisation theater. She doesn’t make balloon animals because she finds the sound of the rubber bothersome. She always carries bubbles with her.

It takes about an hour to get into clown costume, Denton said. Although she used to paint her entire face white, she now shows skin color beneath her clown designs. It is easier that way, she said. And people are less afraid of a clown with natural-colored skin.

“Kids were afraid of a white-faced clown. They either loved you or they were very afraid,” Denton said.

She partially blames horror movies and Stephen King’s character from “It” for causing people to fear white-faced clowns.

Even adults at times are afraid of clowns, Denton said.

“Literally, they hide behind someone. It’s quite apparent when they’re not comfortable,” she said.

Denton always acts friendly in her clown costume and leaves people alone if they seem fearful. She cautions parents to avoid pushing children toward her if they are nervous.

“I always tell parents, when their kid shows any fear, don’t push them because then they’ll be afraid for the rest of their lives,” she said.

Most of the time, children are thrilled to see Rumples the Clown.

The best age group to perform for is children ages 3 to 5-and-a-half, Denton said. Once a child turns about 6, they are growing too old for clowns and become difficult to impress.

“When you do magic, they’re the hecklers in the crowd,” Denton said. “They’re just not very nice sometimes because they’ve seen it all on TV.”

Some children see a clown and assume it’s a cartoon character, acting differently than they would around other adults.

“If you have elastic pants on, make sure you have something underneath because they’ll pull them down,” Denton said. “They do hit you and kick you.”

But most often, children run up and gleefully hug her, Denton said. Those are among the most rewarding parts of the gig.

Denton said she thrives on the opportunity to act silly and wave and smile at strangers.

“You can do things when you’re a clown that you wouldn’t typically do,” she said. “It’s fun to let loose of your inhibitions.”

Contact Margo Hoffman: or (253) 925-5565.

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