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Connor Pepin, 2, (front) Renee Langlois, 6, and Paul Thayer, 5, (left) watch as one of Bingo's mice races a mouse-driven car between their legs at a recent show in Quantico.
Carol Collins applies some red makeup as she transforms herself
BELOW: Carol Collins, also known as Bingo, has been clowning full-time since 1985. Her act includes several live animals.
Children pay close attention as Bingo goes through her routine at the Quantico Family Library last month. Bingo's act consists of displays and tricks with live animals, balloons twisted into different shapes, some magic and lots of jokes and laughter.
RIGHT: Carol Collins loads her equipment and animals into her special Honda Element, complete with CLWN plates and a red nose on the bumper.
Emily Van Nortwick, 6, gives Bingo a hug following the show at the Quantico Family Library. Bingo said she likes to incorporate lessons into her shows, saying that helping kids learn is important.
AROL COLLINS needs an hour and a half to get ready, and on a recent morning, that meant getting up at 7:30 a.m.
She can't just shower and slam down a doughnut before heading out the door, she has to transform herself--body and personality.
First come the huge red Mary Janes.
"I can drive in these," she said.
Then the costume, a short-sleeved, skirted polka dot ensemble.
And finally, the face.
She started filling in shapes above her eyes and on her lip with white makeup. Then she filled in the rest of her face with a flesh-colored tone. Next, she added black makeup and eyeliner. After each step, she dabbed her face with a powder-filled sock to set the oily colors.
With each layer she cracked more jokes, changing in attitude from Carol Collins to Bingo the clown.
"Sock it to me," she joked as she dusted her face with the sock.
She wiggled her face and explained that clowns should look at the lines and creases in their own faces to design their makeup.
"You want to see what moves when you smile," Bingo said.
Her look has evolved.
"Now that I'm older, I have a lot more lines to follow," said the 59-year-old Midland resident.
Her red clown nose was the finishing touch. It goes on with special adhesive that looked like sticky silly putty.
And the nose had its own finishing touch: a ladybug perched on the end.
"It's bugging me," she said, letting loose with a bubbling, high-pitched clown laugh.
The nose she used on a recent day is one of many she has to choose from.
"That's what's fun, you can pick your different noses when you need to," she said.
Bingo's nose has gone from painted to sponged, but it's always included a lady bug.
"It's a lazy bug--it never moves," Bingo said.
She doesn't wear a wig because it can frighten children and it's too hot, she said. She wears a silly hat instead.
And then she was off--in her Honda Element, complete with a clown nose on the front of it. The mailbox she passes on her way out of the driveway also sports a red clown nose.
"I never really go to work; I go to play," she said.Bubbles and animals
At 10:10 a.m. she arrived at the Quantico library and rolled in a red cart with her name stenciled in circus lettering on the front. She scooted in full costume past crisp flags, shining floors and Marines in uniform giving her puzzled looks.
After setting up, out came the bubbles.
The crowd was instantly captivated. Some of the smaller children were wary at first, but with a few squeaks of her reed whistle and some floating bubbles, she had them smiling, too.
The whistle (actually a German-made bird call) is Bingo's favorite prop, and she keeps it hidden in her mouth through the entire performance. She uses it to accent flying balloons, popping bubbles, and other goofy antics.
The ultimate bubble-popper was the next thing out of Bingo's cart--an African pigmy hedgehog named Prickles.
Before she brought out the real Prickles, she tossed a Koosh ball from her velvet bag and said, "You don't throw real animals in the air, do you?"
"No!" the crowd replied.
Then, as she showed the kids Prickles, she told them that he eats crickets and worms.
"Do you love crickets and worms?" she asked. "Aren't they delicious?"
"No!" they answered.
"Not even with pickles and onions?"
Bingo used her favorite trick next.
She played around with a balloon, first pretending it was a snake, then a karate prop for a volunteer to chop in half. Once he chopped it, she held the broken parts on either side of his head. She told him to put his finger in his mouth and blow. As he blew, she let the balloon halves go, sending them spinning and twisting all over the room.
"Even if they've seen it 10 times, they like that," she said after the show.
Bingo's act also includes a rodent race.
She brought out the fake motorcycle and VW Beetle and loaded up Dot Com the mouse and Oreo the hamster.
The kids lined up with their legs apart, forming a long human tunnel, and let the rodents race underneath them.
"I really liked the the part with the race, but the mouse was really no match for the hamster," 10-year-old Brandon Blakey said after the show. "[Bingo's act] was totally different than I thought it would be, but it was great."
As Bingo put the animals away at the end of her act, several children came up to give her hugs.
"Hugs that I get and seeing kids happy and smiling," are some of her favorite parts of being a clown. "Any time someone can laugh, it's healthy," she said.
Despite the hugs and giggles, clowning can be grueling.
"The hardest part is the tight schedule and the stress of remembering everything," Bingo said. She also hates having to wear her glasses, another disadvantage of getting older.
Despite her age, Bingo doesn't stop, even for a cold.
Wearing a rubber nose with a cold is no picnic, but the show must go on.
"I feel better when I put the makeup on," she said.Beginning of a career
Bingo's career was sparked by her daughter, April, whom Collins adopted from Vietnam in 1975.
For April's first Halloween, Collins wanted to dress up, too, and a friend lent her a jump suit and dollar-store wig.
She and April, aka Bongo, had their first gig together in 1976, fund raising for their local library outside of a grocery store.
"She changed my life," Bingo said.
In 1985, Bingo "jumped in" as a full-time clown.
"Clowning was perfect because I could take [April]," she said.
At performances, April was the center of attention because even as a tiny child, she could blow up big balloons.
Though Bingo plans to be a clown for the rest of her life, she is taking Sundays off to practice dancing for fun.
Bingo charges $200-$250 per hourlong show, but she also spends up to several hundred dollars on each costume and pair of shoes.
It's not just costumes and makeup that make her successful. She said it's important to have business sense, computer skills, and a smidgen of child psychology.
"Go with your heart, but work at it," Bingo said.
She emphasized the value of schooling, even for a clown, and she wants to expand her repertoire.
"I want to learn more older-kid magic," she said.
Bingo and her husband, Malcom the Magician, perform at picnics, parties, schools and libraries. No matter what variation it takes on, Bingo loves her job.
"I thank God every night," she said.