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Clownish alumna returns to St. John's


For Amanda Fernandez, it is important to dress up in large, colorful clothes, slap on a round, plastic red nose and green-colored straw hair, and make people laugh.

"I have an empty spot right here," she explains, pointing to her stomach. "And I need it filled with laughter."

Ms. Fernandez, who appears as Mandy the Clown, hopes her audience at St. John's College will help fill that spot tonight as she and the members of Circus Beyond perform as the last in the college's lecture series at 8:15 p.m. in Key Auditorium.

Not that a long lecture is on the agenda. Instead, it will be slapstick comedy, juggling, magic tricks and acrobatics. OK, there will be a short lecture delivered by Ms. Fernandez, a 1989 St. John's alumna. But even that won't be serious.

"I'm going to say that pure enjoyment is good for the soul," says Ms. Fernandez, 27.

Besides, how could anyone take Ms. Fernandez seriously in her clown outfit. Even the red makeup around her mouth makes it appear as if she's always smiling.

The audience probably will be smiling after her waltz on stilts wearing large, floppy shoes.

But this won't be a passive evening. Ms. Fernandez and her circus friends will get the audience involved, too, by teaching them how to juggle with bean bags.

"This is a circus appreciation night and the only way to appreciate it is to learn a trick," says Ms. Fernandez, who founded the circus six months ago after returning from theater and circus studies in Russia.

"We want the audience to learn our tricks. They'll still appreciate them because they'll see what kind of work it requires," she says.

That's why education is such an important part of the group, which Ms. Fernandez bills as Maryland's first community circus.

"We want to recruit young people from various communities and teach them circus skills," she says. "We're particularly interested in young, competitive gymnasts who can burn out by the time they're 12 or 13. The circus gives them the creative outlet that competition doesn't give them. And they could make a living from it."

Circus member Melissa Goldman agrees. She entered the world of competitive gymnastics at age 11.

"The pressure was really intense," says Ms. Goldman, 25, of Baltimore. "By the time I was 14 or 15, I was getting burned out. But this is really great in a noncompetitive way. If you fall, it's OK."

The group wants the audience to appreciate human tricks, not animal tricks. That's why this isn't the typical Barnum & Bailey three-ring circus. There are no animals here.

"We want to start changing the ideas of what the circus is all about," Ms. Fernandez says.

"It's about humans doing amazing tricks rather than a human teaching a dog to do a trick and bark."

Eventually, Ms. Fernandez hopes the circus will make benefit performances throughout the nation and the world.

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