Welch and troupe offer clown 'cure'

by Elaine Kenny '98

Dorothy Welch, an administrative assistant in the Department of Electrical Engineering, has been working at the University for 11 years and clowning around for eight.

Welch is a clown in her spare time, making others smile and laugh by performing with Grease Paint Alley, volunteering at a summer camp, and traveling abroad to clown in Russia.

Her goal is simple:

"I like to give back some of the good in the world. It feels good to lighten burdens and bring a smile to someone's face," she says.

A lifelong fan of clowns and circuses, Welch got her start in the business by responding to a newspaper ad for a clowning class. Through that she joined the Alley, a clowning troupe with some 60 volunteers who range in age from young children to seniors. All participants adopt an off-beat stage name. Now the organization's president, Welch performs as--get ready--"BabyCakes."

Grease Paint Alley performs on weekends and weeknights for special groups, such as children with multiple sclerosis or Down's syndrome, CURE: Childhood Cancer Association, nursing homes, senior citizens' groups, parades, and fund raisers. The clowns do pocket magic, tie balloons, tell stories--anything to help audiences forget their problems for a while.

It was through conferences that she learned of the ambassadorship to Russia. Thirty people traveled to Moscow and St. Petersburg in November 1993 to perform for children in orphanages and hospitals.

"There were quite a few orphanages, and the standards are quite different from here," she recalls. "In the hospitals, we saw parents bringing in medicines for their children and taking home laundry to help out."

Normally, Grease Paint Alley clowns are interactive; that is, they talk with their audience. But that changed in Russia.

"We did a lot of miming in Russia because of the language barrier," Welch explains. "We used body language and hand signals. But we got the message across. It shows you how quickly you can bridge the gap even if you can't speak the language."

Welch would love to go abroad again; kids are kids no matter where you go, and clowns are revered in Russia, she says. "There is enough to do here in this country, but other countries need sharing and laughter, too."

Welch turns down birthday party gigs because she would rather reach out to people who are not on the receiving end of happiness. Her goal, she says, is to coax a smile out of that one little kid in the corner.

"I get more out of it than I give," she confides.

Welch also volunteers at a cancer survivors' camp run by CURE. Most of the time she serves as a counselor, but when Grease Paint Alley shows up for a performance, she dons the wig, applies the grease paint and a smile, and turns into BabyCakes.

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