An Aspen clown born by accident

Jeanne McGovern
The Aspen Times
Buttons the Clown paints Dante Clark's face during a Snowmass concert earlier this summer.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

Never once did Tammy Baar think she was going to be a clown until, well, she became one.

“I didn’t intend to be a clown; I thought clowns were creepy,” said Baar, who’s probably best known around town as Buttons the Clown. “I was going to be a princess.”

Baar was, in fact, a princess — or she was hired to portray one for birthday parties and other events. It’s a gig she took up in California when her daughter, who’s now 25, was a young girl.

“I would go to parties and watch the princesses they hired and think, ‘I could totally do that. … I know way more than they do about acting and that character,’” said Baar, who was acting professionally at the time.

So when she moved to Aspen in 1995 and found herself looking for work, she figured she’d “be a princess and do parties like in California.” And, after marching in the Fourth of July parade with a posse of other princesses, her phone was ringing off the hook.

“When I was walking out the door to work my first party, dressed up like a mermaid, my husband asked, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘I have no idea.’”

But moments into her mermaid act, something clicked.

“I realized very quickly that this was something I was really good at without trying,” she said.

Not long after, while searching a costume shop for things to round out her princess collection, “Buttons the Clown was born … quite by accident.”

“I was in the costume store, and I saw the clown costumes and thought, ‘I should just get one … just in case I ever need it.’”

So she bought one — a fabric costume with buttons all over it, some clown shoes and a rainbow wig.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“Within a party or two, it became quite clear that Buttons the Clown was a thing,” she said. ”People loved it, and I liked it a whole lot more than I thought I would.”

Not one to do the job halfway, Baar began to learn more about being a clown. She needed to be a professional if she was going to succeed.

“The clown convention in Las Vegas was one of the funniest things I’ve ever done,” she said. “And what I learned is that what I was doing naturally was professional, but my look was not.

“They designed me a face, helped me get a professional costume. … I became the real deal.”

But for Baar, the “real deal” is as much about what happens on an emotional level as an entertainment level when she’s Buttons the Clown.

“I think that just being able to relate to children totally on their level is the most magical thing,” she said, relaying a story of a shy toddler who ever-so-slowly warmed up to her as she blew bubbles over and over and over again. “At first she wouldn’t leave her daddy’s arms, and then she was standing in front of me, and then I got on the ground and it was just the two of us blowing bubbles and chasing bubbles. It was so magical.

“The freedom to get down on the ground — as a 55-year-old woman — and blow bubbles for kids, to make them smile, … that’s magical.”

Of course there’s more to Baar than meets the eye.

When she’s not portraying Buttons, Baar is a wife and mother (she has been married for 30 years and has a daughter, Shannon, and a teenage son). She also is a teacher (with the local program Music Together), director of the Aspen Elementary School plays (a position she’s filled for 18 years) and well-respected member of Aspen’s vibrant arts community (her favorite role: Mother Abbott in Aspen Community Theatre’s “Sound of Music”).

“What’s really great is I work with young children as their music teacher, then entertain at their birthday parties and then direct them in their school plays,” she said. “I know them, and they know me; it creates a community.

“That’s kind of my thing — if I can lead children in the arts one way or another, and expose them to the arts so they love it, then I’ve done the right thing.”


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