Just Clowning Around

Zaid Ismail runs a company with the goal of putting a smile on everyone’s faces. When your job description includes balloon sculpting and face painting, as well as the chance to work with UNICEF, you know there will never be a dull day at work again.

By Lim Chang Shane

Six years ago, as a senior officer with the Singapore Civil Defence Force, Zaid Ismail used to make a living out of extinguishing fires with powerful jets of water. Now, in his current career, you are more likely to find the 30 year-old squirting spurts of water from a larger-than-life flower pinned on his coat for laughs.

“Putting a smile on a person’s face really makes my day,” says Zaid. “Whether for a big corporate client, for a major event or for a simple birthday party for a seven-year-old kid, to see a heartfelt smile on their faces is my greatest reward.”

Zaid found his calling in life six years ago, over a plate of chicken rice in Bugis, with his longtime friend Noor Azhar. Reminiscing over their wild and wacky days as Business Studies students at Singapore Polytechnic, the duo started chatting about what they really wanted to do with their lives. They shared a common vision of spreading happiness and making people, particularly children, smile.

This passion led to the formation of Just Jesters, an educational-entertainment company that sets itself the noble aim of “selling happiness.”

An all-singing, all dancing ensemble

Providing services designed for all sorts of occasions, be it private functions, activities catered for schools and clubs or corporate events, Just Jesters provides an impressive range of services from balloon sculpting, face painting and thematic parties to statuettes, magic shows, fire eating and unicycling.

In addition, Zaid and his team also customise programmes to suit the unique needs of clients. In fact, some of their current routines, like the Five-man Jesters Dancing Ensemble and the Stage Storytellers, were spawned from clients’ requests.

Making their own costumes from an assortment of rags and armed with nothing more than their creativity and passion, Zaid and Azhar started their operation by street-busking at the then Stadium Cove at Kallang on weekends.

“We gathered a few friends who shared our passion and entertained passers-by. We sculpted balloons, painted their faces, sketched caricatures and transformed a tent into Fairy Land to entertain children and adults with our story telling. I fondly remember those days where we had six to eight Jesters performing dances along the pavements at Stadium Cove, very much to the delight of onlookers. We had so much fun, it was like a carnival!”

Behind the scenes

Contrary to popular belief, being an entertainer is not merely about turning up for the event and performing spontaneously. Upon confirmation of an event booking by a client, Zaid will plan the activities, logistics and schedule of the event. That usually entails choosing the costumes, props and music most suitable for the event. Ever the consummate professional, Zaid is also mindful of children’s short attention spans so he conducts research on their interests to customise a programme to keep them entertained.

Even though company has expanded over the years, the Jesters still hold dear to their core vision of spreading happiness. They even perform pro bono to serve the community. For three days in October 2004, the Just Jesters’ team flew to Indonesia to raise funds for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Performing in Jakarta as part of the “Hand in Hand for a Better Tomorrow” event, Zaid and his team performed mime and street magic to raise more than US$9,000 from donations and product sales for UNICEF.

“The whole experience was an eye-opener for the team. We were really pleased that we could help needy children in Indonesia though our humble efforts. It was definitely a rewarding and meaningful experience. We at Just Jesters always believe that we should contribute back to society whenever we can and hope that we can make a difference through our contributions.”

Closer to home, Just Jesters is also regularly involved with Make A Wish Foundation, adding laughter and spice to the parties of “Wish Kids” with the help of volunteers from the organisation.

Through its Theatre arm, Just Jesters seeks to educate its audience on top of entertaining them. They constantly develop interactive stage-based educational and artistic performances for schools, ministries and corporate clients.

For example, at the height of the SARS crisis in 2003, the company produced and performed a play titled “Simply Act Responsibly, Sam!” The play was about the importance of being socially responsible. This was to complement the SARS-related educational programmes for primary schools.

No laughing matter

The road to becoming a Jester needs some getting used to. That is why Zaid conducts workshops for new Jesters to help them adjust to the world of clowning.

“We teach them the etiquette of being a Jester: how they should talk, behave and move. You need a different personality when you are in costume; you always need to be in-character. Even when you are having a bad day, you need to put it behind you when you are in costume. Children are very perceptive, they can see through you straightaway if you are feeling sad or distracted.”

For those of you who are caught in the dilemma of wanting to pursue your passion for a living but are afraid to give up your day job, Zaid has this advice for you. “Do your homework first! Do not just jump in on impulse. The BIG question you need to ask yourself is whether your business model is sustainable in the long run.”

“You must have the passion to go with what you want to do as there will be many road bumps along the way. I’ve seen many people who give up when they hit a wall. Running your own business is never a bed of roses. It’s how you deal with these challenges that positions you differently from your competitors and makes you stand out from the rest.”

For more information on Just Jesters, visit www.justjesters.com.sg and www.juste.com.sg (corporate events).

Theresa Chan, 21, Jester

Job Scope: Perform plays for schools, face painting, balloon sculpting

How you became a Jester: I happen to know a producer acquainted with Zaid so he gave me a referral.

What you love about your job: I get to work with kids, who I absolutely adore.

Challenges: Unresponsive children. I certainly have to earn my bacon to coax them into participating in the activities on those occasions (laughs). Sometimes parents want to interfere in the programme, which can lead to a different set of challenges as well.

Qualities needed for your job: You have to be outgoing, sociable, crazy and energetic. You have to be able to think like a child to understand them, and be able to communicate well with both parents and children.

Training needed: I read drama at La Salle SIA, and I think my background helps me greatly in my performance. Also, the training workshops conducted by Just Jesters educated me on the etiquette a Jester should have, in the way I walk, talk and behave.

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