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Freckle Speckle the Clown

Full disclosure. I know Yana (aka Freckle Speckle the Clown) for a few years. We met  at the Landmark Forum, a personal training and development program, about four years ago. Yana is one of these people that you would definitely notice; a firecracker. During one of the sessions, as we were sharing our resolutions, Yana stood up and said that she’s going to move to Israel and work at The Israeli Opera. Like everyone else in the room, I was impressed (I’m pretty sure she got a round of applause for the courage) but then my Israeli scepticism took over. “Easier said than done”, I thought. But she did it. She packed her suitcase, left her NY apartment, clowning business, job as a stage manager at Juilliard and moved to Israel. About 6 months ago she came back to NY, married, mom to two little girls and with more positive energy than ever.

Between family and work, Yana and I didn’t have the chance to catch up. So I was happy for this opportunity to get together (virtually) without interruptions from the kids (well, almost) to talk about community, vitality and self acceptance.

About clowning.
Clowning is a craft, really.  You have to have a sense of humor, love making people laugh, but also be able to work hard. Freckle Speckle the Clown has been in this business for almost 20 years, making her practically a veteran. Her background as an early education teacher and personality, naturally led her to be a kids’ entertainer. “I’m an organized and playful person and I love being the center of attention”, she laughs. Recently, Yana performed at Keshetot (and she will be back with more, next semester) and having seen Yana in action, I can say that whether it’s funny interactive magic, singing, face painting or balloon art, she instantly takes over the room with her vivacious personality and genuine energy.
Apart from birthday parties, Yana has also been collaborating with Starlight Children’s Foundation (a nonprofit organization helping seriously ill children through entertainment) for 12 years and she performs in hospitals for sick kids.

So what made you decide to move to Israel?
“I’m adventurous like that,” she laughs. “I always had a strong connection to Israel. My parents are observant and we have family there. I have visited Israel for short periods of time,  but never long enough to really integrate into the society and learn the language.
This time it was a different kind of experience for me. There was an urgency about it. Four years ago, I was at a point in my life where I wasn’t content with my career and personal life in NY”, she adds. “At that point, I was clowning for over 10 years, but was having a hard time feeling connected. I was still putting a lot of energy into each performance, but emotionally, I was drained. I thought that maybe I need a career change, an ‘adult’s job’.  I took a break from clowning full time and studied stage management”. Yana got a fast-paced job at Juilliard, organizing in-house productions and coordinating between the director, backstage crew and actors. She loved it, but that didn’t bring the change she was hoping for.
So she made Alia. In Israel, Yana studied at an Ulpan and lived at a Merkaz Klita in Raanana, later moving to Givataim. She had the chance to apply her stage management experience in ‘The Israeli Opera’ and there, behind the scenes, she also met her future husband, Tsach. “Living in Israel wasn’t easy,” she recalls. “I’m a people-person and had a hard time overcoming the language barrier which made it more difficult to communicate freely and become a part of Israeli mainstream. I felt out-of-place and ultimately, it got me to surround myself with a community of others like me.” Yana joined  CityKids, a new English speaking community center for kids in Tel Aviv, a sort of a Keshet equivalent for immigrants from Anglo-speaking countries, where she taught English and worked in administration.
And she never gave up clowning, continuing to entertain kids in Israel.

What made you come back to NY?
“It was a joint decision,” Yana says. “My husband and I thought it would be better for our family and our careers.” Within months of landing back in NY, Yana was fully back into clowning business doing a few performances a week around the city (oh, and did I mentioned that she also gave birth to her second girl around that time)
“The work in the community center and motherhood certainly changed my perspective and shifted my priorities. I came back with great energy and hunger. I fell in love with clowning again. And I’m pacing myself now, I think that when I left NY I was extremely overworked, now, my priorities have changed. I select my performances carefully and  I truly have fun. I think people notice and value that in my performance. Starting as a one woman show, Yana has hand-picked team of entertainers, that work together to accommodate every party.

What’s your favorite part about clowning?
“Working  with kids in hospitals and the collaborating with Starlight Children’s Foundation. It’s amazing to be able to bring the spirit of joy and play, into these emotionally charged situations. I really feel I’m making a difference.
It’s easy to come to the party and make it fun because everyone is already having fun. But to cheer up a child who lies sick in a hospital… it can’t get any better than that.”

About a year ago, The Starlight Foundation began featuring Freckle Speckle the Clown on their billboards. “It came to me as a surprise,” says Yana “they must have gotten this photo of me at one of the parties. I didn’t know they are going to use it to promote the foundation. While I was in Israel I began to get emails from my friends telling me they have seen ads with my face on buses, billboards, and train platforms. It felt amazing. It was sort of a calling, a sign that I was not forgotten”.

What are your plans for the future?
“Ultimately, I want  to maintain a strong connection to Israel, raise my kids in a community that celebrates the jewish heritage and to be accepted. I see myself creating or being involved in an Israeli-Jewish community center where I would apply my experience with kids and my production background.
I’m lucky to be involved with “Israelis in Brooklyn”, she says. I think there is a great deal of artistic exchange, mutual support and much room for conversation.”

As our kids on both sides of the phone are getting restless, I ask one more thing, hoping for an advice really.
“Where do you get the energy to be playful with your girls, after an exhausting performance?”
“Well that’s easy,” laughs Yana, ”I’m the clown in my professional life, my husband is the clown in the family.”

Spotlight Written by: Rita Schifter

Yana Babaev-Atias Freckle Speckle the Clown

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Yana is amazing! I used her for my daughters birthday and we had a blast! beyond all my expectations.

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