By Michael Morton
She wore a curly blue wig, oversized floppy shoes, face paint and a red nose, and the 44-year-old former special education tried to engage her young audience. “Does anyone know a magic word?” she asked.”Abracadabra!” the summer camp kids shouted in unison.”I already have a banana,” she said, acting confused and pulling out a yellow piece of toy fruit amid chuckles from the crowd, For Francois, i.e. Franee the Clown, the give-and-take represented yet another piece of her act, on display for National Clown Week from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7. The celebration began in the 1950s for since forgotten reasons, and President Richard Nixon first declared it a national observance in 1970.”All across America good men in putty noses and baggy trousers following a tradition as old as man's need to touch gently the lives of his fellow men go into orphanages and children's hospitals, homes for the elderly and retarded, and give a part of themselves,” Nixon wrote in his proclamation.For Franee, clown week this year was expected to entail a stop at the Bay Terrace Barnes & Noble on Saturday at 12 p.m. and the stop at the poetry theater.”She's punctual, she's professional and she's positive,” said the theater's Byron Perry, who hires Franee for several shows every year. “She deliversÑshe changes her repertoire and she engages.”While others clown around as hobby, Franee said for her “it's my job, it's what I do. People don't get it.” A special education teacher in Brooklyn for 15 years, she started working as a clown seven years ago after leaving the teaching job, although she cannot pinpoint what sparked her interest in donning the red nose. She said at first she just winged her performances, relying on her background as an educator and on her ability to think on her feet. “You don't even know there's clown makeup per se,” Franee said, explaining that she used lipstick to color her face initially. She learned to adapt the “patter” that came with the props she bought and picked up tips from magazines put out by the World Clown Association and Clowns of American International. When her son, now 8, when off to kindergarten, Franee found time to attend clown camp in Wisconsin, where attendees learned face painting and balloon animal tips, and a clown conference in Delaware that included a class on running a business. “Some people have their faces copyrighted-Ñit gets very serious,” Franee said. The best gigs, she said, come from corporations and public libraries, although the latter feature grueling auditions that are by invitation only. “You give 15 minutes of your best stuff, ” she said.Franee had to take time off from her blossoming second career when her daughter, now 3, was born. But this fall the youngster will be going to kindergarten, and Franee has already started to increase her workload. “It's becoming lucrative,” she said, noting that she was working three or four days a week this summer throughout Queens and Long Island. Though her price is a closely guarded trade secret, she does pass on one tip for aspiring clowns: Avoid performances with 8-year-old boys.”They can be really annoying,” Franee said.Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.