A conference beginning tomorrow in Des Moines will involve a lot of clowning around, but the performers will be sharing very serious messages. The first-ever Mid-America Characterization Conference centers on the ways fire and police officers get across safety messages using clowning, puppetry, magic and performance. Spokeswoman Pam Moody herself plays “Sparky” for the Des Moines fire department. With all the games and other things competing for kids’ attention today, she says you have to do something different “to get through to them,” and adds the officers enjoy doing it this way, too. Safety characters aren’t just for kids, either — Moody says the instructors also have a series of safety programs they give for the elderly in their lunch sites and residential communities. It helps with public awareness and in schools or libraries because the public will pay more attention than if they’re just giving a speech. They use the arts of puppetry, clowning, ventriloquism, magic and comedy, and different trainers prefer to use different methods like clown makeup, “name” puppets like McGruff the Crime Dog. She laughs that it’ll probably be the “funnest” educational-type conference anyone will ever attend. The public’s welcome to six P-M shows they’ll put on Friday and Saturday evenings at six, in the Airport Holiday Inn and Conference Center in Des Moines.