The Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit provided excellent training for hospital clowns. Not only did we have an intensive week of orientation (which included character, partnering, classic clowning, makeup, costuming, hospital training, hygiene and safety), we also had monthly rehearsals in which we’d receive group therapy and acquire new skills. We also attended a clown conference at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for chronically ill children where we received workshops from Russian, French, Brazilian and German clowning instructors. [Amazingly, we were paid for the rehearsals and all expenses were covered for the conference!] In short, after three years of working with this wonderful organization, I felt prepared when an opportunity came for me to clown alone in a small hospital near me. (I never wanted to leave The Big Apple CCU, but scheduling around my day job as a nurse was impossible.)
I gave my new hospital a small presentation about my clown training, nurse training and the rules I would follow. They welcomed me as a volunteer and I began the fun. My Child Life supervisor pointed out a plaque on the wall in the hallway which had the image of a stern older man dressed as a clown. She said he was an RN employed by the hospital and the plaque was given in recognition of his volunteering as a clown for special occasions over the years. She said he was not very skilled and was a little scary, but it was done out of the kindness of his heart. She was happy to see what I would bring to the table, but was a bit concerned about his reaction to my presence. I assured her that I would stay out of the way of any other performers and be polite to everyone.
I’ve been doing my rounds there for almost a year and I recently went to the nurses station to check in for a shift when I met him:
A stern older man was sitting at the station and wasn’t very polite. At first I thought he was a doctor because some doctors are annoyed by hospital clowns. When I heard him speak to someone on the phone, my nurse’s ear made me realize he was an RN. Everyone else seemed too busy, so I waited until he finished his phone call to check in.
He began making jokes about everything I said, so I smiled and kept bringing the conversation back to checking in. He seemed to need to be funny, and someone behind him said his clown name that my supervisor had mentioned when pointing out the plaque. He tried to “jokingly” indicate that he’s the one who does the clowning there. The bad vibes were all over the place! I smiled, and said it was nice to finally meet him, then I did my rounds. The next week I saw him again and he didn’t acknowledge me, so I checked in with someone else.
A new clown may be unwelcome by another performer, but as professionals, we must focus on why we do what we do. We are not there for ourselves, but for the children’s well-being and we each have something to contribute.
Lucy E. Nunez has been a theatrical performer since 2002. She created Nurse Lulu for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in 2014. She was a resident clown there and at Baptist Children's Hospital. For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds