Hospital clowning can be done alone if the hospital is small enough, but having a partner is ideal (see No “I” In Partner). One of the skills your partner may bring that you may lack is being bilingual. Depending on your hospital’s demographics and locations, the specific second language may or may not be important.
One of my former partners was a multi-talented clown who grew up in a Russian circus. Although it wasn’t necessary to be a Russian speaker in our hospital, he brought a unique energy and cultural point of view which kept our shifts fresh and unpredictable.
I have a couple of universal jokes and visual gags that I rely on when I come across families that speak only Spanish. However, although I speak both English and Spanish, my first language is English and it’s not always easy for me to improvise or be witty in Spanish during a performance. Not only do I think in English, but many jokes, sayings and terms in the Latin American community are regional, so if you are not familiar with how things are said in a given country, things like puns won’t work. Another problem I have with Spanish is that some harmless terms in one country may be offensive and insulting in another. As a result, I find it helpful when I have a partner whose first language is Spanish, and they happen to be from the same country as a given “audience”.
One partner I had could relate perfectly to any local audience in both English and Spanish, and she was a veteran in the local theatre scene. What she and I would sometimes to for groups comprised of English-only speakers and Spanish-only speakers was to use the brilliant tactic of the classic 1970’s bilingual show, “Que Pasa, USA?”. This show would use the situation and actors’ emotions as a reason to repeat in one language things were said in the other language, thus translating without making it obvious. For example:
“Juana no ha llegado del trabajo.”
“She isn’t home yet? But Juana always gets out of work on time.”
The interesting thing is that some of us bicultural, bilingual people do this at home already, because we prefer to speak English and live with parents who understand English but would rather speak in Spanish! This method of making the show bilingual was great because families like ours could sit and watch it together, relate to it and understand it. There was never a sitcom like it before, and there hasn’t been one like it since.
In short, language doesn't have to be a barrier in hospital clowning; the universal human condition and cultural variety provides an opportunity for creativity and enrichment.
Lucy E. Nunez has been a theatrical performer since 2002 and an improv performer since 2003. She created Nurse Lulu for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care program in 2014. She is now Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds