In Clowning with Character, I pointed out that the best approach each hospital clown must take in order to create a character is to look within. It is essential to use the humor, personality and quirks that you already have inside and then match that up with both your existing talents and your developing skills. The clown you discover must be sincerely yours so that your persona can come from an honest place, guaranteeing that your performances will be genuine and not forced or fake. If you join an existing hospital clowning organization, however, beware of a trainer imposing a character on you.
When I was hired by the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, some clowns had a character right away, with matching gags and great costumes to reflect their particular quirks. I felt like it was taking me forever to develop my character, because my status shifted with each partner and my skills were shaky. I always had an idea about what I wanted for my costumes, however, and I was shocked at how smoothly I was able to put it together since I don’t sew!
One of the organization’s directors kept insisting that she saw me as an old-fashioned, petticoat-wearing nurse. Although we were told that our costumes would take time to complete, she thought that I was stopping at my initial base costume. I reassured her that I was still working on it, but that I did not have her vision for me. The artistic director, on the other hand, saw my work in progress, gave me some guidance, but agreed that the design should come from my vision and not the other director’s.
One of my subsequent supervisors shared how the same was done with his costume development when he started. He said that although they meant well, they kept putting him in costumes that reflected African-American stereotypes. He finally dropped everything given to him and started over with a fresh and simple look, letting his natural dynamic with the patients shape the direction he eventually took.
Your character, costume and skills will take time to develop and may even change with experience, but they must always spring out of you. They must be as real as you are.
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 Unit in 2014. She is now Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds