I am thankful that I began my hospital clowning experience with the professionals at The Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit. The training was thorough and fun, but they also continued to emphasize the importance of artistic development. They made sure to schedule paid monthly rehearsals which consisted of new skills workshops, guest speakers, group therapy and an open skills-sharing session.
If you are hospital clowning without the benefit of such an experienced, professional circus organization, you will need to seek out resources for continuing professional development. Although hospital clowning is on a drastically smaller scale than a traditional circus performance, we should always aim to progress. The quality of our improvisational and theatrical acting, as well as our magic, juggling or other circus skills should always be improving.
If you do not have a lot of opportunities to take such classes or workshops in your area, chances are that a touring show or circus will visit your nearest performing arts center at some point during the calendar year. You may even have a community theatre nearby that you have yet to discover. The performances or workshops may be outside of your budget, but consider it a chance to combine a fun family outing with a learning experience for yourself and check them out.
It is an extremely important and helpful thing to observe how professionals related to your chosen field (whether you’re a volunteer or not) perform. Not only will you be entertained, but if you watch EVERYTHING they do very carefully from a performer’s point of view, it will almost be as helpful as a master class.
There is a small touring circus that visits my area annually; so small that the performers themselves are the ones who take the tickets, do face-painting and sell circus swag. There is also always a juggler or stilt-walker to entertain the patrons as they line up to enter the main tent. Making enough money to keep the circus going may be the incentive, but these folks were professional in every capacity and at every point in the experience. They were welcoming, organized and fun. They controlled overly enthusiastic families, they encouraged purchases and even the opening act was part of herding groups while keeping them engaged in the fun.
The show itself was a professional, visually lovely experience. This small circus had jugglers, contortionists, aerial and trapeze performers, and was modern enough to have a singing bilingual ringmaster, a musical prologue and epilogue, a theme, a hilarious, skilled clown juggler without makeup and no animals. They were also kind enough to offer the audience photo ops with the cast at the end.
Take every opportunity you can to check out professionals in your field. Do not break the bank, but add it to your budget and think of it as an investment in your continuing education. Use photo ops to talk to the people in your favorite acts and ask them for advice. Get on their mailing lists or check out their websites. Progress can come from all directions and will help you polish your own performances.
Lucy E. Nunez is an LPN and 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