Whether children have been exposed to scary clowns in movies and on halloween, or a well-intentioned clown jumped out at them in surprise, a fear of clowns is likely to develop. Indeed, adults with even a mild case of coulrophobia may have had such experiences. This fear is the main reason hospital clowns must use minimal make-up and plan costumes carefully.
Many people tend to trivialize such phobias in adults, as if maturity cures all seemingly irrational fears. For anyone with a phobia, the fear is very real even though they consciously recognize the irrational nature of phobias.
Adults with seemingly childish phobias try to avoid the source of their fear in a playful manner, usually to prevent mockery or torment. In addition to recognizing this behavior, hospital clowns must also take any adult seriously when they state their fear of clowns and ask to be exempt from a performance. We cannot impose upon them, however innocent or distant our entertainment may seem to us. It is simply our presence in clown garb that is the source of their discomfort. I have been told by such adults that we can do the same magic tricks or juggling without the clown gear and they would be fine with it.
I once sent out a photo of myself in a Red Nose Day nose as a greeting to friends and to celebrate the cause on that day. One of them told me I should have remembered her fear of clowns and skipped her. I was not in make-up, just the nose, but that was enough to trigger her childhood fear.
Once again, it is important to keep in mind that hospital clowning is not about us. We must avoid creating a negative atmosphere as much as we are able to, once we are aware of the circumstances. We cannot take anything personally, and we are only there for our audience if they choose. We must recognize and respect when our presence is undesirable and move on to something else.
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 Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds