My last post offered some basic rules used in improvisational theatre that may be very useful for hospital clowns. Keeping these guidelines in mind will help hospital clowns be better partners and quick thinkers. In this post I will suggest how each can be applied in hospital performance. For rationales on each rule, please refer back to the former post, Improvisation Basics.
Yes/And: Don’t deny what your scene partner offers/suggests.
-You and your partner have not created any skits to perform before your shift. The first thing your partner announces as you both walk into a room is that you are the best juggler in the world (but in reality you only know how to juggle scarves).
-Your partner tosses three scarves at you, and you nervously say you need to clean them first because this is a hospital.
-As you scrub two against each other, toss one and repeat the pattern faster and faster.
-(Throughout this process you should mutter things under your breath that clearly indicate that you have no idea how to juggle.)
-Eventually, juggle with them properly and be amazed at your own skill.
Avoid asking questions (unless you’re playing an improv game called “questions”): If your partner is about to perform a trick or something that you are not familiar with and they have not explained it to you before your shift, instead of asking what they are doing, smile, get excited and support them saying things like “This is going to be awesome” or “She’s so good at this”.
Better to show something than to talk about it: Unless a trick or skill requires a “set up” because it’s a skit, or some kind of assistance by your patient, don’t announce everything you’re going to do. Just do it.
Don’t talk about what you’re doing as you’re doing it: If your partner is doing some silliness and you are playing the serious clown, don’t explain the joke-let the audience get it. Just react in a way that supports the gag.
-Upon my call-back audition, the supervisor running the program introduced me to a family in a room, having given me no hint as to what he expected me to do.
-I told them my name was Lulu and that it was easy to remember because there is a song attached to it. I began to sing a known melody, using only “Lulu” as the lyrics. As I ended the song, I bowed, they clapped, and I began the song again. I kept doing this non-stop.
-The supervisor finally apologized to the audience for my insanity, grabbed me by the waist, picked me up and took me out of the room.
-As we left, he was still apologizing and I was still singing.
(This demonstrated I was fearless and could think on my feet and it helped me get hired.)
Begin the scene in the middle: Some introductions can be turned into a game, but it can be a lot of fun to pretend you already know who the patient is.
-walk into a common area such as a lobby or a waiting room and huddle with your clown partner, preferably taking out a piece of paper from your pocket and consulting it.
-pick out an adult or an intrigued older child (little ones can be unpredictable and dislike this gag); act as if their name or description is on the paper.
-scurry over to the target after the huddle and sing “Happy Birthday” with enthusiasm. If they or anyone with them says it’s not their birthday or tells you that you’ve got the wrong person, remain unfazed.
-as you sing “Happy Birthday”, hold the “happy birthday, dear...” until they tell you their name, then finish the song.
-after the song, bring them random items you find in the room (plants, paper, pens, chairs, gloves, etc.) as long as these don’t belong to anyone and tell them that these are the gifts you got them.
Keep scenes focused on the relationship/current actions on stage among the players: We are to empower the patient and include them and their families as much as possible.
Don’t play crazy, and avoid playing drunk. No “bathroom” or filthy words/humor: The hospital is a place for a family show.
Take care of yourself first: Clowns must always be prepared for any kind of gag, trick or bit that may be appropriate for each situation. However, if you’re working with a novice, be prepared to initiate these things as well as something that involves them and the patient until they get the hang of it.
Don’t get in your head: Don’t plan or worry about what you’ll do/say/feel. Trust the process, your training and your partner. Audiences can smell fear. Observe, listen, feel and you’ll find plenty to react to or create. Have FUN!
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