In Clown with Character and Hospital Costuming I discuss a bit about both the practical and artistic aspects of costuming for a hospital. While your clown persona should shape the theme of your costume, structure [such as pockets] should give you easy access to gags and props used for magic, juggling or sleight of hand. In addition to artistic considerations and ease of performance, you must also keep safety in mind when planning a hospital costume. I explained in An Ounce of Pretension how safety must also include hygiene considerations, but here I’ll focus on injury prevention.
Some clowns have no problem with a long lab coat and some fold the long flaps inward and sew them to create several large handy pockets in a short coat. Some don’t mind long sleeves and some cut them to create three-quarter length sleeves. It is clearly a preference, but in my opinion, a short coat is safer and cut or rolled up sleeves are more practical for hand-washing. Trial and error may be in order.
Closed-toe, non-slip shoes are always required in any health care setting and clowning is not exempt. This is for the safety of everyone around, not only the wearer of the shoes. Contaminated or not, sharp instruments are all around the hospital and can be a major hazard. There are also a lot of spills and clean-up required in any hospital. A slip and fall can have permanent repercussions. Many of us have relied on high-top sneakers like the classic ones made by Converse. One of my former clown buddies had wonderful shoes. They looked like the classic high-tops, but the toe area was huge-very typical clown shoes, but much safer. The clown soon got used to walking in them and it was a great conversation starter for shy little ones. I told him I was happy because they were safe, but he explained that if he must use the stairs in an emergency, they are not practical or safe at all. Choose wisely.
If you dangle a prop or a fun visual gag from your costume, make sure it does not drag on the floor or get caught on anything or anyone standing close by. If you drop something as part of a gag, take care to keep control of it at all times, even if it looks like you’re not in control for the sake of the gag.
Have fun; be creative, but make sure you stick to that old reliable: safety first.
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