Hospital clowns carry lots of items in their lab coats (more on costuming and character in a future post), but not all of them are predictable. Besides magic tricks, juggling balls, nose stickers and bubbles, hospital clowns can have visual puns/gags, puppets and a variety of other props. These items must be ready to use if the moment calls for something different or quick.
For example, I use puns as an excuse to move on to the next visit:
“I’d better get going now because you’re looking a little pale." (Pull out a miniature pail and laugh like it’s the funniest thing in the world.) "Get it? A little pail!” (This is corny, but it really works with the right delivery!)
One of my supervisors attached a flat, upside down felt rabbit to the rear edge of his lab coat. He never acknowledged or addressed this. If anyone pointed out that he had a rabbit hanging from his jacket, he’d look at me and say “Let’s get out of here...they’re seeing bunnies now.” and he’d act like they were nuts and he was supposed to appease them.
Regardless of the situation or the target “audience”, the hospital clown should be ready for anything. There are times, however, that clowns are requested for a patient that needs cheering up, but their efforts may seem fruitless.
There was a visit that taught me not to take that at face value:
* A nurse on the cardiac floor requested the clowns, and we accepted even though that unit was not on the schedule that night because we had time (per policy).
* The little 3-year-old patient was lying with her head on the pillow, looking very disinterested. The grandmother and nurse were worried because she seemed like she was giving up. She was tired of tests, medicine and tubes.
* We attempted several age-appropriate, gentle tricks and songs, to avoid startling her. She looked at us without moving or reacting. When we figured it was time to go, we smiled, waved and said goodbye. She waved back by opening one little hand.
* Before we reached the elevator, the grandmother came running with my partner’s cane; he had forgotten it. She thanked us profusely. We apologized because we didn’t really do much.
* “Are you kidding?” she said, “She waved. That’s more than she’s done for any of us in a week! I’m so happy because she reacted to something!”
You can never anticipate how progress manifests itself.
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 now Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds.