It is not impossible to perform “clown rounds” alone in a children’s hospital if it’s a relatively small hospital or if you have enough time on your hands to visit many floors in a larger hospital. Ideally though, you should have a partner for each shift. Even better, you should work with an organization that is experienced with hospital clowning. This post will focus on partnering.
Partnering is important for a variety of reasons:
- Safety: your partner may notice a hazard or a grieving family you may have missed.
- Improvisation: you can play off a partner, especially when someone must be laughed at (it should never be your audience) or if you require a specific reaction for an improv gag to work.
- Skills: you can play off a skill only your partner has for a gag (see “The Good Juggler” post).
- Ideas: your partner may come up with a great gag you didn’t think of.
- Support: you may need encouragement or comfort, depending on your mood prior to a shift or if something sad happens during the shift.
When partnering, it is also important for egos to be left in the parking lot. As I’ve mentioned in several posts, although we are performing, hospital clowning is not about us. We must always do what is best for the audience-namely the hospitalized child, family members, visitors and hospital employees.
We are not always going to be the “star” or the “funny one”; sometimes you must play the “straight man” to your partner’s “fool”. Sometimes there will be an Abbot and a Costello. You must be able to give as well as take focus when it works for the gag, no matter where you fall in the piece.
After entertaining a shy little girl during a visit, I wanted to give her a nose sticker, but instead of showing it to her first or handing it to her mother, I gently placed it on her nose. This was foreign to her and she began to cry. I made a mistake. We apologized, the mother understood, and we left. But when we were halfway down the hall, my partner returned to the room, stood at the doorway and said “I wish I could make it better”.
He made it worse and by throwing me “under the bus”. Never apologize for your partner. You are a team. If one or both of you make a mistake, acknowledge it, apologize and leave. Do not try to shine at your partner’s expense. We must stand together in our art form; sometimes our “human” will show and that’s ok. But remember there is no “I” in P-A-R-T-N-E-R.
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