The training from the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit was methodical and thorough, involving skills, hospital orientation and classic clowning workshops. We tried to remember proper check-in, hygiene techniques and learning our way around the hospital, while at the same time rehearsing clown gags, learning new skills like juggling and perpetually developing our clown persona and look. There was a probation period and we were nervously trying to do our best. There was one thing that they kept reiterating and emphasizing-it seemed an obvious principle, but it was the most important one and not as easy to incorporate: patient empowerment.
While our job is to entertain, it is critical to keep in mind that children have very little control over what happens in their lives and hospitalized children even more so. They are stuck in the same room for extended periods of time, they must eat what they are not accustomed to (if they can eat at all) and they must have scary tests and painful treatments. Bizarre-looking adults dressed as clowns invading their space must be mindful of not adding to the problem.
Many of my posts explain how to execute some skits, gags and magic tricks, and they include something which incorporates the patient (or family member if the patient prefers to watch instead). Interactive magic tricks are a great opportunity to endow the child with magical abilities. You perform a trick with their help, or tell them you have failed in the past and you need a new magic word from them:
“Hi! I have a problem. I’m supposed to do this trick for the little kids to show them that I can color without crayons, but when tried I said ‘hocus-pocus’, nothing happened.” Show the coloring book’s colorless drawings.
“Do you have a magic word that I can use?” Any will do. If they haven’t got one, ask what their favorite food or animal is and use it as the magic word. Have them say the word three times, with a hand movement. Show the colorful drawings.
“Wow! You didn’t say that you are a real magician!" Give them a red nose sticker. "Can you take the colors out for me now so I can do the trick later and tell the little kids that it was my magic word?” They say the word three times again, with the hand movement. Show blank pages.
“Oh great. Thanks. Did you do that because I was going to take the credit for your magic trick?” Walk away disappointed but guilty.
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