My former hospital clown team was comprised of actors, singers, magicians, jugglers, acrobats, stilt-walkers and contortionists (some had more than one of these skills). Naturally, one would see this list and try to imagine how some of these skills can be done in a hospital, or how they are useful in such a setting. Indeed, for safety reasons, there are a few that can only be executed in an open area when the hospital has a special event like a fair or holiday party, namely acrobatic skills, contortion and stilt-walking.
However, there is plenty of room for the other listed skills in an average hospital clowning shift. If a performer has been hired because of proficiency with one skill, they are encouraged to learn at least one other skill during regular rehearsals.
I’m going to breakdown how each remaining skill on my list is necessary in hospital clowning.
Acting: Improvisational acting [known as “improv”] and comedic acting [including timing and delivery] are quite important in the hospital.
As I stated in my "Rope Trick” and “Singing Silly” posts, we try to execute skills so they can be a backdrop for comedy to happen, so being able to convince the audience that we are affected by a situation we’ve created (referred to as “selling it”), is crucial. This is especially true for silent clowning (see my “Enjoy the Silence” post). A mediocre actor will not make a good clown.
Improv is important because with or without a partner, any interactive performance requires you to think on your feet and be ready for anything. Not only is this effective because each patient is different, it also allows for a lot of wonderful unexpected moments.
Singing: Music is essential when you are performing, especially for children. They respond very well and remember songs for the rest of their lives. For this part, it is just faster to give you a link to my “Singing Silly” post. Yep, that was it.
Magic: I stated in my “Rope Trick” post that you must be careful who you do magic for because some folks get offended. In large part, it is okay and well received. You don’t have to be a magician, but you should learn one or two tricks and some sleight of hand because it will serve you well even in passing (see my “Squeak Removal” post).
Juggling: Not only can you do basic juggling and simple tricks up and down the hallways in a hospital, jugging also opens the door to comedy, as explained in my “Dropping the Ball” post. It is best to juggle bean bags but if you are not a juggler, try juggling light, colorful scarves. This is a safe, simple and pretty way to look like a juggler if you are a novice. Remember, even non-jugglers can participate in a juggling skit with a juggler (see "The Good Juggler").
Feel free to bring new skills into a hospital setting. The only requirement is that it be safe, effective and that it allows for participation by your partner and the patient in some way.
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.