Oh no! She’s going to bring up gender!
But hear me out, it’s a thing…
When I was hired by my clown organization, I was one of two female clowns on our local team. It was not a big deal, and aside from the female clown supervisor saying she was happy to have me, it was not acknowledged. This was a good thing because our team was very united in our hospital clowning endeavor. We all felt like we had the same calling, and we were happy to be paid to do it.
As a comedic improviser, my natural character “status” was very much in the middle; I tended to be more supportive during partner interactions, instead of showing much initiative. I was not the snooty leader clown (traditionally the “whiteface”), nor was I necessarily the buffoon (traditionally the “tramp” or sometimes even the “auguste”). My status varied slightly depending on what kind of character I was partnering with. After observing this during training, the artistic director of the clowning organization suggested I call myself a nurse clown instead of a doctor clown like all the others. The organization had a few nurse clowns nationwide, so it could provide some balance. Being a nurse in real life, I did not take this in a negative way, and that was the birth of Nurse Lulu!
I didn’t go out of my way to be a “girly” clown. I did not wear a dress or skirt, nor did I choose pinks or purples for my costume. I did not wear old-fashioned pantaloons as another director suggested. My vision for my clown was a modern, naive, slightly insane woman wearing a clown’s version of surgical scrubs (this was a good opportunity to cover my hair with a washable surgical cap, which is best for hygiene) in primary colors. This type of versatile character also helped me shift my jokes, gags and tricks from children to teens to adults seamlessly and I loved it.
When I finally completed training and began doing shifts, the reaction was wonderful but the comments about my being female were unexpected. Adults and children who were accustomed to our clowning program were pleasantly surprised that there was another lady clown: “A girl clown!” “Oh wow, another girl!”. If I did a shift with the female clown: “Yay, girl clowns!” “Girl power!” was heard and they were thrilled when they saw that I could also juggle (if only a little!).
I understood that the female hospital employees were happy to confirm that women can be just as funny as men, but it gave me unspeakable joy to notice that we were inspiring little girls to try something they would not have thought to attempt. Like it or not, gender is always a thing with school-aged children because they are still finding out who they are and how they fit into the world. They are just beginning to understand gender and what it can mean, and this is a very good time to introduce them to non-traditional roles. Seeing their own gender in an unexpected way can open up a world of possibilities and erase arbitrary limitations. In this case, even little boys were pleasantly surprised that the female clowns were funny and we could also wow them with tricks. After all, they also benefit from seeing gender differently.
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