Hospital clowns are one of many resources the Child Life department utilizes to help make a child’s hospital stay less scary and uncomfortable, and we can be very effective in distracting these little patients and their families even for a little while. Why then have I addressed the negative side of clowning so often (e.g. Coulrophobia, Rejection, Keep the Doctor Away)?
We must be realistic - we are bizarre looking, mischievous creatures; and many people have consciously made clowns scary even for adults. It is natural then, to expect an occasional crying child. Not only should you not take it personally, you should be ready to handle it (see No “I” in Partner). The question then becomes can it be prevented?
There are several steps in preparing to bring clowning into a hospital, and crying or rejection can be prevented even in these planning stages. In The Hospital Face, I explained that since hospital clowning is up close and is more of a service, not a show to force onto our “captive” audience, our makeup should be minimal. It is necessary to look friendly, safe and approachable.
We must also use several tactics in the way we present ourselves and perform that keep this principle in mind:
* observe facial expressions and body language for signs of fear
* respect everyone’s personal space
* respect any wishes for you to stay away
* move to a little one’s eye level to avoid looking menacing
* keep your distance and perform from there
* ease into performances, do not shock anyone
* do not force a performance
* “no” is obvious rejection
* avoidance is rejection
* do not jump out at anyone
* do not surprise anyone
* do not yell
* do not touch anyone without permission
* do not mock anyone, ever
* do not use anyone for magic tricks or sleight of hand without permission
* if there is crying, apologize, say goodbye and walk away
* never take rejection personally-this is not about you
After several years of hospital clowning, I still get an occasional crier, but living by these principles makes them few and far between. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
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 Unit in 2014. She is now Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds