During our hospital clown training, it was made clear to us that we were not to “be like a party clown”. One of my fellow trainees was a very talented juggler and party clown, which made this notion a bit jarring for her. They explained that this idea was not meant to imply that party clowns were not good. Indeed, they are very popular with children and their families and can make parties memorable. What our trainers wanted to emphasize is that hospital clowning is very specialized and should not be predictable.
When choosing a party clown, parents are usually given a list of the things the clown with do. This “menu” normally includes magic tricks, balloon animals, giveaways, face-painting and game-hosting. It is a perfect fit for a large, fun family party. While there are similarities between them, the hospital clown is, by definition, different.
The setting for the hospital clown is structured, regulated and delicate. There are different groups of families, each having their own special needs. Each patient differs in age, development, interest and health issues. The approach and performance will be different for everyone throughout the shift. This means there cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach for the hospital clown.
Giveaways, face-painting, games and balloons are not recommended in the hospital. The hospital is the wrong setting for group games and face-painting for obvious reasons. Balloons, aside from being a problem for those with latex allergies, are a potential swallowing hazard. Giveaways can fall under the same category as balloons, but may be acceptable under certain circumstances.
Artistically, giveaways must have a reason to exist. They must have a purpose in the moment or otherwise fit into a gag; as such they need not have much intrinsic value. My favorite is the red nose sticker. For me, this sweet, affordable giveaway is a gift that keeps on giving:
-If a child says I’m a clown, I deny it and say I’m Nurse Lulu. They usually point out that I have a red nose. At this point I take a nose sticker and place it on their nose and tell them they must be a clown too. (Be careful with little ones; you should get permission to place the red nose on them.)
-If families want a picture after a performance, I tell them they are required to wear red nose stickers for the picture.
-If I do a squeak removal, I tell them that as a nurse I am required to put a "band aid" on each patient that I heal, and ask permission to do so. (The nose sticker always goes on the tip of the nose no matter where the squeak removal was done.)
-Finally, if a child “performs” a magic trick (see Paper Towel Magic), I tell them that they’ve earned their nose sticker and put it on with permission. I usually give nose stickers to all children in the room. Then I look at the adults in the room and tell them that I know they are jealous and place a sticker on them. The children usually love this and the family selfies begin!
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 Baptist Children's Hospital first-ever resident clown! For more information please visit: www.sunnybearbuds.wix.com/buds
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