When I began to work for the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit, there was a sign inside our dressing room at the hospital which previous clown supervisors had left. It was on the inside of the door, so it was intended as a kind of checklist for clowns to look at before heading out to the units. It reminded the reader of things to remember, including what not to do. On the list was something along the lines of: “Ask yourself if a volunteer can do this; if so, rethink it”.
The organization had sprung up out of a genuine professional circus, and the hospital clowns were to keep that standard. They warned us not to be “pedestrian”. They had hired performers of varying talents [magicians, jugglers, musicians and actors], but they were expected to continuously develop new skills and progress to a more polished performance. They were not trying to disparage volunteers, but they wanted to make sure their clowns didn’t appear to have woken up one day and decided to be a clown.
It is my hope that at this point my tolerant readers have gleaned a bit about hospital clowning from some of my previous reflections and have discovered the many facets to consider prior to executing this specialty. Volunteers are wonderful and in demand, but professional hospital clowning requires thorough training in sensitivity, partnering, improvisational acting, hygiene, makeup, costuming, skills and ongoing development.
Changes in my day job in children’s theatre forced me to quit the CCU and return to day work as a nurse. I am now on the other side of this topic; I am now a volunteer clown at a children’s hospital closer to my neighborhood. Some clowns that are getting paid now consider me “just a volunteer”! I’m not convinced that I’ve ceased to be a professional after all of my training and 3 years of paid hospital clowning simply because I must now do it for free. The title of my next post: Professional Volunteer.
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