HOSPITAL CLOWNING

Empowerment, Transformation And Healing On The Pediatric Floor

My Life as Frizzle Lucille

My clowning gig begins with becoming Frizzle Lucille in my bedroom. Pink high tops, striped socks, colorful dress with large pockets, bows in my hair, bloomers, and a of course, red nose. When I hop in my car for the 20-minute drive to Boston Medical Center, I am already preparing to leave Joyce and enter into clown world.

By the time I have parked in the lot and closed the car door behind me, I am now Frizzle Lucille. My walk and voice is different and I begin to interact with playful curiosity with people coming and going.

I am stopping to speak through a puppet to a small child; I call a policeman’s mother on my Sesame Street toy phone; in the hallway, I comment on the medical assistant’s beautiful hospital attire and ask to share their tuna lunch with me. In the elevator, I am wondering aloud if this is someone’s bedroom and where is the bed. I am in clown world where everything is new, fresh, a total delight. As Frizzle, I see the world through the lens of a three-year-old, where the ordinary becomes the extraordinary. I might get excited that the stethoscope around a doctor’s neck in the elevator is a beautiful necklace or ‘Wow, a pet snake. Where did you get it?’ Clown world brings color and play to people’s ordinary moments in their day. Smiles and joy are always the response.

Our hospital clown training primarily involves learning how to engage the child at his or her level and to empower the child in the bed who has no power in this environment. We use our hearts, our intuition, and our artistry to deeply connect. We are not performers but skilled improvisation artists in clown world who read the energy of the room and bring our hearts to respond to what we are being presented by the child in his/her particular situation.

As my partner and I stand at the door to each hospital room, we pause, we breathe, and ask permission to enter. This is the first gift to the child. They can say no. If the answer is yes with a word or a nod or a smile, we enter the room with absolutely no plan or previous thought. We enter with no knowledge of the child’s name or condition. We know nothing, and this affords us great freedom to engage fully and the power to connect in the moment. Unencumbered by the magnitude of the situation at hand, we can transcend the environment and relate to the child’s spirit.

The clown mind also allows us to see the child as completely whole. We don’t know anything about hospitals, illness, hurt, or pain. All that we see is ‘child’, a soul behind the mask of whatever is going on. We clown to the light behind the eyes and the wholeness within.

The state of ‘clown’ is as a free child, joyful, un-grasping, unlimited and loving. We are curious, believe everything and truly, absolutely understand everything. ‘I know how to get to the moon.‘ We are ambassadors of joy, making contact from our ‘bigger self’ to theirs.

The hospital itself is a liminal place and as clowns, we enter into that liminal space with the child. The child is stripped of his or her identity and clothing and in unfamiliar surroundings. There is no peer group to impress. It is in this space that magic can very easily occur even with teenagers. We are in between worlds. As clowns, we have found over and over again that children even in young adulthood, will buy into the imaginal world. We pull everything out of our pockets or bring it in from the hallway. Nothing is too big or small or weird. We have it all from horses to bicycles to full steak meals. A child will respond as though it were ‘real’ and buy into the entire scene.

Our mandate as hospital clowns is to engage and connect. Ultimately we don’t have control whether this happens or to what degree. The connections we make can vary from being as short and sweet as a blown kiss at the doorway to a 15-minute visit that reaches the deepest level of the soul. It can be a silly moment of getting stuck together and the child magically unsticking us or there are occasions when I am stunned by the gift of the encounter and I have received the greatest blessing.