I Believe in Clowns
I believe in clowns. Not the Stephen King kind, but the kind who have devoted their careers to the art of inspiring laughter wherever they go. My partner (and husband) often says that the word ‘clown’ has come to represent such a negative image in the United States, that it needs its own publicist in order to create a more positive feeling about clowns in the hearts and minds of people. Personally, I cannot imagine a more fulfilling or rewarding profession for my life, so naturally it makes me sad when people don’t share my view. Every time someone says to me “I hate clowns” or “clowns are creepy”, it is as though I have been stabbed in the heart. My defense against these statements is to make the most out of every opportunity I have to change people’s minds about clowns. Fortunately, I get a chance to do that almost every day.
I was compelled to sit down and write about this when I looked back over the past week, which began by performing a Saturday morning show for about two hundred families with very young children, many of whom are experiencing live performance for the very first time. We have an incredible responsibility to excite young people, not only about clowning, but also about the arts in general. Having the chance to show them how engaging live performance can be – is a gift. The next day, we utilized our clowning and circus skills to bring the math and science curriculum to life in the public elementary schools in our area. Many of these kids are desperate for a chance to see something beyond their normal daily life and will not be a future patron of the arts if they are never exposed to it. We are privileged to be there, and the best part of these shows is being able to combine their all-important academic curriculum with humor. Fact: children learn better when they are having fun.
Fast forward to the evening performance, which is one of many clown shows for grown-ups that we have produced and performed in over the past twenty years. We play in a safe environment where the only rules are to have fun, be relevant, and look for games that inspire laughs! We seem to always find that once you have engaged your audience and sucked them into your insane vortex of frolicking fun and improvisation, everyone has a great time. These performances are like a special journey that happens only for the cast and the audience on THAT night. Other nights are special too, but each one is unique and will never be repeated exactly. These nights serve to feed the soul of the clowns and refill our wells, so that we are ready to receive the gifts offered by the other major environment we work in – the pediatric hospital.
In this same week, we conducted clown rounds at three pediatric facilities in which we encounter children who have everything from a broken bone, to leukemia, to overwhelming traumatic injuries. While the audience is very different, the mantra is really the same: have fun, be relevant and look for games that inspire laughs. In these environments, the phrase “be relevant” takes on a whole new meaning. In some cases, the mood is light-hearted and it is pretty easy for a pair of experienced comedic improvisers to uplift the environment and get everyone feeling better about the hospital stay. In other cases, the expectation and desperate need for us to help in some way is palpable. Whether it is convincing a kid to drink 64 ounces of contrast over a thirty minute period by playing a crazy dare game, or creating a ridiculous musical marching band to help a kid who hasn’t walked for months make it all the way down the hallway, we have to be one hundred percent present and constantly vigilant in serving our mantra. Sometimes, the need comes more from parents or staff than from the kids themselves, but we use our intense listening skills to help us know exactly where the need has arisen, and are ready at all times to jump in head first.
To reiterate, I felt compelled to write all this down as I looked back over my week and realized how intense being a clown can really be. I know that along with my amazing partners in crime, you all know who you are, we set out every single day with the intention and goal of making the day a little brighter for toddlers, school kids, fun-loving theatre patrons, sick kids, parents of dying children, health care workers, teachers, our own families, and each other. And I think I should add to the mantra that each day I hope to convert at least one former clown hater into a clown lover.