APRIL 2020 (Written for Hearts & Minds)
Adaptation: The process by which a species becomes fitted to its environment.
‘Connecting to our vitality, to play, to our imaginations and creativity is a vital means of survival.’ Esther Perel
Here are 5 things that we have noticed so far when adapting our therapeutic clown programme to an online environment:
1:2D v 3D
When we are in the same space, we notice the tension in the body, whether toes are tapping, subtle invitations for play or for pause. What used to be 360 degree fully sensory experiences are now a flat image on a flat screen and often only a face. ‘Reading’ the young people and ladies and gentlemen that we are visiting is different. On screen, we are learning to take our time even more, to trust ourselves, our instincts and the person on the other side of the screen.
2: Physical space
We are used to inhabiting the same world as each other, transforming spaces together and creating opportunities for laughter and play in the same physical space. Now, no longer in the same world, we create that illusion together. Bumble bees have passed through cameras, balloons launched from the child’s world into ours, noses squeeked through screens. Perhaps we are beginning to subvert TV Land in the same way that we subvert hospital settings?
3: Eye contact
Eye contact has always felt like an important part of this work, ‘an actual meeting of actual eyes transmitted through the air of a shared room’. But on camera the kind of real eye contact that we are used to is not possible. In working with this challenge, we are reminded that this is not fundamental to connection. Many of the young people we visit are visually impaired; have complex learning needs; advanced dementia. We know that we can connect without eye contact. We can still ‘see’ one another without looking into each other’s eyes.
After a day of visits we sit together with our partner and talk about the day. We change out of costume, leave the hospital, catch a bus, write our notes. When an online visit ends, we are in our own home suddenly. We land with a crash into reality. It is more important than ever to create a ritual, and ending, a boundary between the virtual world we were just in and the daily lockdown life we are returning to.
5: Meaningful connections
Meaningful and playful connections are still possible and as real as ever. We see it in the responses to visits that young people and their families are actively engaged in imaginative play with us, laughing and controlling the action in the same way that they do when we are in the same space. Ladies and gentlemen living with dementia are laughing, sitting up in their seats and participating during our visits with them. We are able to bring vibrance, joy and laughter to people in times of profound uncertainty and distress. This is a relief.
We will continue to embrace doubt, mistakes and uncertainty as tools that teach us to do better, to adapt and to grow into this new world joyfully and wholeheartedly.
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I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.