Yes! A practical and generous workshop lead by, amongst others, the brilliant Helen Donelley and her brilliant partner in hospital clowning, Manuel Rodriguez Saenz (Aka Dr Flap and Nurse Polo). They work at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto 3 times a week with a Therapeutic Clown programme, and come across a lot of teenagers who they build long-term relationships with. Did I mention that they are both brilliant?
I am always frustrated that staff often back-off from referring us to Teenagers. I love Teenagers. The most effective way of us getting those referrals, is by having effective interactions. The more of those we have, the more confidence we will have in insisting to staff that we can give it a go. Here are some fun games from the workshop and some from conversations afterwards (some of them you will know...are there more? please share too!)
All of these games can start indirect, with no demands put on the client, and built accordingly - over one visit, or over weeks or even months. A few of these play with the No. Of course we respect the No. But we also know that there are No's and there are NO's. And sometimes there are No's that are Yes's. Play the long game.
Very simple. Clown 1 asks the client to sign for a delivery, very low key, while clown 2 enters the room with an object. Start small - something from the hospital - an apron, sick bowl, blue glove. This can build up beautifully with bigger and more absurd objects- like a nurse on a chair. Totally love it.
Enter the room as if it is a really loud club. Can't hear each other, shouting over the noise, dancing. You can bounce in, and if you get a clear 'No', you can bounce out again, 'Sorry...wrong Club!'. Such a nice way of being light and in the world of clown as well as acknowledging the age and interests of the client.
Who's more cool?
A conversation/arguement starts between Clown 1 and 2. The only person who can settle it is the client. Again, this can be totally indirect, even a few times before the client is involved.
Not going in the room
Enter the room just to make it clear that you are not going to enter the room.
Presenting ourselves as the latest iclown technology, complete with downloadable apps. Nice game with opportunities for physical play and the pay-off of the clown being good at something
Renting the room
Enter the room, chatting in partnership about size, pacing it out, discussing decor etc
Mistaking the Teenager for a baby
Checking paperwork, indirect conversation about how big it is for a 6 month old etc
Escaping from all the babies
Some things that occurred to me during this session that I need to keep in mind. It is nice to receive compliments, whatever your age. If you are anxious, the client will be anxious. It is more than probable that they will see themselves as the source of your anxiety, which isn't a nice feeling. Be age appropriate. You can still totally inhabit the world of the clown without being patronising about the things that are important to The Client. Respect their love of pop music or film stars or clothes or whatever it might be.
What have I missed, clown friends?
Sitting here trying to process everything that I have heard, the conversations, presentations, workshops, I am totally overwhelmed, still a little exhausted, and aware that if this is going to be a useful resource for anybody (myself included) I need to break things down in some way. Chronological order it is, and as bite-sized as possible.
The first panel was made up of directors of various Healthcare Clown networks:
There were differences within the remit of these networks, but a few things stood out to me as universal:
To make sure that hospitals can expect the best clowns in hospital, just as they can expect the best Healthcare Professionals.
For us to obtain recognition of Healthcare Clowning as a profession.
To differentiate ourselves from other social healthcare activities.
While in this inclusive place of open conversation, it occurred to be immediately that I am not a diplomat. I found it so difficult to step back from the idea that our way is the right way. My jaw clenches, my stomach tightens. Non-professionals? Non-artist lead organisations? No quality artistic training?! Well-meaning volunteers putting on a red nose inspired by Patch Adams?!! NO! It felt confusing to be at once surrounded by like-minded artists, and (I might as well be honest), some people who I felt give our profession a bad name.
I LOVE clowns, I HATE clowns, I LOVE clowns...talk about emotional roller-coaster.
When we are trying so hard to gain recognition for the work that we do, it is easy to dismiss those who chose to do it differently. And of course, no-body wants to do a bad job. We are all there to serve the client. Could it be that my attitude is a little arrogant?!
So these networks are engaging with this conversation head-on. They open a dialogue with new organisations inspired to do the work and define ways of working and collaborating, so that we can still try to ensure high quality work. And they seem to be doing so with a great deal of diplomacy and openness.
Magdalena Shamberger (CEO of Hearts and Minds) is also Vice-Chair of EFHCO and gave some insight into the hard work, frustration and difficulty involved in creating these networks. I feel heartened that this work is being done. It feels good to be part of an organisation with an EFCHO stamp of approval, and to have this quality label. We of course, as individuals, need to make sure that we are living up to this in each interaction we have on the floor (otherwise, what's the point?), and in the meantime EFHCO will continue to push for this label to be recognised by the Healthcare Community as well as the Hospital Clown Community. Thank goodness for diplomatic people!
Next up - Working with Teenagers. Yes!
Tomorrow I am going to the Healthcare Clowning International Meeting in Lisbon. Otimo!
The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, who fund British citizens to investigate inspiring practice in other countries and return with innovative ideas for the benefit of people across the UK, have funded me! Double Otimo!
Over the coming year, I will visit Healthcare Clown organisations in Barcelona, Buenos Aires and Lisbon to investigate best practises in the integration of Hospital Clowns into Healthcare units.
I applied to the fund partly out of frustration that even after over 15 years of sending professional clowns into hospitals across Scotland, Hearts and Minds still come across healthcare staff, families, and people in general who have never heard of this profession, and who often immediately equate what we do with scary, wig-wearing, sweaty, melty-make-uped clowns blundering about making children cry.
And that isn't what we do! No, no, no!
With this award, I want to increase awareness and understanding of what we do, and how we do it, amongst the healthcare community, and the general public.
Professional Healthcare Clown organisations in Portugal, Spain and South America seem to be widely respected and supported, and the work that they do well understood. So I want to know what are they doing differently. Is this purely cultural? What can we learn from them? Is it just that we should all be eating more Pasteis de Nata?
I will investigate the role that academic research plays in improving perceptions of hospital clowning within the healthcare community. While eating Pasteis de Nata (just in case).
I will look at how clowning can be used in different healthcare settings, such as surgery, to understand whether there are benefits for all stakeholders in assigning clowns roles that require more trust and responsibility. Or are the benefits purely Pastel de Nata based?
I will examine successful and well established communication strategies to see whether UK organisations could learn something from their approach.
I will stop undermining my attempts at talking seriously about a profession I feel passionately about with constant references to Portuguese pastry goods.
At the meeting in Lisbon, i will be mostly meeting with academics who are researching the benefits of Healthcare Clowning, but also making arrangements for my visits to organisations later in the year and, I imagine, having a lot of fun meeting inspiring, skilled and hilarious healthcare clowns from all over the world. Triple Otimo!
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.