So I observed Lory and Patrick at the Hôpital Jean-Verdier in Bondy. It is a teaching hospital that serves a very diverse and socio-economically deprived community in the North of Paris. That is to say that most of the families that the clowns see here are poor, and many don't speak French as a first language.
The clowns here take referrals from the medical staff - usually the Nurse in Charge - before changing into costume. I was struck how on each ward, the Nurse arrived without any prompting. It was clearly a regular part of their working week that they were expecting and gave time to.
The referral process was pretty full on - one child had been kidnapped by her father and taken abroad, only to be sent back to Paris covered in bruises and cigarette burns. Another boy was a suicide risk - age 9. Lory said that they are always relieved to leave at the end of the day, but that she loves to work here because of the relationships with the staff and the hospital, and the effect the clowns can have. As a teaching hospital it is very popular with medical interns, as they are all looked after well, and it is home to a huge amount of medical expertise, but it is clearly under-resourced in some respects. When I looked around me on the wards, it was clear to see how the clowns would have a positive impact.
And boy did they! Watching these two on the floor was a masterclass! Lory's physicality, clarity, use of Melodrama & sensitivity was totally delightful. Seamlessly adapting her level of play to suit each situation. A brilliant clown through and through, from the tips of her fingertips to the tips of her toes. Patrick totally embodied the pleasure to be there, always excited to see who was in the next room, and never wanting to leave once he was there! Their status switched throughout the day, but was always clear (although for me their play worked best with Tata Jeep as Boss Clown). I was transfixed. And despite really trying to be invisible all day, guffawed out loud on several occasions. They have both been working for the company for many, many years, and their experience shows. As a clown baby, I have a lot to learn from these 'dinosaurs' as Caroline calls them (and herself!) lovingly.
One of the very last visits of the day is especially worth recounting (although many were memorable). For reasons my french didn't stretch to understand, Broccoli ended up in 'clown jail' – trapped inside an unused babies cot. Tata Jeep was totally unwilling to help him out, pushing him out from this boys room and into the corridor, leaving him to his own devices, playing indirectly so that another boy stuck in his room with chicken pox could see. After a few minutes, the first boy came along from his room, quite serious and without a fuss, and released him. Broccoli exploded into celebration, Tata Jeep hailed the boy a hero, and he walked off down the corridor with a smile on his face.
When we were all back in the changing room, chatting about the visit, we all remembered that this was the boy who was on the ward because he was a suicide risk. And what is more, his dad was in jail. If the clowns had remembered this detail when they were on the floor, almost certainly wouldn't have done a whole clown jail routine. If they hadn't been told at the start of the day, they might never have had the 'idea' to do it. Either way, in my mind, it was great that they did. The boy walked back to his room a hero, and about a foot taller.
I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and reflection on clowning as an (therapeutic) art form.