Hilary Chaplain on what makes a good medical clown and her upcoming workshop with The Little Theatre
OU may think floppy hats, painted faces and squeaky red noses will look strange in the sterilised environs of a hospital, but the concept of medical clowns has been gaining popularity in the West since its inception in 1986. “The hospital clown programmes have been verified—through randomised controlled trials held in the UK, USA, Germany, Austria and Canada—to have positive social, emotional, cognitive and physiological effects on children who are physically ill and require hospitalisation for extended periods of time,” explains Chennai-based Dr Cheri Mathews John, who was a consultant paediatrician at the UK National Health Service for 15 years.
But in India, though organisations like the Komali Medi Clown Academy in Auroville have been around for over two years, for many of us the only association with the concept is still Patch Adams, the 1998 Hollywood movie starring Robin Williams. Hoping to change this is Hilary Chaplain, a master clown trainer from New York. “We entertain hospitalised children and their parents through the art of play and humour, thus reducing their fear and anxiety which, in turn, increases their strength and motivation to cope with illness,” explains the 58-year-old, who is coming to the city in April as part of The Little Theatre’s initiative to train actors in the art of medical clowning.
During the 16-day workshop, participants will be taught to do physical comedy, work on specific routines, and learn to adhere to a strict code of bed-side conduct. “Once I sang for a child in a coma and put my red nose on his and ‘squeaked’ it. Later, when he came out of the coma, nurses told me the first thing he did was touch his nose and ask why it wasn’t squeaking,” shares Chaplain, aka Nurse Nice, who has over two decades of experience. Also an actor—she travels the world performing her award-winning solo show, A Life in Her Day—she has conducted hospital clown workshops in places like Brazil, Finland, Ecuador, Israel and Mexico.“It takes more than putting on a red nose and funny shoes to become a good hospital clown. Due to the sensitive nature of the work, you need mature actors who possess good improvisational skills and can connect well with others,” she explains.
Ready to sign up?
If you are under 35, with a minimum of five years of acting experience, with the aptitude for singing, dancing, acrobatics or mime, you have the prerequisites to become a medical clown. “We plan to do an outreach programme at the Egmore Children’s Hospital, and I have been coordinating with their paediatric surgeon, Dr Mohan Kumar,” adds Aysha Rau, founder of The Little Theatre.
From April 3, at The Little Theatre studio in Nungambakkam. `15,000. Details: 9677125738