Continuing the series of posts detailing some of my projects from 2020. Because of the nature of the projects and the Big Shift that happened last year, I wasn’t very advertisey in the moment. While many planned things dropped, I was still able to be part of a bunch of interesting and inspiring projects. Over the next little bit, I’m planning on detailing each and sharing some lessons learned throughout.
Our work changed in 2020. All around the world many therapeutic or hospital clowns were not allowed to enter our places of work for a variety of very good reasons. It looked like the whole thing would stop and be deemed non-essential. And it did. It was. For a bit, at least. Therapeutic Clown programs all around the world mobilized quickly and efficiently to find ways of continuing this vital work. As you can imagine, a period of lockdown and social isolation is a most important time for our work as therapeutic clowns. Because of COVID-19, so many people in long term care have been more isolated than ever before.
Eventually, after a bit of a change, the work continued by embracing a couple new formats.
I was about to start an in-person apprenticeship in Elder Clowning with Kathleen Le Roux when the pandemic arrived. This caught many of us off-guard and the apprenticeship had to pivot quite dramatically. With Kathleen and her group throughout the summer, we figured out some ways to adapt in order to still be in person. Some sites (like Union Villa) have large window galleries, accessible to the outside. As Kathleen coordinated with staff indoors, the residents were brought to the window galleries at a specific time. Once there, the residents of all three floors were greeted by a couple fools they knew, and one they didn’t (me!).
These outdoor visits forced us to be larger, more theatrical. They asked us to find things that read across distance. Things that could travel to the upper floors. We also had to remain socially distant from one another: one of us would often be close to the glass while the other would be farther back, interacting with the upper floors. It’s not the same as being in the same room and right beside one another but we were able to find moments of true connection: throwing kisses across the yard and up to the second and third floor; hands pressed against the window glass, touching the same surface but not the same skin; mirroring, leading, following the movements offered by either side.
The visits with Red Nose Remedy eventually started up again on a virtual platform. After half a year, we were able to visit our friends again in their homes, friends we hadn’t been able to see since March 13th. This time, however, we arrived from screen to screen, or, as we like to call it, from nose to nose.
The learning curve here was gigantic. One of our biggest skills as therapeutic clowns is the ability to read the room and adjust/enter/proceed accordingly. One of the most effective ways of being in a duo is having an awareness of our proximity to one another and to complement or contrast accordingly. These two fundamental things completely change when a three-dimensional space all of a sudden becomes a series of rectangles on a screen.
In both instances, outside/distanced visits and online/virtual visits, true touch is no longer an option and the nature of playing music changes dramatically (another of our often reliable tools).
Like anything and everything that’s happened since this pandemic started, trying to recapture how things were before and insist it remain the same is foolish (and not in a good way). We must adapt, even if that means our service looks and feels only slightly similar to what it looked like before (and what it will look like after). What we are able to offer has taken on its own shape, it’s own structure. And with that, there are so many freedoms and creative inspirations that follow (like the unlimited use of props, or playing with the framing of the camera). Our clients still receive authentic, direct and personal interventions, even if they are across such distances.
All around the world, therapeutic clowns are getting back into their places of work. In some countries, hospital clowns have even been receiving the vaccine because the work is recognized as essential. And it is. I’m sure many people will agree that the social isolation we’ve been required to participate in is difficult and has potential to become unhealthy. People need people. We need connection – connection not through a screen. But if that’s all we have right now, then that’s where we’ll meet you.
With a smile and a song.