Were you ever hospitalised as a child? What was that experience like?
Luckily I was never hospitalised as a small child. Only later when I was 17 years old but unfortunately I wasn't placed in a children ward. It was a bit of a rough experience. I was very immature, I guess. Big cold rooms, a lot of ill adults, I remember how frightened I was when those seriously ill women told each other their stories and discussed their health issues. Nowadays when I meet teenagers in the children wards I remember myself back in that time and I realize that yes, that's how it should be, they should be among other kids.
What was the impulse which made you decide to become a hospital clown?
I had learned about the organization Zdravotní klaun long before I became a hospital clown myself. A theatre colleague (Petr Jarčevský), who is now the organization's artistic director, was a hospital clown for some time already when we met. And I always thought about it as something impossible for me to do. A discipline I could never succeed at. The necessity of improvisation, the hospital environment itself and the contact with seriously ill chidren, were all things that just scared me and which made me admire the hospital clowns for being able to deal with it. And nothing really changed about my admiration for them, my coleagues are amazing. Four years ago I moved to Prague, my daughter grew to kindergarten age and I suddenly got the courage. Maybe I just grew to clown age :-) I applied, I went through several rounds of casting and finally, fortune struck and they accepted me. Hospital clowning is a beautiful thing.
Do you work only with children or also adults and elderly?
Only once I was a part of a project called Turné plné smíchu (Tour full of laughter). The project takes place every year, a bigger group of hospital clowns visits hospitals, chronic disease hospitals and hospices, where Zdravotní klaun usually doesn't get to. I hope I will have the opportunity to clown for geriatric patients in the future again. It is different, but beautiful in it's own way and I would love to further explore this side of hospital clowning.
Can you please finish the sentence: A hospital clown comes to sick people/children to ….
… bring a different atmosphere to the room, different world, to pull the patients and their relatives out from the everyday reality of hospital environment. Or to transform this reality into a different and happier perception of reality.
Can you describe your usual visit to the hospital as a clown?
I meet my coleague at the hospital, we change into our outfits and into our clowns and we are off to do some „healing“. We start the whole visit at the nurses' room where we find out where we can or cannot go, what to be aware of, whether there are hygiene or any other sort of restrictions. Our clowns wear white coats and we are anything from a nurse to the head of the hospital. My clown's name is Žaneta Kulhavá (means limping Zaneta). She started as an assistant nurse but recently she made it to Doctor Kulhavá, let´s see how far she can go! It always depends on the unique combination of two clowns, what clown relationship we have, it may vary a lot. We work on a clown number one and clown number two system. Number one has a plan and number two spoils and disrupts it. The important thing is to be attuned to ourselves, so we can react to each other and the improvisation works. And our „healing“ changes and varies too. We base it on the concrete situation of each room. The fact is there is always a problem those two doctors are trying to solve. A door not having a handle, lost pacient, a breadcrumb on pyjamas, anything. Everything can be taken into the „healing game“. We always have to think of the child's age, if he/she is there with parents or alone etc. And then it's there in the room, on the spot, that small sketches come into life.
How do the children usually react to your visits?
In most cases the reactions are positive, sometimes kids and also their parents need a little moment to absorb the new situation, to realise what is happening. We are of course happy when children laugh. Some of them laugh out loud, and others secretly. Especially teenagers, they sometimes try to hide it, because it would be embarrasing to laugh at clowns. But each child is in a different health condition and state of mind. Sometimes with more timid children it is enough just to simply be in the room and be very cautious and not to expect big hysterics. Sometimes we elicit just a small trace of a smile and we know a lot just happened. Those are then our small victories. When on a ward with seriously ill children, who stay there for many weeks, there is a child only observing and not reacting and then you visit them for a third time and they start laughing. These moments recharge me and also my clown.
And what about the parents?
It might happen, that they refuse the clowns' visit. Sometimes we manage to break through. For example by doing a little sketch in the hall or through the glass in the door. Otherwise in these cases of course we respect their decision. Parents are an integral part of our clowning, in most cases they are in the room with children, so we interact with them too. And so we engage everybody in our „healings“. Little patients and everyone around them. It also happens we involve family members who are on the other side of a phone call or skype call at the moment.
Many times you come across serious cases, how does humour and seriousness of the situation go together?
It is up to us to evaluate how serious is the situation in the room and what's everyone's state of mind, especially the parents'. It feels to me that kids, unless they are feeling very sick, are able to transform anything into fun. They are grateful when such people come in, who are not affected by their health condition and „clear the air“ a bit. And when the kids start laughing it always cheers parents up. And the other way around of course. The energy in the room is contagious.
What is the inspiration for your work?
The patients themselves I would say. Because it is them who we base the clowning on. And then also ordinary life situations, which we can transfer and adapt to the hospital room. We also attend many workshops, where we get inspiration, and among other things, we are taught new clowning skills. I'm very grateful for these workshops. The organization takes care of our clown education and wants us to get better constantly which I am enjoying a lot. There is still so much to learn and so much to enrich my clown.
Has your work as a clown had an impact on your personal life and vice versa or do you put a strict boundary between the two?
It is impossible to seperate it. My clown is me, my worse me, that I make fun of. It is actually quite liberating and leads me to a self-reflection. And of course I carry with me the weight of that reality of the hospital and the ill children, but I'm able to partially filter it out, because after all it is not me, Bára, in the hospital but me, Žaneta. It is a kind of protective mask. But of course it happens sometimes that I carry a certain patient and their story in my mind for a long time.
Is there anyhing else you would like to add?
I have to say, working as a hospital clown brought me unexpected, enriching and entirely good things. And I continue to be amazed I am allowed to do such work, among all those amazing people, a work that I enjoy to do very much and that fulfills me. It sounds like a cliche, but believe me, being a hospital clown is a dream job :-) I met a great amount of inspiring people. It makes me evolve as a mother, actress, and simply as a person in all possible ways. So thank you Zdravotní klaun!
P.S.: Zdravotní klaun je dobročinná organizace, která již od roku 2001 přináší humor a radost hospitalizovaným dětem, geriatrickým pacientům a dalším potřebným po celé České republice. Přispívá tím ke zlepšení jejich psychického i celkového zdravotního stavu, a to prostřednictvím návštěv speciálně vyškolených klaunů. Zdravotní klaun nedostává finanční prostředky od státu, jednotlivých zařízení, která navštěvuje ani nevybírá do kasiček na ulicích. Jeho činnost je financována dary od dobrých lidí a dobrých firem. Dárci Zdravotního klauna se můžete stát i vy. Číslo účtu veřejné sbírky: 20 20 20 20 20 / 0600. Více informací na www.zdravotniklaun.cz
Lenka Bicanová, editorka FFN