CWB at Healthcare Clowning International Conference

In late April of 2022, Meredith Gordon traveled to The Hague in The Netherlands for the Healthcare Clown International Conference. Afterward, Meredith talked with Naomi Shafer, Executive Director for Clowns Without Borders, about the meeting. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.

What is the Healthcare Clowning International Meeting?

HCIM is an international meeting of healthcare clowns. 35 countries, 68 organizations, and 850 people were represented, primarily hospital-related and mostly clowns from Europe and the Americas. The meeting was an exchange of ideas. We discussed the artistry of healthcare clowning and organizational issues. The meeting was initially scheduled for October of 2021. It was postponed and moved to April of 2022.

How does HCWIM connect to CWB?

CWB works parallel to the work of healthcare clowns.* Something that came up was how organizations prepare artists for the work. Hospital clowning has specific requirements for hospitals. Many of the values are similar to what is needed in the CWB context. It’s also essential to understand what the clients (audience) need. A fundamental question of CWB and healthcare clowning is how you address someone experiencing a crisis. The crisis could be a patient and family dealing with a medical emergency, or the problem could be a refugee’s struggle.

*CWB works in the realm of psycho-social support. Our partners are often interested in how laughter connects to emotional wellbeing, healing, and recovery.

What were key issues that seemed especially relevant to CWB?

A story of a clown told comes to mind. A child didn’t want to receive the medical treatment she needed. The patient refused the treatment until the clowns entered to help ease the child’s worries. The clowns could be with the child when the procedure needed to happen. Then one day, the procedure needed to happen when the clowns were not there. The medical staff was nervous. Previously, the patient refused to do the procedure without the clowns. They thought, how can we do this procedure without the clowns? But the medical staff gave it a try. To their surprise, the child managed the situation well. The doctors asked the child, “how did you get through that without the clown?”

The child said, “the clown wasn’t there in person, but I had the memory of the clown. I thought about being with the clown. and that helped.”

In that same way, the work of CWB provides laughter and a sense of joy and makes the audience the center of the performance. This focus is a way of honoring and respecting the audience/client. It’s an important reminder that we are there not only for entertainment but also that we can provide a new pathway for patients/audience members to manage emotions.

Do you have a favorite memory or golden moment from the conference?

I talked with someone from a hospital clown organization who has recently started international programs for refugees. This organizer mentioned that they learned that they could do more to support the artists on the ground. That was a big learning curve for them. That was an important reminder to me because I think this is something CWB does well. We work with artists to prepare them emotionally to understand the context of the work. Perhaps we could learn more about standardizing this type of support by working with organizations newer to this work.

You presented (Twice!) at the conference. Could you tell us a little about that?
Yes, I did two presentations there. The first was my movement workshop called “Why Stop The Music.” During COVID, I have done this workshop once in person; otherwise, it’s been all online. I was surprised that everyone did all of the activities so well. It was such a joy to be in a room full of eager, cooperative artists who were receptive to the information I was sharing. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Most of them were professional performers with many years of experience. We all enjoyed being in the room together and sharing ideas after two years of Covid.

The second presentation was a DRIVE forward Workshop. We had a great conversation about diversity. I represented our Drive Forward team by presenting five of the concepts we’ve used in our work. Through this workshop, I emphasize that there is no quick and easy fix to diversity issues. I see this approach as a direction to move in rather than a final destination where everyone reaches diversity nirvana. We talked openly about how to support people on your team who are marginalized. Several people in the workshop had specific examples where they wanted to be more inclusive.

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