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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Clowning just got more serious

It was a vacation gone wrong for Mr Stanley Ng, 39, and his wife last December when they took their 15-month-old daughter to a hospital in Perth for her high fever.
The Straits Times - June 15, 2014
By: Seow Bei Yi
| More
Clowning just got more serious Members of the Caring Clown Unit visit KK Children’s and Women’s Hospital once a month to cheer patients up. -- PHOTO: KK WOMEN'S AND CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

It was a vacation gone wrong for Mr Stanley Ng, 39, and his wife last December when they took their 15-month-old daughter to a hospital in Perth for her high fever.

Tired of medical tests and the long wait, Praise bawled as her parents spoke to a doctor. Then, she stopped.

"I didn't realise a clown was entertaining my daughter until she stopped crying," says Mr Ng, director of a financial services company.

"She blew some bubbles and balloons, which distracted my daughter and calmed her down," he adds.

More people might soon experience this in hospitals here, with a new sponsored course that teaches people how to clown about - as a job.

Medical clowns, complete with colourful wigs and bright red noses, are considered part of the medical team. They do everything from magic tricks to physical comedy.

"They basically do spontaneous improvisational theatre and interact with those they meet through the therapeutic use of humour," says Dr Thomas Petschner, 53, artistic director of non-profit organisation Clown Doctors Singapore.

After getting a brief on the wards they will visit, medical clowns then change into their zany outfits and start a three-hour shift.

Clown Doctors is introducing a medical clowning course, conducted here by lecturers from the Institute for Medical Clowning at Steinbeis University in Berlin. The sponsored initial training otherwise costs about $15,000 a student.

It hopes to recruit up to 20 people in an audition on July 12. Those interested can e-mail their CV to eliane@medicalclowning.org by June 30. More than 30 have already applied.

Successful applicants will be trained for about 20 months in performing arts, health science, psychology, cultural studies and practical work.

Medical clowns usually work with children, but Clown Doctors hopes that they will also be of help to senior citizens. It plans to introduce the clowns at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, St Luke's Hospital and St Luke's ElderCare.

Says KK Hospital's director of corporate development Audrey Lau: "We are happy to explore a working relationship with the Clown Doctors Singapore, to see how this can enhance the care and recovery of our young patients."

While there are no professional medical clowns here yet, volunteers of the Caring Clown Unit, formed in 2004, visit KK Hospital once a month. Its 13 Caring Clowns also do ad-hoc events.

One of them is Ms Ellen Toh, 58, a housewife who started clowning 10 years ago. Her fellow clowns range from students to technicians.

She says: "If laughter is the best medicine, then we are thankful to have contributed to the recovery of these patients."

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