Bring in the Clowns – Therapeutic Clowns Visit Eastern Health

A CHILD’S LAUGH ECHOES down the hall of the Janeway Children’s Hospital. Through an open door the young boy sits on his bed gazing with delight at Nana Margie, the silly clown that’s mysteriously appeared in his room. His parents smile at Nana’s antics, but their eyes are on their son.

The young patient grins with delight at Therapeutic Clown, Nana Margie.
Therapeutic clown Nana Margie, and the young patient.

During the week of September 21-25, 2022, Wonderbolt Productions hosted the 5th annual St. John’s International CircusFest, which featured world renowned contemporary circus companies from Quebec and Europe and included innovative new performances, interactive industry panels, keynote speakers and workshops. One of the key workshops centered around the benefits of therapeutic clowning.

As part of the week’s activities, therapeutic clown practitioners visited two Eastern Health sites – the Janeway Children’s Health & Rehabilitation Centre and the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion.

Therapeutic clown Nana Margie arrives with her magical sticky toy.

Therapeutic clowning is an evidence-based, arts-in-health practice that can take place with children, adults or elders in health-care or community settings.

Evidence-based practice is a problem-solving approach that incorporates the best evidence from well-designed studies, patient values and preferences, as well clinicians’ expertise in making decisions about a patient’s care.

Simply put, evidence suggests that therapeutic clowning can effectively reduce pain and fear and can bring lightness and joy to an environment where there is often stress, monotony and sadness.

Therapeutic clowns seek connections with clients in order to engage them in imaginative play, music, playful diversion and many other forms of improvisation.

With the help of her dad, a child peels Nana Margie’s magical sticky toy off the ceiling or her hospital room.

Mom Tracey, whose daughter was also visited by clown Nana Margie, had this to say about their experience.


“Nana Margie really lightened the mood and lifted our spirits. She even hid in the closet and pretended it was an elevator. My daughter loved it, but I think I might have laughed the hardest.”

Clowning – Not just for kids

Therapeutic clowns Natalie Fullerton and Mackenzie Muldoon visited several residents at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion.

Therapeutic clowns, Rose and Maisie.

According to Dr. Aaron McKim, division chief of long-term care, participating in something that’s fun, something that brings a smile to your face – that’s really hard to prescribe.

“One of the most important things residents in long-term care need is a reason to get up in the morning,” he says.  “Initiatives like therapeutic clowning are very worthwhile, a little bit different and help break up the monotony. It’s really important to residents’ quality of life because we’re not just trying to keep people alive – we want them to actually have meaningful experiences and meaningful lives.”

Maisie and Rose.

Natalie’s clown alter-ego is Rose, modelled after cultural icon Rosie the Riveter, who represented women that worked in factories and shipyards during World War II. Mackenzie’s clown alter-ego is Maisie. Both characters were chosen to resonate with the era long-term care residents would more likely identify with, a period that would trigger memories of younger days.  

According to Natalie, therapeutic clowning offers clients the opportunity to be in control.  “When you’re in a health-care facility, so much is beyond your control – when you see the doctor, when you get your medications, your tests… It can be a very uncertain time in an individual’s life.”

Rose and Maisie greet Fred Carter, a veteran of WWII, at the Caribou Memorial Veterans Pavilion.

But when a therapeutic clown knocks on the door, it’s the patient or resident that chooses to let the clown in.

And let’s face it, it’s hard to turn away a clown.

Take resident Linda Quinlan. When Rose and Maisie appeared at her door, lively antics ensued. Linda shared beauty advice and the importance of a daily regimen of facial cream to help retain that youthful glow. Then all three broke into a rousing rendition of Dolly Parton’s, “Jolene.” Linda’s lovely lilting voice carried the day.

Resident Linda Quinlan chats with Rose and Maisie.
The trio sings the song “Joleen.”

“They made me laugh, and forget about my pain for a while,” she said. “I was so happy I could sing for them. I enjoyed it immensely.”

In Angela Kfir’s room, Rose and Maisie were quickly invited in for a chat. It didn’t take long for Angela to show them her beautiful collection of hats and to encourage the clowns to try them on. Rose even modelled Angela’s mink coat as the trio erupted in laughter.

Resident Angela Kfir, carrying on with therapeutic clowns, Maisie and Rose.
Rose modelling Angela’s mink coat.

Spread the Joy

This ‘clowning’ around serves a larger purpose – one of joy and unconditional interaction. In some cases, therapeutic clowns even facilitate relationships between family members and their loved ones, health-care providers and their patients, as well as staff with one another.

In fact, therapeutic clown practitioners regularly engage or partner with staff to provide playful diversion for anyone in the vicinity, including patients, doctors, nurses, therapists and other clinical practitioners. As people share in humour and laughter together, connections are created not only among team members but across disciplines.

Clowns offer a departure from the issue-focused health plan and allow the client to experience wonderment and freedom with ripple effects spreading to surrounding family members and staff.

Maisie and Rose – doing what they do best – clowning around.

.According to Anneliese Ellis, speech-language pathologist at the Janeway, having the therapeutic clown visit was a magical experience.

“As health-care providers, we try our best to create relationships, to foster confidence, but we also have objectives related to patient care such as medical procedures, assessments and treatments. It was a liberation to watch another health-care provider foster the same relationship, but with no goal other than joy.” 

Eastern Health looks forward to participating in similar events in the future and exploring options for partnerships.

This story was written by Robyn Lush, a communications specialist with Eastern Health.

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