By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – It’s a Friday night in Morinville and Chiklit takes the stage during an open mic night at the Higher Grounds coffee house. She starts with a couple of mind reading numbers and follows it up with an impressive little rope trick that gets the crowd applauding and cheering. But for Chiklit and her clowning partner Odelia, the real magic is what lies deep beneath the grease paint – a caring heart and a strong desire to make a connection with others.
Chiklit (Wendy Crowley) and Odelia (Cathy Arthur) are two members of Edmonton Caring Clowns, a group that specializes in hospital and long-term care facility visits.
For Crowley, a Morinville resident, it is that connection with others that keeps her clowning. “Tonight when I was finished there was a little girl that just out of the blue came up and hugged me,” she said. “That’s why I do it. I didn’t know her. All of a sudden she just came up and hugged me.”
It is not the first time it’s happened. Crowley recounted attending Monday Morning Magic at last year’s Capital Ex. After the conclusion of their performance Crowley and Arthur had a hard time getting back to their vehicle. “You can’t go one step without someone saying, ‘Hey, there’s a clown,’” Crowley said. “You can’t walk away or run away because it’s going to give Edmonton Caring Clowns a bad name. It took quite a long time to get from where we were to the door.”
Arthur said the duo have even been pulled over while driving in full makeup by someone who wanted their business card because they thought they looked like friendly clowns.
Crowley was introduced to clowning about four years ago when her friend Cathy Arthur suggested they attend a weekend training session put on by the Edmonton Caring Clowns Society. The two women were hooked, and with the positive reactions they’ve received and connections they’ve made over the past few years, the duo has never looked back on the decision.
Four years later and that enthusiasm is branching out into another generation. Crowley said her 10-year-old granddaughter Jade is quite interested in clowning and always keen to look at Chicklit’s clown gear whenever she visits. Crowley said the granddaughter even joined her on an MS walk held in Edmonton May 15. “I just have a feeling when I’m too old to do it; I’m pretty sure she’ll continue on,” she said.
But while Crowley is pleased with the special bond clowning has created between she and her granddaughter, she is also pleased with the bonds she and Arthur are making with people whom they’ve never met.
Crowley has a passion for visiting children in hospital while Arthur’s clowning penchant is in visiting seniors with her orangutan puppet Sweetums.
“It really humbles you, especially when it’s kids with cancer,” Crowley said. “[It’s] human nature [that] sometimes we complain. After you come away from there, it really humbles you. I’m pretty blessed. I don’t have anything to complain about.”
Arthur explained the goal of a caring clown is not to entertain but to connect with whomever they are visiting. “When I clown, I don’t entertain,” Arthur said, adding most of the time she does not even speak. “I’ll go to visit and a senior, who has Alzheimer’s and does not respond to any people, will reach out for my puppet. They’ll spend the next five minutes with my puppet. So I’m not entertaining anyone. I’m making a connection.”
Both Arthur and Crowley said they get far more from clowning than they give in return.
“It’s the greatest feeling,” Arthur said, adding when they finish visiting one facility they are immediately looking for the next to visit. “We don’t want to stop. It just feels so good to do it.”
The duo is hoping to spread the joy of clowning with others who they feel will also receive far more than they give. Arthur said the Edmonton Caring Clown society has members located in a number of cities and towns, but are always looking for new clowns. Caring Clowns can choose their visits to coincide with their own schedules. The group holds monthly meetings which are largely devoted to training and networking in clowning techniques. More information on the group is available at www.edmontoncaringclowns.ca.