Missy Piper (left) and Clara (left) sing and play for Aspen House residents Feb. 27. The women were joined by two other members of the Edmonton Caring Clowns Society in providing a warm hand of friendship to the seniors. – Stephen Dafoe Photos
By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – A Wednesday afternoon slow dancing with a new friend is nothing new for Wendy Crowley, at least not when it is her alter ego Chick Lit singing softly as she turns her dance partner around and around. It is a magical experience for those involved and an equally magical experience for those who get to see the smiles on the faces of the dancers. But for Chik Lit and her clowning partners Odelia, Missy Piper and Clara, the real magic is what lies deep beneath the grease paint – a caring heart and a strong desire to make a connection with others.
Chick Lit (Wendy Crowley), Odelia (Cathy Arthur), Missy Piper (Sharon Dach) and Clara (Marilyn McSporran) are four members of Edmonton Caring Clowns, a group that specializes in hospital and long-term care facility visits.
Morinville resident Crowley and her clowning partners from Legal, St. Albert and Edmonton have recently committed to visit both Aspen House and Heritage Lodge once a month to show they care. The group spent two hours Feb. 27 at Aspen House’s Dementia Care Facility singing, dancing and involving residents in a little bit of loving kindness that is the caring clown experience.
But don’t call them entertainers. The clowns are not there to entertain; they are there to use their clowning skills to make a bond, if only momentarily, with another person. It is a connection that lingers well after the makeup is removed and the clown suit is hung up in the closet.
For Crowley, a Morinville resident, it is that connection with others that keeps her clowning. She and Dach were introduced to the art form about four years ago when friend Cathy Arthur suggested they attend a weekend training session put on by the Edmonton Caring Clowns Society. The women were hooked, and with the positive reactions they’ve received and the connections they’ve made over the past few years, the trio has never looked back on the decision.
The Feb. 27 Aspen House visit was Marilyn McSporran’s first foray into clowning with care. “It was really heart-warming to see how that group of people reacted to a group of strangely dressed women,” she said. “This gave them a chance to just sort of relax and know they were among people that cared about them.”
McSporran said she was impressed with the way her more experienced colleagues went from person to person making each resident feel special. “That is to me what it’s all about,” she said.
Send in the clowns
The quartet are hoping to spread the joy of caring clowning with others they feel will also receive far more than they give. Crowley said the Edmonton Caring Clown Society has about 25 members located in a number of cities and towns, but are always looking for new clowns. Caring Clowns members 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.
“It would appeal to people who want to bring a smile to someone’s day,” Arthur said, adding the group consists of students, stay-at-home moms, retirees, and people from all walks of life. “You can make your own clowning hours. You can clown through the day or only on weekends.” All that is really required by the group is a couple hours a month.
A weekend workshop is scheduled for late April where those interested in giving caring clowning a look. “We talk to people about forming their new character and personalities,” Dach said. “We help them discover what is special about themselves. Do they like crafts? Do they like the ukulele, magic, balloons?”
The weekend workshop will also delve into the clown’s art of makeup design and application as well as developing clowning skills in a hands-on way. There will likely be an opportunity at the Sunday session to visit a care facility to see what caring clowns do.
Arthur said while the workshop is open to everyone, people should be aware the focus is on providing the tools needed to be a member of the Edmonton Caring Clown society. “The training is definitely geared towards Caring Clowns; it’s not geared towards birthday clowns,” she explained. “It’s about what you are going to use as a Caring Clown working with seniors.”
The group will be holding the weekend retreat in Sherwood Park at Clover Bar Junior High School on Apr. 20 and 21. From 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Cost of the weekend session is $50 and includes lunch, supplies and take-home materials. Preregistration is required. For more information contact Wendy Crowley at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the group’s website at edmontoncaringclowns.ca.
Above left: Edmonton Caring Clowns Society members Odelia (left) and Chick Lit dive into their bag of tricks to bring a smile to seniors’ faces at Aspen House Feb. 27. – Stephen Dafoe Photo