Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Belle Visit

Today was a day unlike any other. Along with my friends, I clowned in a nursing home. We were thrilled and scared and unsure and eager and full of joy. We walked in with a slight shake in our knees and open hearts. A couple nurses eyed us wearily as we walked down the hallway. I eyed myself wearily. What the heck was I doing there? My friend Audrey had introduced this idea from Canada called La Belle Visite and so we thought we'd try it out to see if it would work in Humboldt. The activity director whom we had met weeks earlier had given the green light although I don't know if she was sure what she was signing up for either. When we entered the activity room, it was full of seniors with smiles and I immediately felt at ease. Such a kind group of people, so open.

We introduced ourselves as the Schirles. Myself Maude, my sister Claire, and brother Art, as well as Art's wife Vicky. The Schirle's name inspired by one of our favorite teachers at Dell'Arte Joan Schirle.

The methodology of La Belle Visite is based on the idea that clown can elicit an engagement with seniors that will offer a sort of healing through laughter. A chance to take it easy. And I really do think it did just that.  We were able to lead them in some singing and some light chair dancing, tai chi, exercises and we ended up doing a good deal of performing as well. Really, it was quite precious. Four small noses offer a huge opportunity for a group of people to play together. We all just played and laughed. At one point, Claire (Audrey) picked up a Christmas gift from under the tree and started shaking it.

"It's for me!" She exclaimed.
"Oh dear. Claire" I continued. "I'm afraid that's just a decoration."
I smiled awkwardly looking at the residents.
"No, its not. It's for me and it's from SANTA!" She insisted, followed by a chuckle from around the room.

We took musical requests and sang some prepared songs. We danced, juggled Kleenex, and just took every opportunity we could to have a conversation with the residents about their lives and memories.

Overall for all four of us, there is quite a sense of satisfaction and passion around this. So much here to learn. So much to build on. We sat over lunch filling a napkin up with new ideas for our next visit. So much laughter and so much potential. I love the idea of how public performance can elicit otherwise unlikely interactions that can then inform and add momentum to relationship building which can add to trust and then for the trust to enable a performance that comes from a greater place of honesty and care. When the public gets lost in the performance and the performer gets lost in the public. When the experience becomes shared and real human interaction results, a veritable and spontaneous community forms. An experience that continues to nurture all those involved as they continue on in their future interactions. So much more to learn...

We'll be back for our next visit in January and continue on once a month until June 2013.

Yes. This is why I came here. To do this work with these people.

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