By Admin | February 22, 2008
Reba Strong is a professional magician (magicbyreba) and volunteer clown who goes by the name of Dr. Silly Reba. As a member of the Bumper T Caring Clowns she makes regular visits to hospitals in the Philadelphia area to spread smiles and laughter. We recently had a chance to sit down and speak with Dr. Silly Reba.
How did you come up with your clown name?
Well, I started as a magician and my cards say Magic by Reba. And so, when I needed a clown name I decided I didn’t want to lose my own name.
When I did parties kids would say, “You’re silly” and I would say, “Thank you.” Then they would say, “You’re pretty” and I would say, “Thank you.”
Then I would say, “Does that mean I am pretty silly?” I don’t know anybody else named silly so for my hospital name I am Dr. Silly Reba and it works.
How long does it take to get into your clown costume?
Less than an hour to put the makeup on and get ready and out the door.
How long does it take you to get out of the costume?
About four minutes to take the makeup off
What type of makeup do you use?
It is grease paint. You get it at the conventions. There are different brands. Just like at the department stores that have different brands of makeup. You have to test them and find out what works for you.
How did you design your clown face ?
The clown face – I took a class and went to a convention – what they do is they have you look in the mirror with no makeup on. They have you make faces and you see what parts of your face move.
Then, the instructor had us take black eyebrow pencil and fill in every line on our face And then you look in the mirror and make faces again – happy, sad,surprised – all the different emotions.
You see what moves and what doesn’t move. You find out from your eyeballs down not much of your face moves out. Then you find out what moves above your eyes – your eyebrows – how your mouth moves.
Everyone is different. So, even if I put the same makeup on you, it would look different. Even if I did the same design it would look different because of the shape of your face.
How did you design the rest of your outfit?
Well I got (my glasses) from a magic dealer years ago, but I had black ones and my hair was dark so it didn’t show up. So I got a pair of white ones. They were originally sunglasses so I had the lens part taken out.
I had gone to some clown conventions and I am not the frilly, frou-frou, petticoat clown with the Mary Jane shoes. I am more of a tomboy so I wore the bib overalls.
My original clown makeup was much bolder than what you are looking at now. I really started out with a very bold face and a wig and the whole bit.
Because of our organization the Bumper T caring clowns, we have toned down our makeup considerably. We have eliminated the wigs because we are up close and personal.
We want it to be more comfortable. Even when I do my birthday parties now I have gotten away from clowning when I am a magician. It is more kid friendly.
How often do you come into the hospital and clown?
I am usually here on Thursdays. I was doing three hospitals a week, but now I am down to two because it really is exhausting.
Our organization the Bumper T caring clowns believes that humor is good medicine. Everybody thinks we are here for the kids.
But what we really are is a stress relief for the staff, the visitors, and then the patients, but not necessarily in that order.
What type of training does the hospital require?
First, we have to be accepted by the hospital. All of our clowns have to go through orientation with that hospital. We have to follow the hospital rules and the Bumper T rules which are very similar.
When we do check in and we go to a particular floor, we let the staff know that we are there, we check with them to see if there are any rooms we should not go in. Is there anyone who has not had a visitor recently that they think would appreciate it and enjoy it.
They will direct us one way or the other. When we get to the room we knock on the door and we ask, “Would you like a visitor” and we look for a response.
Sometimes they are just not in the mood for it and that’s okay and we say “No problem, maybe another time.”
How do you break the ice with a potentially very ill patient?
If they do want a visitor we come in, we introduce ourselves we tell them our name, we ask them theirs and ask them if we can visit for a few minutes.
I happen to be a “funny virologist”t myself, so that is my lead into the room. I will say, “You know, if you are not a specialist you are nothing. As a funny virologist it is my job to listen to your funny bone.”
I have stethoscope on with a big ear at the end. And I say “you know where your funny bone is?”
I will kinda point to it so they don’t have to think about it because you don’t want to ask them questions that make them feel uncomfortable. So, I point to their elbow.
And then they say, “Oh yeah, my elbow.”
Then I say it is called the funny bone because it is attached to the humerus and I run my finger done their arm. And I say, “that’s the only thing I know for sure.”
Then I say, “Do you have any questions?” You kinda look around the room to get a feel. If there are any pictures or flowers we comment on it.
We ask all non-threatening questions. I’ll say, “Are you from the area?” If somebody laughs then I say “Oh, I forgot to ask you if it hurts when you laugh.”
We have lots of things in our pocket that we call pocket potpourri that we have to fall back on, but we are really in the moment. We are not there to do a show. We are there for them.
So, it’s more conversational?
It can be conversational. It can just be listening. Lots of times people don’t know what we are going to do.
That’s why I like waiting rooms. Because let’s say you are reading a book and really don’t want to be bothered, because you don’t know if I am going to come over and be real loud and embarrass you.
So, I move onto the next group of people. Now if you want to put down your book and listen and get the peripheral interaction, fine. If not just keep reading.
Does hospital clowning differ from other types of clowning?
Hospital clowning is very different. In volume alone circus clowning is a 10. “Whoa!” A birthday party clown volume s a 5 or 6. “Okay party time.” A hospital caring clown is a 1 or 2.
It is very gentle and very non-intrusive and sometimes you will sit down with someone and after you are there for a minute or so they say, “Thank you so much for visiting.”
That is a sign that they are finished, that they are ready for you to go.
The hardest part of this job is the fine line between me leaving and you wanting more and you wanting me to leave
How did you develop and hone your clown routine?
All my material is original, it’s just not originally mine and I don’t steal material, I just relocate it.
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