Something strange was happening last week at the Preah Bat Norodom Sihanouk Hospital, better known as the Russian Hospital. A group of oddly dressed individuals—including a man in a cow suit, another with polka dot suspenders and a woman with a smiley-face necklace—was roaming the halls, stopping at every patient’s room.
For some they sang silly songs. For others they told jokes. For patient Kum Chan Ry, 28, one of the clowns blew a long, blue balloon and twisted it into the shape of a dog, teasing the patient a little before handing him his creation.
The gags were all part of a month of clowning-related activity organized by One Clown Italy for the benefit of some residents of what are not always the most mirthful places—hospitals, orphanages and centers for disabled people.
The group entertaining the Russian Hospital patients was part of a larger contingent of clowns from Italy, Cambodia, Japan, the US and several other countries, said Ginevra Sanguigno, the president of One Clown Italy, or the woman with the smiley face necklace.
Members of the clown brigade are also holding workshops on juggling, balloons, music, gags and origami, sponsoring children living with HIV and donating money to a school for the disabled.
“The purpose of the team (at the Russian Hospital) was to make people who are going to die happy,” said Cambodian clown Sopheap Tep, 28.
Sopheap Tep said that he was hoping to improve his clowning skills by learning from some of the foreign clowns, as there are not that many clowns in Cambodia: just 6 or 7 in Phnom Penh. But he has considerable experience in the field—he studied circus at the Royal University of Fine Arts and has worked at the Sovanna Phum arts organization for 7 years. He has been interested in clowning since he was 8 years old, when he saw a circus group that came to perform in Cambodia on TV.
“They are artists already,” Sanguigno said about Sopheap Tep and the other Cambodian clowns participating in the project, which received funding from the Italian public during an annual telethon last year.
Among the foreign clowns involved in the project was Kathy Blomquist, 42, a nurse from the US who works with famous doctor and clown Patch Adams’ holistic medical center in the state of West Virginia, the Gesundheit Institute.
“Clowning is our avenue…of transformation,” Blomquist said, adding that even when a person has a dreadful diagnosis, clowning can make the situation into something more human.
At a speech given by Adams, she was wearing neon green glasses, fake hair of about the same shade, and a pink tulle skirt—her evening clownwear, she said, adding that her outfit makes fun of beauty standards.
You don’t have to be dressed a certain way to be a clown, she said.
As the 61-year-old clown, who gave his name as Wildman, explained: There is no right or wrong when it comes to clowning.
(Additional reporting by Chhim Sopheark)