News Column

Clowns bring smiles to hospitalized kids

August 9, 2014

By Josh Holland, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Aug. 09--Sitting in his hospital bed, Eli Consolino, 6, begins to strum a ukulele.

The pace of the strumming increases and, within moments, the sound of Eli's laughter couples with the singing of a special visitor.

Together, the pair create a harmony that stands out in a normally quiet place.

It is a Tuesday at Mercy Children's Hospital in Creve Coeur, and that means Circus Flora's clown conductor, Claire Wedemeyer, patrols the hallways. Eli is her first visit of the morning.

Claire the Clown uses her routine of slapstick humor, juggling and musical accompaniment to break up Eli's routine of testing and treatment.

After finishing her act, she places most of her props back into the red wagon that follows her from room to room and grabs a special one for Eli to keep -- a tall feather used for a balancing act.

Before bidding farewell, the clown, wearing oversize shoes, bright green pants spotted with flowers and equally vibrant suspenders, gives Eli a red nose, making him an honorary circus member for the day.

Since February 2012, Wedemeyer has roamed the halls of Mercy Children's and Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis. Clowns on Call, the dream of Circus Flora founder David Balding, who died in May, focuses on bringing the circus to people unable to make it to the big top.

"We bring it to the activity room. And, if they can't make it to the activity room, we are going to bring it to their bedside." Wedemeyer said. "If we can't come to their bedside because there are precautions, then we will stand at the doorway."

What's really different about this kind of performance is that every room or every act has to be really tailored to that audience, she said.

"Some might want just a song, real low key. Some might want 45 minutes of juggling and slapstick and magic," she said.

Children who are able to leave their rooms gather with their families in the activity area to see her show.

She wows some with her balancing of a broom on her forehead and impresses others with the juggling of bowling pins underneath her legs. Still, in the back of the room there are a few skeptics.

Wedemeyer pulls out the ukulele once more for a rendition of the hit song "Thrift Shop." The unexpected tune successfully wins over the last few in the audience, representing one of her favorite parts of her performance.

"I think it's when somebody is not expecting to be lightened up or something to be funny," she said, "Or when parents aren't expecting their boy or girl to laugh and they say 'Oh, we haven't had our kid laugh in a couple of days.'"

The show wraps up, and she spends time talking to kids and teaching them tricks like how to balance a feather or a spinning plate. Then, she gets word that one of her audience members had to leave before the performance started. She loads up the red wagon and ventures back into the hallway for another Clown Round.

In the room of Anna Hasten, 9, Wedemeyer puts on yet another show.

"We tried to go down to the playroom where the clown was going to be," said Anita Sitton, Anna's mother. "We were actually down there and the pain medicine just made her sick. It just made her day, getting her own private little show."

Maybe Wedemeyer will cross paths with some of her new friends again and maybe she won't. But, as she wraps up her time at the hospital, one thing is certain. You won't hear a typical sendoff from her.

"We don't say goodbye in the circus, we say see ya down the road."


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Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

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