Clown doctors dispense the best medicine
A red nose, a silly hat and some improv skills are all Ruth Dudding needs to bring smiles to the faces of sick children.
The actress visits Starship hospital once a week as her alter ego Dr Priscilla Pick-Me-Up, a clown doctor.
Clown doctors were invented in Belgium and undergo specific training, learning hospital protocols and basic psychology and physiology.
Ms Dudding says you need to be empathetic and be able to read a situation.
‘‘We’re in very tense situations sometimes, where children are in a lot of pain. There could be a lot of activity that is going on around the bed of a child which is alarming to them. You learn to deal with it.’’
The clown doctors work in pairs and visit everyone from 10-weekold babies up to 15-year-olds.
Ms Dudding says the work immensely rewarding.
‘‘It’s my job and I love it and I love the children. It’s about rising above it for them and taking them to a different place away from their boredom or their pain or their anxiety.’’
Ms Dudding has been working a double role for the Clown Doctors New Zealand Charitable Trust.
Her first thought when she heard about clown doctors was not to be one but to make a documentary about them.
She filmed the first part of the audition workshop before joining in herself.
She was offered a job as a clown doctor and the opportunity to keep filming.
Ms Dudding now has 17 hours of
is footage which she hopes to take some time off to edit.
She has been juggling her clown doctor work with rehearsals for upcoming play Motel.
Ms Dudding will hang up her red nose in mid-August to play Janet in the drama, a ‘‘reasonably wellheeled’’ woman who suspects her husband of being unfaithful and decides to investigate.
In her preparation for the role Ms Dudding spoke to private investigator Julia Hartley Moore, who specialises in infidelity cases.
The actor who plays the motel owner will spend a week working in a real motel and another whose character has cancer chatted to a doctor to ensure her portrayal is realistic.
Ms Dudding says the play is ‘‘diametrically opposed’’ to be being a clown doctor.
She will play the same character each night whereas as a clown doctor she could be doing anything from blowing bubbles or singing to babies to performing a whole improvised scene.
‘‘It really keeps your creativity and acting skills honed,’’ Ms Dudding says.
The Clown Doctors New Zealand Charitable Trust wants to reach more wards and visit the elderly as well, but needs more funding.
The clown doctors are paid through donations to the trust.
Motel is on at 8pm until August 24 at the Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, in the central city.
There is a 2pm matinee on August 24 and no shows on Sundays.
Tickets are $30 for adults and $25 for seniors and students from iticket.co.nz.
Clowning around: Ruth Dudding, right, as Dr Priscilla Pick-Me-Up and Zack McCracken as Dr Cracker at Starship hospital.
Multi-talented: Actress Ruth Dudding at home.