The Dream Doctors are professional theater artists, with years of performing experience in Israel and around the world, who have combined their talents with rigorous medical training. Haifa’s academic program in medical clowning, founded by Professor Atay Citron in 2006, merges courses in improvisation and physical theater with principles from psychology and medicine.
“I’m interested in theater that changes reality, that heals individuals, communities,” says Citron. “Theater not as a reflection on reality, not as pure entertainment, but a proactive tool—something that works.”
“It’s a beautiful marriage of science and art,” says Caroline Simonds, director of Le Rire Médecin, a medical clowning organization in France. “We’re the Lucille Balls of the hospital.”
The conference focused on ‘evidence-based research,' as doctors lectured on how the clowns reduce anxiety in patients and assist with a range of procedures. A routine procedure such as giving stitches, for example, has become virtually painless thanks to a topical anesthetic called EMLA, but a terrified child who kicks and screams can challenge even the most skilled physician. The clown, by relaxing and distracting the child, not only makes the experience—as well as the memory of it—better for the patient, but also allows the doctor to do a better job.
In situations that can be stressful and uncomfortable for patients, families, and staff, the clowns provide much needed relief. They empower patients with imaginative tools that transform the hospital reality, making everyday procedures that are painful or embarrassing an opportunity to laugh and celebrate. Where patients may feel abnormal, it is only the clown, bizarre and unafraid to speak his or her mind, who can restore a sense of normality and sanity.
“It’s a great mitzvah,” Shriqui says. “To make people happy, to make them laugh.”