Ash Devine: Clowning Around for a Good Cause
Ash Devine is a singer-songwriter, musician, and humanitarian clown, who uses the power of clowning and song to cheer people around the world, inspired by Patch Adam’s Gesundheit Institute. She promotes healing through clowning, human interaction, and her music.
As part of an indiegogo campaign, she is raising money for her next album, “Something to Say.” Take a look at her mission here. Asked to share a slice of a typical day of humanitarian clowning and music in a nursing home, she responded with this:
On the way to volunteer at the nursing home I considered my intentions. What did I want to accomplish? I want to create a joyful moment. And even if only for a moment we all have fun together, this will be enough.
That intention gave me a great start! There is no way to fail when I am un-attached to outcomes, and instead focused on the intention. I arrived three minutes late, just as the group was singing “Home on the Range.” They were happy to see me. I joined in song as I walked into the room, “Where the deer and the antelope play.” Every time I hear or sing that song, I am cathartically transported to the first time I drove across the USA, on tour last year with Loveful Heights–the first time I ever saw an antelope, surprised at how statue-still they seem as you zoom past them on a highway.
I pulled out my costume bag, and began distributing hats to the participants. I use children’s clothing and long, brightly-colored panty hose as hats for clowning costumes. My favorite hat prop is a pair of black and neon green panty hose. No nursing home resident has ever refused this magical hat. There is something particularly joyful about wearing pants on your head. Perhaps it’s the flop-eared effect. Perhaps it makes the fact that our ears and noses keep growing even as our bodies shrink from old age more comedic than sorrowful.
After running out of hats—I am always looking for more–I ask, “Who wants to be in the band?” I distribute maracas and shakers to waiting hands. One lady who only had mobility in one hand said “I’d like a maraca,” and the man next to her followed her lead, taking an instrument while quietly talking to himself.
“Where is my washboard?” asked Jenny, my 93 year old friend who always shows up in long, flower-patterned dresses and a string of beads around her neck.
“I left it in the car!” I said.
“Well go get it,” she responded. I ran to get the wash board, and came back to the room to find them in the midst of a quiet and half asleep version of “Home on the Range” once again.
Each time I visit, I hope to inspire someone to sing a song for the group. My ultimate goal as a musical clown is to inspire spontaneous and unexpected song-sharing in the most unlikely places.
It’s strange to me that, at one point in our history, the elderly were revered as the tellers of stories and the teachers of songs. Now, we isolate our elders in medical facilities, and they never get to share their songs and their tales. I know those songs are in their somewhere. Once I find a way to extract them, to tell them it’s okay to share the history of their lives, of their emotions, of their desires, of their joys—our elderly can become the world’s storytellers again. They will be a mystery no longer, now that the clowns have arrived.
Clowns give people permission to be free, to be silly. We are here to shine light upon people who sit alone in the darkness, who sit waiting for something to change. Waiting for death, for a conclusion to their religious commitments, for their loved ones to visit, for a meal wheeled in by an overworked nurse. It’s hard to live in the moment in a place where you are always in a state of waiting.
This is my favorite realm to explore, where I can un-lock opportunities for people to share something about their lives, and to feel song within their bodies in a lively and expressive way.
“Alright everyone, this is a dance song”, I said, as I began playing “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain.” I approached each person in the room and encouraged them to tap their feet and dance in whatever way they could. If you can’t move your feet, move your elbows!
I passed around lavender, let each person smell. I tried the flute breathing meditation. I asked each person what they like about summer, or to share a song.
Jenny shared, “Walking in the Summer-Time Down the Boulevard.”
Tom shared a song that he wrote.
Margarita shared a hymnal.
Jenny shared the Lord’s Prayer.
And we all shared a moment of joy, a moment during which they didn’t have to be waiting. They could simply be, and share, and live.