Richmond Community Theatre Director Shelly Walker recently packed her bags and headed to Costa Rica to attend a clowning workshop with Patch Adams.
“We went to San Jose and stayed there pretty much the whole time,” said Walker. “We didn’t go to the beaches. When people think of Costa Rica they think ‘island paradise.’”
Walker said she spent five days clowning.
During those five days, she and other ‘clowns’ in the workshop travelled with Patch Adams to children’s hospitals, mental institutions and juvenile detention facilities. Walker said most of her time was spent in poor neighborhoods, where she saw a side of Costa Rica many never realize exists.
“I learned that in Costa Rica they have similar problems with immigration issues to the United States,” said Walker. “We have sort of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude towards immigration, but we also have a lot of immigrants working jobs in industries that American people won’t do and they do it in the hopes of improving their situation because it’s still better than where they came from.”
Walker said Nicaraguan immigrants moved to Costa Rica for a better life, but began by squatting on the government’s land. The government has since given them the land, and neighborhoods made of shanties have been established, with running water and electricity. According to Walker, immigrants from Nicaragua escaped civil war and drugs in their homeland.
“There is community there; a sense of taking care of each other,” said Walker. “It’s not the ‘starving’ kind of poverty, but they live in what we would consider sub-standard.”
Patch Adams is best known for his work as a medical doctor and a clown, and he is also a social activist who has devoted 40 years to changing America’s health care system. He believes that laughter, joy and creativity are an integral part of the healing process, according to his website, www.patchadams.org.
In working with Adams, Walker learned that Adams “has great philosophies,” for instance that “clowning is a trick to bring love close.”
“You basically put on a red nose, do a little dance, and people open their door to you — and they do,” said Walker. “Clowning is a way to open the heart. You’re creating social chaos to shake up people’s basic assumptions about social hierarchy.”
To explain this concept, Walker used the example of a person in the hospital, who feels helpless and feels like others have taken control of their life.
“Clowning tries to somehow turns things on their head to help people feel powerful again,” said Walker. “It’s making small things out of big things, to make big things seem small.”
While Walker was giving to a community through laughter, she was also giving back through funds. The funds used to make the trip possible for her and others who were interested in the clowning experience go towards the purchase of medical supplies needed in poor areas. The funds also contributed to the building of a free hospital in West Virginia that Patch Adams wants built.
“He believes that health care should be free,” said Walker about the doctor clown.
Now that Walker is back from Costa Rica, she is trying to understand how she can apply what she has learned.
“What I was trying to get out of it was to feel like I was doing something good for society, by doing something nonsecular and learn about what Patch Adams does for the world. This clowning isn’t an isolated incident,” said Walker. “How do I bring this into my life? I’m trying to figure it out. What he left me with was, ‘Greet the world each day with a twinkle in your eye and a willingness to greet.’”
Walker said the workshop has given her a new perspective on life, which theatre audiences could see in future plays directed by Walker.
“Anytime you have a shift in the way you see the world, it comes out in unknown ways,” said Walker.
— Staff Writer Dawn M. Kurry can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 15, or by email at email@example.com.