János Greifenstein (back,center), Zita Makói (center)
and the Red-Nosed Clown Doctors
János Greifenstein didn't answer a help wanted ad when
he became a clown. When word got out that the Red-Nosed Clown
Doctors were looking for, well, funny people able to act in
unexpected situations, actors from within Budapest 's vibrant
independent theater scene put Greifenstein's name forward. Says
Grefi, as he 's affectionately known, I guess I'm known
as the guy who can make, say, a dragon out of nothing.
Of hundreds of applicants, he was one of eight to be given the
job. The turnover has been zero since that call for applicants
a few years ago. The Red-Nosed Clown Doctors (Piros Orr Bohócdoktorok),
operating in Hungary since 1996, is an Austrian organization
of professional clowns who work with terminally ill children.
Zita Makói, a pediatrician by training and program leader
of the Clown Doctors, says a clown can just be a funny guy or
galfor starters. But there's a long list of requirements
to be truly successful: an artistic background, sensitivity,
tolerance, capacity for team work, ability to communicate, not
just with words, and not just with children but with parents,
doctors and nurses too. The clowns are not performing
so much as building relationshipsone-to-one. They must
be in tune with the parents' wavelength, and cope with the specific
atmosphere of the hospital, of the nurses, and of the doctors.
It is often very tense, and always changing, says Makói.
Despite such challenges, these magicians of laughter generate
stories of hope. Makói tells of a 14 year-old boy with
serious health problems which have caused him loss of movement.
Meeting the clowns, she says, dramatically shifted his mood;
he's begun to dream about a future as a magician. He's learned
all his tricks from the clowns. Greifenstein is a perfect match
for the clown job. For the past 22 years, he has simultaneously
been a playwright, director, actor, set designer, prop builder
and puppeteer, acting instructor, stage manager, and voice coach.
He's also a father of two. In September he finally gave up his
day jobcomputer science teacherto devote himself
more officially to all his other roles, which uncramps his business
card only slightly. His latest play, Romeo and Juliet ,is
on in Hungarian at the Merlin Theatre this Spring, performed
by the Atlantis Theatre Company. All of which seems strange
for a guy fully schooled in plane mechanics. I first met Grefi
when he was wielding a guitar at the primary students we both
taught in the seventh district. Like everything else, he says,
I became a teacher by mistake. Hordes of kids are
grateful. Watching Grefi with teacher's cap makes it clear that
the best teachers are always on stage. His sense of humor transcends
barriers of age, and in the case of the sick children, of 'language'.
He says it all without opening his mouth. And when he does,
the laughter's contagious. But how does a person find the strength
to joke with a dying child? You can get over a flu immediately
when you step on stage, Grefi explains. There's
a calmness inside when you're performing. With these kids, even
though you know what they're facing, it's the same.
EXCERPTS FROM THE CLOWN DIARIES
In the hospitals we often meet downtrodden, shy, helpless and scared kids, but sometimes we meet real heroes too. I was amazed by the life vigor of this little boy, how little he was afraid of the situation and how open he was to the outside world. He definitely loved clowns. It was an incredible experience and a hard test watching conditions without a wince, not to have anything that could pull us out of our clownliness.
Makói describes it this way: The clowns know about
a level in children that not even parents and pediatricians
know. They step over limits because they don't follow a nurse,
doctor, or parent model. It's outside of the real world, like
magic. She describes Greifenstein as the one who comes
up with the ideas, and whose unique sense of humor can transform
all of the difficult situations. What he's doing is flying,
she says, and this is what all of us would like to do.
Why not respond to that with your 1% tax donation this
year to make it possible for the clowns to expand their operations
to more hospitals?
HOW CAN YOUR COMPANY HELP?
Sponsor any number of clown doctor visits, a monthly or a yearly program. For HUF 1,200,000/year or 100,000/month
Zita Makói MD. PhD.
Bank account no. :10900011-00000009-71700000 Tax no.:18090628-2-41
Piros Orr Bohócdoktorok Alapítvány Phone:+36
1 329-7660 or 06 30 239-9274
Red-Nosed Clown Doctors are looking for clowns between 20
and 40 years of age with the attributes suggested here. Contact
Zita Makói at +36 1 329-7660, firstname.lastname@example.org
for more information.