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  Portrait of a Clown

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Portrait of a Clown

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 gal—for 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 relationships—one-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 job—computer science teacher—to 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.”

”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?

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, zita.makoi@ella.hu for more information.

1015 Budapest, Hattyu utca 14, Hattyuhaz, Fifth Floor, Tel: +36 1 224-9090  Click here to see the map.   
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