Clowns spreading sunshine for six years

Oak-Bay based clowns use laughter as their medicine

Amanda Gafter Ricks interacts with a resident at Beacon Hill Villa during a Sunshine Clowns visit.

Amanda Gafter Ricks interacts with a resident at Beacon Hill Villa during a Sunshine Clowns visit.

Clowns aren’t just for kids; the long-held belief that laughter is the best medicine holds true for adults and even seniors.

Oak Bay is a home base of sorts for the Sunshine Clown Band.

The dozen or so clowns in this troupe endeavour to stretch beyond entertaining and into the realm of social work.

They produce a show called Dancing with Fish, a multi-fringe festival performance they also put on this fall at the Oak Bay United Church, which happens to be where they store their costumes and props and practise their craft.

Aside from that show, they have year-round impact in long-term care homes around the region as care clowns.

“You should see the effect clowns have on people in care facilities. They just light up,” says founding member Jim Ricks. “We sing with them and play and do silly things. We give hugs and stickers that say ‘I hugged a clown today’. We’ve got some interactive things we do … all of it is important. We pitch ourselves at the level the people are.”

The Sunshine Clown Band started a little over six years ago, says Ricks. He and his daughter Amanda Gafter-Ricks and pal Scott Smith were in a choir together and decided to form the band.

“We weren’t musically as together as we needed to be,” Ricks says. “If you want to be funny doing music you better be good at it. You can’t just be bad.”

The clown band idea quickly grew into something more socially responsible. They do shows around the region, including regular performances at care homes.

“We do some singing and dancing but it’s more a clown show. That’s where we’ve evolved to,” Ricks says.

Gafter-Ricks, a registered drama therapist, started clowning many years ago and remembers it as, “fooling around and playing around the piano.” Already a professional, she’s toured and worked as a clown.

Gafter-Ricks, though, knows the keen difference between getting the laughs and providing a service.

“We are not about entertaining. We are about connecting with the individuals we are meeting. Ultimately it’s about connecting on that human level as opposed to entertainment,” she says. “All of our clowns have a social service background. We have really arrived at the conclusion that anyone who’s coming in to do care clowning has to have those fundamental skill sets around social service and being in service for others, ideally.”

The clowns’ experience runs the gamut from child care to working with seniors.

“Those skills that you learn and those professions really do translate as care clowns,” Gafter-Ricks says.

She points out newer clown Ann Sorensen, who joined this spring after retiring from 26 years working at the Queen Alexandra Centre.

All Sorensen originally knew about therapeutic clowning was what she gleaned from Patch Adams, the movie starring Robin Williams, where the titular character made those in the most dire medical situations smile. It left her intrigued, and Sorensen knew upon retirement she’d be seeking to fill the void of years spent working with children. She found some care clown training in Montreal in 2012 and there learned of the Sunshine Clowns back home and joined up.

“The word is getting out there, but there are a lot of people that don’t know much about care clowning or even that it exists,” Sorensen said. “They’re making a huge difference in a really sweet way.”

Now her character Mimsy is a part of the Sunshine roster.

“There are aspects of it where it’s beautiful that you tap into a childlike part of yourself and you reach people in a different way. It means so much to people who can be so isolated. It’s a wonderful way to connect with people,” she said. “I’m new, and with clowning you take on a clown persona but the clown persona has aspects of you in it. You take a characteristic that isn’t your best quality and you exaggerate the dickens out of it.”

Mimsy tries hard, but drops things and wears a bicycle bell as a ring. “She does her best,” Sorensen says with a laugh.

Mimsy works with others such as Bungle (Ricks) and Goldie Rae (Gafter-Ricks) on routine schedules at three regional facilities: Beacon Hill Villa, Cridge Village and Luther Court. A routine session entails two clowns and a handler.

“It’s as much a gift being in service as it is receiving services. I have always found that laughter, music, touch and that fundamental human connection is vital to all of our health, let alone someone who is now aging, who has lost autonomy,” Gafter-Ricks says. “It also really translates to people who visit the people we have visited. They get to see that somebody else cares and had an impact.”

For three years they’ve provided hugs to the 80 residents of Beacon Hill Villa in Victoria.

“It’s extremely important. I’d seen the power of clowning at a conference I was at on arts and health care,” said Kristy Brugman, therapeutic recreation department manager at Beacon Hill Villa. “I witnessed things that can unfold when you’re being playful. We see a lot of people come out of their shell. When a clown comes around it gives you permission to step out of your normal routine and play.”

The clowns use body language and eye contact to read the situation, then extend a playful invitation, and the resident either engages and invites them in or gives them a sign to go away. “They are really experts at what they do … they’re inviting people to engage.”

Brugman recalled a man, who sulked in his room, forever lamenting there was nothing to do. He was stuck in a bored state of mind.

“I came back around after the clowns had been in his unit. He was laying with his mask on his face,” she said. “He had his finger above his head dancing with a red clown nose on it – giggling.”

Moments like that are the norm, not the exception, Brugman says.

“In a busy environment, this is something that offers people just that moment to truly decide what’s going to happen. They have some autonomy in that moment. They get to choose how they want to interact and whether they want to interact.”

Learn more about care clowning and their philosophy online at thesunshine





Just Posted

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement for Greater Victoria with unusually high temperatures expected Monday and this coming weekend. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria’s first week of summer will be a scorcher

Special weather statement issued Monday by Environment Canada

A health-care worker takes part in HeArt Therapy session conducted by Shirley artist Sheila Thomas. (Contributed - Lorrie Beauchamp)
A creative ‘thanks’ to Vancouver Island’s essential workers

Artist Sheila Thomas creates therapy art session for workers on pandemic’s frontlines

A rendering shows what the Doral Forest Park development would look like from the southwest. (Rendering via D’AMBROSIO Architecture & Urbanism)
Beaver Lake area project passes next hurdle in Saanich

Council approval for 242-unit parks edge development hinges on meeting of conditions

Victoria police are looking for the owner of a pink and white bike they recovered in North Park. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police searching for owner of child’s bike

Officers recovered the pink and white bike in North Park

A single-vehicle incident impacted the morning commute on the Pat Bay Highway. (Black Press Media file photo)
UPDATE: Pat Bay Highway reopened following single-vehicle incident

One northbound and two southbound lanes were closed shortly after 5 a.m.

Jesse Roper tackles weeds in his garden to kick off the 2021 season of What’s In My Garden Man? (YouTube/Whats In My Garden)
VIDEO: Metchosin singer-songwriter Jesse Roper invites gardeners into his plot

What’s In My Garden, Man? kicks off with the poop on compost

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

The Sacred Hearts church on PIB land burned Monday morning. (Theresa May Jack/Facebook)
Two churches on First Nation land in South Okanagan burn to the ground

Sacred Hearts church on Penticton Indian Band land was reduced to rubble

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

In the first election with public money replacing corporate or union donations, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau and B.C. NDP leader John Horgan take part in election debate at the University of B.C., Oct. 13, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. MLAs ponder 2022 ‘sunset’ of subsidy for political parties

NDP, B.C. Fed call for increase, B.C. Liberals have no comment

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Most Read