The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday June 10th

Student clowns bring humor to hospitals

	<p>Katy Heubel and Rivers Woodward perform antics as apart of ArtHeels’ anticipation of Patch Adam’s visit to <span class="caps">UNC</span> next week. </p>
Buy Photos

Katy Heubel and Rivers Woodward perform antics as apart of ArtHeels’ anticipation of Patch Adam’s visit to UNC next week.

Red rubber noses, outlandish outfits, giant underwear — all in an unexpected place.

In the spirit of unconventional health care activist and doctor Patch Adams — who is coming to campus to speak next week— members of UNC’s art therapy organization, ArtHeels, bring the art of clowning to the children of UNC Hospitals.

Students and patients create crafts, play music and use other artistic talents to help make the hospital atmosphere more vibrant.
ArtHeels president Katy Heubel said the goal is to give patients an escape from their illnesses.

“We want to spread the healing power of art in whatever form that may take,” she said.

Sometimes that means donning oversized, floppy shoes.

“We’ll get ready before a shift by putting on these goofy outfits,” she said. “We go around to the children’s rooms and put on a little show.”

Rivers Woodward, an ArtHeels clown who is responsible for bringing Adams to campus, said that he uses props and improvisation when traveling from room to room entertaining the children.

Adams — the doctor behind the Robin Williams character in the 1998 film “Patch Adams” — promotes healing through humor. As the founder and director of a completely free hospital, the Gesundheit Institute, Adams is iconically known as the clown doctor.

Woodward has traveled abroad with Adams — visiting children’s hospitals, orphanages and AIDS clinics — and continues to keep in touch with him. He said Adams has been an inspiration for him in his clowning and in his pursuit of a medical degree.

Veronica Brown — another clown — agreed that costumes and improvisation are two important aspects of clowning.

“We put on our big clown shoes and mismatched clothing and try to look as silly as possible,” she said. “It is 10 percent structure, 90 percent improv.”

Woodward said he often uses physical comedy and props to entertain the children.

“The most people I’ve ever fit in the world’s largest underwear were eight nurses,” he said. “I’m still hoping to beat that record.”
The eight nurses in the giant underwear got a big laugh from one child patient who was slow to warm up to the clowns.

“We got the eight nurses in the underwear and they came stumbling into his room and he bowled over laughing,” Woodward said. “None of them had ever seen him laugh before.”

Brown said some children respond to the clowns faster than others. She told the story of a little girl who had limited mobility because she was hooked up to several monitors.

The girl became excited as soon as she saw the clowns, Brown said.
“It wasn’t about taking stats or poking her with needles,” she said. “It was just about her and what she wanted to do.”

Heubel also told of a child’s reaction upon seeing clowns in the hospital.

“A little girl came running out of her room and said, ‘I’ve only seen clowns at the circus!’” Heubel said.

Although it is her first semester clowning, Brown said the experience has been a meaningful one.

“It’s important to me to bring liveliness into a place as harsh and sometimes scary as a hospital room,” Brown said.

Heubel said that clowning for patients has impacted her and everyone involved.

“Clowning has been one of the most powerful experiences,” she said. “I can’t even tell you how many times parents have pulled out cameras with tears in their eyes saying, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen her laugh here.’”

Woodward said clowning is just a part of his own medical mission.

“Medicine doesn’t have to be sad, and dying doesn’t have to be sad,” he said. “We can laugh the whole way through.”

Contact the Arts Editor at

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.


The Daily Tar Heel Women's Tennis Victory Paper

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive