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Medical clowning: a job or a calling?

נובמבר 13, 2009. Haaretz: Cnaan Liphshiz

Michael Tulkoff, who is one of the few Israelis who regularly perform as clowns at hospitals, dismissed Israel's first medical clowning program launched last month by the University of Haifa. Tulkoff, who started doing magic tricks at the age of 11 in the U.S., says he has limited faith in such professional training programs in the field.
 
"I don't think it's something in which you can work fulltime, and it's not something you learn at any training program either, it's just something you do," says Tulkoff, a professional magician who began putting on educational shows at hospitals and schools some 20 years ago in Baltimore, before he immigrated to Israel in 2001. 
 
But the new program by the University of Haifa - which is the only such program in Israel - is marketed as training for "non-professionals interested in making this their career."
 
Still, Tulkoff agrees that clowns performing at hospitals should be vetted to make sure their routines are appropriate. He also says there are special sensitivities to be taken into account.
 
"At hospitals, it's almost always one on one, which requires a more nuanced and quieter show," he explains. "And it's not always to very young children, either. When performing for an adolescent who is, obviously, not in the easiest situation in life, an exaggerated performance may alienate him or her, so you need to tone it down."
 
Dr. Ati Citron, head of the University of Haifa's theater department, said that graduates of his department's clowning course "will also possess basic tools for providing therapy and will know what the effects of their work as medical clowns will be." A spokesperson for the university added the new program will "develop the current state and level of medical clowning in Israel."

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