Entertaining in Hospitals – Tips for Performers by David Fox

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Biography

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Photograph courtesy of Ritchie Sumpter Photography

David Fox is a professional entertainer and freelance writer who is based in the UK. A highly experienced performer, he often provides magic at hospitals.

In 2012 David was invited to entertain celebrity guests and dignitaries at HRH Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London, and in 2015 he provided a unique magic show at Westminster Abbey Choir School’s centenary party.

The winner of the Wedding Industry Expert’s 2014 poll in the category of ‘Best Magician’, David secured the most votes worldwide for his act. In 2018, David won Luxlife Magazine’s accolade of ‘Magician of the Year’.

A member of the prestigious Magic Circle and Equity, David creates his own unique magical effects and routines to suit all types of audiences.

Visit David’s website at: www.magician-midlands.co.uk

Follow him on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/davidfoxmagician

Instagram: David Fox Magic

Twitter: @DavidFoxMagic

Why Perform?

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Providing entertainment on hospital wards is one of the most enriching and fulfilling journeys an artist can undertake. Whether you are a seasoned performer seeking to hone and improve your act, or someone who is yet to test yourself in front of a live audience, it is an opportunity to be seized upon.

It has been scientifically proven that exposure to the arts will greatly assist in both the treatment and recovery of patients. The prospect of a stay in hospital is daunting for the convalescent; as well as for their friends and family. However, the appearance of a cheerful entertainer can significantly lighten the load and offer much needed pleasure and amusement for all parties concerned.

Regardless of age, culture or background, everyone can enjoy entertainment in a hospital, and it can help to instil a strong sense of camaraderie on the wards. It is an added bonus if staff members and the friends and families of patients get involved too. The performer can invite those present to step outside of themselves for a few priceless moments – despite the obvious gravity of the situation.

The life-experience and expertise you will encounter in a hospital is vast. If you are keen to improve your performance and delivery, it is indeed an excellent learning environment. Your audience will not only be delighted to see you and respect your art-form, but they can offer invaluable advice to help you continue on your journey. For example, I recently had the pleasure of entertaining an elderly magician who had once worked alongside the legendary Tommy Cooper. It was a massive honour to perform magic for him, receive some excellent advice, and listen to several hilarious anecdotes about the master!

I have been immensely privileged and fortunate to have entertained on hospital wards for many years. Indeed, I really hope that this little guide will open doors: granting you the confidence and inspiration to go forth and share your talents with new audiences.

Best wishes

David Fox

Hospital Entertainment

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Have you got what it takes to entertain on a hospital ward? If you do, you’re made of sterner stuff than most. A hospital is one of the most challenging places to entertain, but also one of the most rewarding.

Before accepting a booking at a hospital, it is very important to consider the following points:

1. You will be entering a high pressure environment where staff are making life and death decisions on a daily basis. You must be mindful of this at all times.

2. Some patients may be recovering from complex surgery and/or have life-threatening illnesses and conditions.

3. Family members and friends of patients may be in a state of distress and be affected deeply by the condition of their loved ones.

4. The condition of patients, as well as the working environment in a hospital, can change suddenly and is in a constant state of flux.

5. Doctors, nurses and hospital staff are often working long hours to ensure patients get the best treatment. They may be coming to the end of a shift when they meet you.

Indeed, it could be said that it takes a very special type of entertainer to deliver an effective and appropriately customised performance on a hospital ward. You will need to think on your feet at all times; and outside the box too whenever necessary.

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Before discussing the nuances of performance, it is vital to follow these golden rules:

Rule One – Find out as much as you can about the patients you will be entertaining prior to your visit. What is their profile? Age grouping? Condition? How could you customise your act to suit them effectively?

Rule Two – Health and Safety issues. Are you required to conduct a Risk Assessment? Do the hospital need copies of your Criminal Reference Check or insurance? Is there anything in your act which represents a health risk for patients? For example, I always thoroughly clean my props before entering a hospital. Think very carefully.

Rule Three – It is vital that you secure the name, or names, of staff who will be onsite to guide you to the ward(s) you will be entertaining on. Get a mobile number or two that you can text/call on arrival. Hospitals are often huge places and it can be easy to get lost. Your contacts can also introduce you effectively to staff on the wards.

Rule Four – Appearance. Make sure you dress appropriately for your visit. Smart attire and good personal hygiene go a long way – especially on a hospital ward. This will allow you to make an instantly positive connection with staff and patients which will greatly increase your chances of an excellent performance.

Rule Five – Always arrive VERY early at the hospital. Parking can often be tricky at such establishments and you may need to pay (so take plenty of change and find out about parking levies in advance). I normally arrive at least an hour prior to the start of my performance as it gives me plenty of time to get my bearings. But you can never be too early. Most hospitals have a canteen where you can have a drink prior to the start of your slot.

Rule Six – Always be VERY positive and cheerful in and around the hospital. Remember, your responsibility is to raise morale, entertain and amuse. Make sure you are smiling and in a positive frame of mind as soon as you enter the hospital grounds. From that moment on the show begins and you must rise to the challenge.

Rule Seven – Be prepared for some rejection and NEVER take it personally. Some patients, family members and staff may not wish to participate. You must understand that this is nothing personal about you – they are simply enduring a challenging time. The majority of people will be very thankful for your presence – so keep your chin up!

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Essentially you may be called upon to entertain in four distinct types of area in a hospital:

1. Public Space – This could be in a foyer, canteen or lounge area. Visitors, patients and staff may congregate here, or simply be passing through such a space. You will have to pitch your performance to suit a wide range of people and accept the transient nature of your audience. People will be coming and going all the time, and you will have to work hard to make an effective impact.

Flamboyant musicians, quick witted comedians and colourful circus characters are well suited to working in such a high intensity environment. Whenever I am asked to perform in a public area, I will always perform my most eye-catching illusions and attempt to quickly draw in and engage groups of people. Human beings are naturally curious and will feel inclined to gravitate towards a crowd watching an exciting and unusual spectacle.

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2. Communal Area – This is usually a more secluded lounge facility which is located on a ward of the hospital. Unlike the Public Space, such an area is more sedate, and provides a tranquil sanctuary for patients, visitors and staff to spend time together and relax. These are normally long-stay patients who are convalescing. Indeed, the performer must be mindful of their conditions in order to pitch an appropriate style of show.

I find that normally a relaxed twenty to thirty minute performance of magic goes down very well in such areas of a hospital – particularly for groups of up to around twenty people. The show may be impromptu, but it is even better if the patients are aware of your appearance in advance. This means that you are automatically guaranteed a sympathetic audience who have come to see you by their own volition.

Indeed, if you know that the hospital is going to use your act at a specific time in a Communal Area, it is always worthwhile to send them posters and flyers to display around the hospital. This increases the likelihood of a sizeable audience who will appreciate your act.

3. Wards – Patients will be situated in private bays on a ward and will either be in bed or be seated. In the UK most hospital wards are comprised of several rooms with an average of six patients in each at any given time. You will need to be very sensitive when entering such an area of the hospital. Indeed, the first few seconds are crucial when you enter the ward and start to approach and engage patients. This factor is addressed in the following section: Ways to Engage.

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4. Individual rooms or bays – You may be invited to perform an exclusive show for one patient along with their close friends and family. This could take place either in a small room on the ward or at an individual bay In a communal space.

Such a performance will typically last for no more than around ten minutes. For safeguarding purposes, it is very important that you are never left alone with a patient. Always make sure that someone else is present at all times.

Ways to Engage

Engaging patients effectively and appropriately on the wards is an art in itself. Seasoned performers tend to develop a sixth sense when it comes to judging who can be approached successfully. However, for an entertainer who is just cutting their teeth in a hospital, the prospect can be terrifying. This needn’t be the case, and here are some tips to help you succeed:

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1. Listen very carefully to everything the matron, nurses, doctors and staff tell you on the ward. They will normally direct you to patients who are likely to be the most receptive.

2. Always maintain your composure and never rush on the ward. This can be tricky if you have been entertaining in another part of the hospital already and your adrenaline is running high! Keep your cool and allow the staff present to take the lead. If they decide to introduce you to the patients, this is a massive ‘way in’ to start your performance.

3. Read the patients before starting your performance. Eye contact and a smile is normally a good indication that someone is pleased to see you – but do they want to be entertained?

I find that engaging patients in some light small talk prior to starting my magic is always very effective. I keep the conversation very light at first and ask them some simple questions about where they live, if their family or friends have been to visit, the weather etc…

They are normally very keen to converse. At an appropriate time, I then invite them to participate in a little magic. Usually they are delighted to be entertained. However, if they decline my offer, I never take it personally. I always tell them that I fully understand, but if they change their mind later, I would be more than happy to return.

This keeps everything very positive. Indeed, some patients may be happy to engage in a brief chat with you and not feel like being entertained. In this instance you might not have had an opportunity to demonstrate your talents, but you have helped cheer up a sick person which is a bonus in itself. Always look on the bright side and never take anything personally on a hospital ward. You are likely to receive some degree of rejection each time you visit, but there will always be patients, visitors and staff present who will really appreciate you and what you have to offer.

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4. Don’t overstay your welcome. Keep reading the reactions of the audience throughout your set. It is imperative that you are very sensitive to this factor on a hospital ward. I generally find that a slot of around five to ten minutes is sufficient at an individual bed/bay. If you happen to be entertaining several patients in a room, around fifteen minutes is normally a good guide. You will get better at judging this as you gain more experience on the wards.

5. Be dignified if you are asked to cut your set short. Sometimes a doctor or nurse may interrupt you in order to medicate or speak to patients. Family members may appear and want to spend some quiet time with their loved ones. Once again, it is vital that you maintain your composure and do not display any negative emotions. Keep smiling and be positive at all times. You can always return to the area later if this is possible.

6. If you are using humour in your act, keep it light and be mindful of your audience. Your job is to brighten up the day for the patients – not offend anyone.

Keep any conversation upbeat too. I tend to talk about holidays, travel, family, sports, history and hobbies when on hospital wards. These subjects tend to elicit a very positive response and help to take patients out of themselves for a short while – along with the magic!

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I do hope this short guide has been useful for you, as well as providing food for thought. Thank you for reading and good luck with your future performances!

Useful Contacts and Links

Equity – Entertainers and Actors’ Union – www.equity.org.uk

For a Basic DBS Check, visit the Government website  – www.gov.uk/government

Air Arts – innovative charity bring the arts into hospitals – www.airarts.uk

David Fox Magic – for entertainment options at events: www.magician-midlands.co.uk

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