Some folks seem to like us
Becca Chapman shows that laughter truly is the best medicine
Updated May 16; Posted May 16
Becca Chapman and Alex Smith have partnered to create Prescription Joy, a nonprofit committed to connecting patients, families and medical personnel through their work as medical clowns.
Whether its show business or funny business, award-winning performer and St. Bernard native Becca Chapman is a true talent. Recently, Chapman won her second career Big Easy Award for her portrayal as Esme in NOLA Project's original play "Spider Queen."
But it is her work in the field of medical clowning that has been truly transformative.
Chapman, 31, recently partnered with friend and fellow clown, Alex Smith, to create Prescription Joy, a nonprofit organization committed to healing through humor. Chapman said this art form connects patients, families and medical personnel.
"It uses interactive play to help empower patients and transform the energy in the room," Chapman said.
She said people often misunderstand the artistry behind clowning.
"It is actually one of the highest and most challenging art forms," she said. "It is about truly being present with an audience and committing to your own naivety. It is being completely vulnerable."
Chapman has always been an avid performer and said she enjoys connecting with an audience, uniting them through storytelling.
"I also love rehearsing every night with giving performers and taking risks," she said. "We all have these stories and characters in us. When we challenge ourselves and play outside of what we know, we learn our true capacity and it helps us be empathetic towards others that we imagine are far different from us."
It is this passion for connection and exploration that led her to clowning. A fourth-grade teacher at Trinity Episcopal School in New Orleans, Chapman said she used several of her summer vacations to immerse herself in training.
"I trained in physical theatre for a summer at Dell'Arte International in Blue Lake, California, and I discovered my first clown at Pig Iron Theatre in Philadelphia," she said.
Last summer, she trained in theatrical clowning with Giovanni Fusetti in Boulder, Colorado -- an experience she said that changed her life.
This summer Chapman will be part of a Commedia training program in Italy under the direction of Antonio Fava, an internationally renowned teacher and performer. Chapman said she will used this experience and training to grow the reach of her nonprofit.
Becca Chapman, a St. Bernard resident, was honored as Best Actress at the Big Easy Awards.
"Eventually, we want Prescription Joy to be able to hire and manage performers that go to every hospital in the city," she said. "Medical clowning should be a part of our daily healthcare. And with a city of performers that love their community and a city that has festivals and characters like New Orleans, there is no reason why we can't do it."
Like all teachers and performers know too well, commitment isn't enough.
"We need help in funding," Chapman said. "Donations, sponsorships and grants, as well as help in spreading word."
Chapman credits Dave Dessens, one of her first directors, for her passion for performance.
"My first real professional play was 'Twelfth Night,' and I was just a little maid in the background," she recalled. "Dave made me feel so important and nurtured me while giving me extra creative freedom. I learned how a small role could be filled with silent comic timing!"
This flair for comic creativity has served Chapman well throughout her professional career. She also thanked her theater teacher at Nunez Community College, Nick Slie, for his influence.
"I learned an approach to theatre that was not in regular high school classes," she said. "Working with Nick laid the foundation for my core values as an artist. Taking his class at Nunez, as well as my experience performing in my St. Bernard community, is what made me decide to major in theatre in college."
Chapman said learning the language of the nonprofit world has been challenging, but she looks forward to building Prescription Joy.
"We want a strong foundation, so we can grow steadily and consistently since a tree without roots will fall," she said.
Future plans include visiting hospitals to interact and entertain the children who are there long term.
"We will work with them in crafting and writing their own plays over a few visits, and eventually have the work performed or showcased for hospitals' patients, for hospital fundraisers, and for other events," Chapman said. "We want to be characters that act in the hospital space, welcoming patients to an environment of support and humor when people need it most."
For information about the program or to donate, visit www.prescriptionjoy.org.