Restorative Narrative-Clown Style

I don’t know if if surviving in today’s world is more difficult than in decades and centuries past. The determination is dependent on how you define ‘survival.’ One thing is certain: Globalization has impacted the world at every level and has changed how we survive, how we interact, and how we respond. We can choose to respond with positivity and restorative narrative.


refugee camp Lebanon. restorative narrativeThere is no shortage of dire disasters and impending gloom in the news. The news articulates important stories and crises that our global society needs to know. We need to maintain awareness of how actions cause reactions, who needs help, and who is helping.


The World may be suffering but there are enough artists in the world to help alleviate the suffering.


Clowns Without Borders chooses hope, objective reality, and shared community building. We choose Restorative Narratives. We didn’t coin the term – ivoh did, but we really like what it stands for and what it means in the global context.


Clowns Without Borders seeks restorative narrative of the world by offering Resilience Through Laughter and to advocate for those in crisis and conflict by sharing Education Through Awareness. Founder of Clowns Without Borders, Tortell Poltrona, says that we need to be doing this work until CWB no longer needs to exist. Agreed. It starts with the invitation for us to come somewhere. We research to understand the needs of the NGO’s and populations being served. We find and bring in the local artists, or theater companies, or schools, or local grassroots groups and help everyone work together, with mentorship, compassion, caring, and respect for the moments when the clowns step back and become witnesses, audience members learning from those with whom we seek to catalyze a positive impact.Project Haiti 2016. restorative narrative


Laughter is healing. Laughter helps us move past difficult times. It connects us. Sometimes we need a little spark to get us started, but when we do the effects are immediate and often serendipitous. Take for example Nora, an aid worker helping bring refugees safely ashore in Lesvos, Greece. She witnessed Clowns Without Borders perform a series of acts as refugees waited to board UNHCR buses bound for Moria Camp. She told me afterwards that seeing joy light up the faces of the refugees was the first time she cried tears of happiness instead of sorrow since arriving on Lesvos.

Mytilene port, Lesvos. restorative narrative.

Our shows and interactions have huge impact. It is powerful to be invited to a community where we are allowed to perform and play. Even though we may only be there for a couple hours, or even minutes at a time, it brings energies that were not present before us, and it unites. It is restorative. We hope the positive narrative stays with those we meet long after we’ve gone, and spreads far and wide.

Resilience through Laughter with Refugees

The global refugee crisis continues in 2016 and so does the response from Clowns Without Borders. We closely monitor the situation and hope for a peaceful resolution that addresses the problem at its core while compassionately respecting the lives of those directly involved. In February of this year, with the sponsorship of Clowns Without Borders Sweden, we sent a troupe of clown performers to the Greek island of Lesvos. Those involved witnessed daily, the heroism of refugees and asylum seekers. We also saw the profound dedication of scores of volunteer aid workers and Greek citizens.

Clowns Without Borders with refugees in Turkey, July 2015.
Clowns Without Borders in Turkey, July 2015.


During the second half of 2016 Clowns Without Borders troupes will return to several countries that have hosted refugee populations for a long time: Turkey, Kenya, Greece, and Lebanon. We go to share Resilience Through Laughter and offer moments of levity to children and families in crisis. Humor is medicine and psycho-social relief benefits refugees and the aid workers charged to help them.


More details will emerge in the coming months. We’ll announce the projects as soon as the dates are set. In the meantime, keep the humanity in your hearts and smiles on your faces! Your smile may change somebody’s day – maybe even yours! 

To learn about Clowns Without Borders previous projects, click the link to visit the project pages for Turkey, Greece, Kenya, and Lebanon.


Clowns Without Borders with refugees in Lebanon, 2015.
Clowns Without Borders with refugees in Lebanon, 2015.

A Clown’s Perspective on Volunteering

Written by Kolleen Kintz

In 2012, after 8 months volunteering my time for Clowns Without Border’s social media and fundraising, I got the call I’d been hoping for and would be going into the field on my first project. I would be leaving for Indonesia in just a few short weeks. Holy cow! After I got off the phone with Tim Cunningham, executive director at this time, my excitement was skyrocketing! This was my chance: to make a difference, to be a strong contributor to my team, to be a representative of Clowns Without Borders. It was all happening!!!

Shortly thereafter, the high wore off, worry set in, and my confidence began to plummet. Was I experienced enough? Would I be able to pull my weight? Would my team like me? Would my audiences like me? And, the question of all questions, would I be funny?

My eyes started scanning the room, my juggling balls gathering dust in the corner, my costume pieces seeming incomplete, my 30-day handstand challenge severely lacking validation stickers. Oh no! Maybe I was going to let everyone down? My momentum came to a screeching halt and I began to panic.  

I remember talking with Tim later the next week, assuring him (but more myself) that I had a comprehensive plan in action. My juggling was really coming along. I had been learning new songs on my guitar. I had been drilling acrobatics until my muscles ached. I was going to be ready for this!

Tim, in the most perfectly-Tim way, said, “Cool Kolleen, that sounds great! It’s good to practice these things, but you aren’t going to master juggling in 3 weeks. And, remember that you have a lot of training in physical theater, ensemble creation, and a vocabulary of bits that will be very valuable in the field.”

Kolleen covers Jan's eyes. Indonesia. Volunteering Oh yeah! It was as if all the blood, sweat, and tears I put in at Dell’Arte International had been swept out of my mind. I had immediately compared myself to the many professional circus artists that I knew…and thought I came up short. I do not juggle five clubs, masterfully navigate the rolla bolla, or understand the inner workings of balancing chairs on my chin. But, I am funny. I am a clown, and I know how to create theater with just about anyone. I did not put in a year of my life creating original pieces of work with different people every week for nothing. No sir! 

Indonesia came and went, and many lessons were learned. I may not have been the strongest team member of the bunch, but it wasn’t for any lack of trying. I wanted so badly to be good at this! When the call came for Haiti, the following year, I thought, “ok good, I must have done something right”. I left for Haiti with a few more tricks up my sleeve, but again not quite where I’d hoped to be in terms of circus skills. The same worry crept up from the pit of my stomach.Kolleen and girl 2 high. Indonesia. Volunteering

I had been busy in other arenas. I had continued to study physical theater, this time at The Center for Movement Theatre with Dody Disanto, and had put in time at countless workshops and intensives to better understand my craft. I had been on stage regularly, creating new work, as well as teaching camps and workshops. I had been coordinating and hosting fundraisers for Clowns Without Borders, acting as the MC, and loving it. So why, when confronted with the well-practiced skills of my peers, did my knees buckle?

At this point in my “clown-evolution” I understood the value of other people’s skills. Unfortunately, what I could not yet see at this point was the powers that I had mastered. The power to excite a crowd. The power to make every person in an audience feel important, and mean it, from a place of utter sincerity. The power to connect with children, and get them to trust me. The power to listen onstage. The power to improvise at a moment’s notice, to be aware, alert, and responsive. The power to say yes and go with what was best for the show. The power to bring together my ensemble. The power of enthusiasm, positivity, and consistency in the face of challenging circumstances. The power of my complete willingness to be a fool: to dance, to play, and be present every moment.Kolleen sits with boy. Haiti

This winter, when Clowns Without Borders invited me to go to Lesvos to perform for refugee and migrant families, my heart soared. This was my third volunteer project and it felt very important, as did being a witness to this world crisis I would be thrust into. More than anything, I wanted to make a difference, to bring joy, laughter, and LOVE.

On this tour, I would be the only musician, and perhaps, for the first time I realized the value of this particular skill. Music is part of my identity. It also is so valuable on a tour, it helps announce our presence, create an environment, and provides accompaniment for others to perform. Again, leading up to the tour, I worried that I wouldn’t be a talented enough musician for the team. Do we see a trend here? But, this fear quickly fell away once the project began. Finally, I began to see the light.


In hindsight, after Lesvos, I saw the value of each type of performer who volunteers with Clowns Without Borders. For the first time, I truly understood that we, as an organization, need both types of performers. Moreover, each type of performer needs each other, and should give each other respect. One type cannot stand alone. For so long, I had idolized the skills that I lacked. But, the reality is that, in producing and performing in shows at home, I know that skill alone cannot anchor a show. The theatrically trained actors, turned clowns, help drive home the astounding tricks, create strong characters, and tell a story. They also allow the audience to relate to the performance, and see themselves in the bumbling fool, the everyman, or everywoman, as it were.Kolleen plays guitar at Mytilene port. Lesvos. Volunteering

The reality is that what I was looking for was inside me all along. At the risk of sounding cliche, love is all you need. Love, and a killer sense of humor. This isn’t to say Clowns Without Borders doesn’t work with highly trained professional performers, because we do, but rather, that the creative spirit and desire to connect with a full and open heart is nothing to turn a nose up at. It is the core of this organization, and I am so honored to be part of it.


Kolleen and girl at Mytilene port. Lesvos. Volunteering