Never Lose Your Clown

Never Lose Your Clown:

Reflections by Circus Performer and Clowns Without Borders Volunteer, A. Giovanni Zoppe

Circumstance can profoundly propel the paths we walk. Circus defined the path of Clowns Without Borders volunteer, Giovanni Zoppe, of Zoppe, an Italian family circus since 1842. Giovanni was born into a circus family. His entrance into the world was in the parking lot outside the studio of WGW, where his father, Alberto, was performing his animal fantasy act for Bozo The Clown. Ever since Giovanni has been learning and perfecting his circus skills and performing across four continents.

From Giovanni’s perspective, the difference between circus performer and the clown is that there is no difference. You learn all the skills of the trade when you grow up within the circus, and as you get older, you focus on your unique talent. Giovanni’s is bareback riding on horses, where he engages in spectacular and sometimes dangerous stunts.

Giovanni and his son, Julien, performing together. circus performer
Giovanni and his son, Julien, performing together.

Whatever is happening in the show, Giovanni never loses his clown. The clown character does everything in the circus, and all skills channel through the clown for the performance.

In February of 2016, Giovanni joined his first Clowns Without Borders project to El Salvador. Five artists and one logistician spent two weeks in the country. El Salvador suffers extreme violence. As violence increases, children’s access to basic human needs such as access to schools, essential health benefits, and safety has been significantly challenged.

The team spent two days building the show they would share with people in various parts of the nation. After all, they had just met. The beauty of the show is that words don’t matter. Location and cultural appreciation are always taken into account on a Clowns Without Borders project, but Giovanni explains, “it doesn’t matter if the audience is in El Salvador or the United States, because the physicality of the performance transfers to those watching. The activity and comedy replace words.”

At every show, you must be prepared for anything. It is the job of the clown to entertain, to bring laughter, joy, and playful interaction. It is the job of the clown to help the audience release tension through the pure fun of the comedy, and to forget whatever hardships they face, even if just for a short time. The clown helps the audience.

In El Salvador, the audience, or more accurately nearly everyone they met, helped the CWB team. Giovanni describes warm and welcoming people, and audiences full of love. They gave to the clowns affection, fondness, and authentic emotion – enjoying each moment of the show with a fullness that comes from having few material possessions, but an abundance of fidelity for life.

CWB artists Gaby and Lucho gaze across the expansive valley that separates El Salvador and Honduras. circus performer
CWB artists Gaby and Lucho gaze across the expansive valley that separates El Salvador and Honduras.

The troupe spent two days in San Martin, a rural area far from the capital city of San Salvador. Residents had gone 30 days without running water – a frequent occurrence. The team did not know this was the case when they arrived. The people with whom the clowns stayed in San Martin offered everything and with open hospitality. They provided lodging, food, and water. Water for drinking, toileting, and bathing, and without blinking an eye for its scarcity.

Giovanni would love to return to El Salvador. Specifically, he would like to trek deep into the treacherous valley separating Honduras and El Salvador. Tiny villages dot this extremely remote area. It is so remote that it takes four days to navigate into the valley on duplicitous footpaths. Clowns Without Borders would also love to return to El Salvador to bring more resilience through laughter to those in crisis.

Where the children and families are in need, the clowns will go. If you’d like to support us, please visit the donate page.


Clowns Without Borders International (CWBI) Convenes!

On May 23 to 26, 2016 the annual General Assembly for Clowns Without Borders International (CWBI) convenes in Ireland, outside Dublin at the Peace and Reconciliation Center. Representatives from each of the twelve chapters will come together during this exciting time. CWB-USA representatives are Sarah Liane Foster, International Representative, and Molly Rose Levine, Executive Director.

CWBI Finland 2015 silly
Representatives from CWBI General Assembly in Finland, 2015.

While the annual meeting is an opportunity to connect professionally and make important plans for our future collaboration, it is also a family reunion of sorts. Artists and long standing members of Clowns Without Borders from across Europe and beyond pour in, and it’s a joyful event where the diverse, eccentric, charismatic group spill out of kitchens and gathers in giant round table discussions.


The fact that we’re all a bunch of clowns infuses our formal gathering with endless joy, and it is in this meeting that we see how much the value of laughter and positivity enhances any circumstance. Relationships are formed and ideas are given room to flourish. Past failures are celebrated and learned from for future success. Creativity and the shared values of love, laughter and service, adds a level of bonding and closeness that is rarely seen at professional events. A magic trick here, a cookie offered there, a song of peace shared over dinner. The clown world is inherently one of magic and joy.

Forging New Partnerships

CWBI was formed 5 years ago to help coordinate efforts among the chapters. CWBI establishes partnerships and support systems that will get more artists where they need to be – bringing laughter and joy to communities in crisis.

PLAN Myanmar exploring body language and its impact on children. Photo courtesy of CWB South Africa. CWBI
PLAN Myanmar exploring body language and its impact on children. Photo courtesy of CWB South Africa.

CWBI entered into a successful partnership with PLAN International in 2015. PLAN wrote to CWBI in late October, proposing a project in Myanmar in areas where CWB-Sweden had recently performed. The new CWBI-PLAN International project focused on training youth facilitators in facilitation skills and creative arts, for their work with other children and adolescents. CWB-South Africa and CWB-Ireland traveled to Myanmar in early February 2016.

The clowns held workshops in psychosocial first aid training for PLAN Myanmar staff who work in Child Protection, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Education in Emergency. With their training complete, PLAN Myanmar staff worked with children in the Rohingya camp outside Sittwe. CWB South Africa called their efforts with PLAN Myanmar, “A psychosocial first aid kit full of creative and playful remedies. A toolbox full of child-friendly tools. A pot of soup made up of different ingredients for a child’s mental, emotional and physical health.”

PLANMyanmar_CWBSA_putting giant into practice. CWBI
PLAN Myanmar putting ‘Giant’ into practice. Photo courtesy of CWB South Africa.

CWBI representatives will explore other meaningful projects like PLAN Myanmar, during the 2016 General Assembly. They will refine governance and take care of housekeeping items. One of the most exciting goals of the meetup is to provide mentorship for Brazil and Australia – the next two countries applying for chapter membership.

For more information about CWBI, please visit:


Playing with bubbles at the Spring Fling. Fun-raising.

By Kolleen Kintz

On Saturday, April 30th, from 1-5pm in the afternoon, about 25 friends, new and old, gathered in Baltimore, MD, for an afternoon to remember. The event was called Spring Fling with the Clowns! The mission was simple: have FUN! Baltimore resident, Alessandra Torres, graciously opened her beautiful home, providing a perfect atmosphere for community members to come together and celebrate Clowns Without Borders.


I would like to take this opportunity to thank Alessandra, who like Lucy Shelby (a Brooklyn resident who recently hosted a similar event in NY), is one of the incredible people opening their home and their heart to the clowns. These events, which are much more FUN-raisers, than FUND-raisers, provide an opportunity for CWB volunteers to foster meaningful and long-lasting relationships with new faces in the community. Not to mention, a chance for residents to show off their gorgeous homes.Girl in a blue wig and over-sized sunglasses. Spring Fling fun-raising.


My name is Kolleen Kintz, I have been a volunteer with CWB since 2011. There is nothing I love more than bringing together people I love for some GOOD TIMES. Unfortunately, my narrow Baltimore townhouse doesn’t fit more than a handful of those people at a time. I have an abundance of energy and ideas, but limited space to host. I needed a space where people could bask in the sunshine and enjoy having fun in the casual comfort of a home. Alessandra’s space did just that, setting the stage for a very successful Spring Fling!

Clown performance, Spring Fling. Fun-raising.

The spacious backyard allowed room for parachute games, hula hoop competitions, bubble parades, dance parties, and even a BOUNCY HOUSE! Guests made their own party favors, juggling balls to take home, out of rice and balloons. CWB volunteer and photographer, Bobby Kintz, snapped photos of families dressed in their clown best, beneath the weeping willows. Friends brought delicious vegan treats and indulgent sweets. The back patio, typically set with furniture, doubled as a perfect stage for a brief clown show. The event was so successful that the clouds parted and the sun came out to join the party.  

  Hula hooping at Spring Fling. Fun-raising.                    People in funny costume, Spring Fling. Fun-raising.

At one point during the event, I stood back and marveled at the power of connectivity. Families and friends taking the time out of their busy Saturday to come together and have fun. It is these events, the intimate and engaging, that I love the most. It is here where beautiful memories and friendships can be made. I want to thank our hostess for making it all possible, and everyone who came out to learn more about Clowns Without Borders and embrace the spirit of play.

Playtime at Spring Fling 2016. Fun-raising.                    Clown buddy-carry at Spring Fling, Fun-raising.

To Clown, or Not to Clown

By Jemima Evans

Clowns Without Borders USA Guest Blogger


Why clowning?

Imagine: A dusty refugee camp, people everywhere. People are crying, sleeping, and trying to get on with daily life. As if that is even possible. You are tired. You are not sure what is normal anymore. Life has been unkind and now you are waiting. You sit outside a dusty tent, surrounded yet alone. All the time you are waiting. Waiting intently for the unknown.

Now envisage a soft red nose, a beaming smile, a man in a bright red striped shirt. You watch as he moves his body into peculiar and distorted forms. He laughs and you laugh with him. You feel a sense of warmth; hope even.

Volunteer performer, David Lichtenstein, clowning in Haiti, 2009.
Volunteer performer, David Lichtenstein, clowning in Haiti, 2009.

Now put the two together. Seems bizarre, ridiculous even. But perhaps this juxtaposition is just what those people need.

Why Clowning? Why not a version of Hamlet? As a performer, our priority is our audience, therefore first we must immerse ourselves into their world. How else can we expect them to join ours? We need to paint a picture that is relatable and takes on a universal language. For this, mime and physical theatre can be perfect.

Our bodies are our tools. The children mirror our movements. Do we let them mirror our battle wounds too? I can only hope not. Clowns Without Borders focuses on ‘laughter, play and community cohesion’. It spotlights the young and creates a nurturing environment for adolescence.

Of course, live performance can take many forms, including clowning: what is important is to take those civilians, soldiers, survivors into a new world, even if, for just a moment. The art of escapism provides the tools of cooperation, boosts morale and emphasizes the power of the human spirit.

We can encourage compassion in a world where it may seem lost. In Place Of War, a project based at the University of Manchester suggests that; input is essential on both a local and global scale if we hope to make a difference. Before reaching out across the globe, they began networking over 50 refugee arts projects across the UK.

The Butterfly Effect: We have to start a wave here to begin making changes elsewhere. James Thompson, Jenny Hughes, and Michael Balfour all emphasize in Performance in Place of War that as a community we should compose:

1. Something beautiful.

As without passion for our art, there is no meaning.

2. Trauma and healing.

Perhaps the only way to understand the situation is to discuss. Then by uncovering the events visually we have the hindsight to stop repetition.

3. Young people as multiple signifiers: victim, survivor, hopeful future.

Give the youth of today the ability to dream, create, and imagine a better world. After all, compassion and change start with them.

But first, they need your attention, your awareness, and your care. Thank you and please share this blog with others! Together we will make a difference by sharing holistic laughter and play to heal trauma and ease the crisis.

Finding a Place for Displaced Children

By Nadiya Atkinson

Approximately 51 percent of the world’s refugees are children, fleeing from war and poverty-stricken areas of the world. Often without a home or adult guidance, these displaced children are the most vulnerable group of people in the world lacking protection and a certainty in their future. Kolleen Kintz, one of our performers writes, “The children always seemed to be without shoes, whether by choice or lack of ownership, I was not always sure. They wore clothing that was clearly donated, with its American cartoon characters on the front. They had one outfit, a daily uniform. I’m sure their mothers washed the clothes often, but they always seemed dirty from the intense climate.”

Clay Mazing leads a clown parade of displaced children through a refugee camp, Lesvos, Greece.
Clay Mazing leads a clown parade through a refugee camp, Lesvos, Greece.

“The children seem to be in a state of limbo, looking for something to do, something to play with. Mostly just waiting. I often wondered if it had to do with not being in their place of origin. If they had grown up with the water, did this arid, mountainous jungle see foreign to them? Perhaps their games had revolved around the water, and now they didn’t know how to play in the new environment.”

Facing the lack of monetary, nutritional, and emotional support, displaced children are at an inordinately high risk of trauma, physically and psychologically. Kolleen shares more insight by explaining what she witnessed within a refugee camp in Lesvos, Greece: “Instead, the homes felt sterile in their plainness and uniform nature. These communities felt grey to me. They did not have the liveliness or color of a community. There was no gathering, no celebration, no sense of pride in one’s home. Instead, it seemed to be a place of waiting. Waiting for something to happen or something to change.”

CWB plays with displaced children in Indonesia
CWB plays with displaced children in Indonesia.

Clowns Without Borders USA brings a bit of light and joy into the lives of displaced children and gives them hope and a brighter outlook on their lives and their future. Through clowning and circus, our performers create an atmosphere in which kids, regardless of language, ethnicity, or background, are able to feel supported, safe, and simply laugh. The old adage “Laughter is the best medicine” is certainly true, and CWB-USA has made it its mission to share the medicine with the parts of the world that need it the most.

As a kid, I had heard somewhere that every time you laugh, it adds an extra three years onto your life. My friends and I attempted to laugh as much as possible by telling each other horrendous jokes or tickling each other. There is more than a grain of truth in this laughing-to-be-healthier, as laughter has been proven to lower stress, reduce pain, and boost immunity to disease. There are even hospitals dedicated to treating life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, with simple laughter.

Although we may not offer the solution to conflicts or disasters, we are solution-focused in our approach and offer that which is a fundamental part of life – fun. Even after Clowns Without Borders leaves, the kids will still remember the clowns that came to play with them. However, one of the only ways that we can continue our work is with your help. Please take some time today to support CWB, be it by donating, volunteering, or simply spreading the news about us, because every child should have to chance to feel safe and laugh.