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Clown Spotting

By Tamara Palmer & Selena McMahon

 

It’s difficult to compete against headlines such as, “Creepy Clown Sightings Cause a Frenzy.” When it comes to clowns, the recent disturbing events in the United States and elsewhere in the world, are what catches America’s clown spotting attention, and not the work of Clowns Without Borders USA (CWB USA). CWB USA offers performances and workshops to alleviate the suffering of all people in crisis, especially children, through laughter.

Four clowns perform at a village in Ecuador.
Four clowns perform at a village in Ecuador as part of our earthquake relief effort.

Unfortunately, at CWB USA we frequently have to divert many of our conversations away from our mission and towards a discussion of coulrophobia.

For as long as we can remember, our performing artists, staff, and board members have analyzed the fear of clowns that exists in contemporary American culture. We know it exists, but our experience and understanding of clowns are that they are authentic and intelligent artists who have a gift to connect with the raw emotions of the audience. Clowns undertake years of training including, physical theater, circus arts, creative performance, studies abroad, and the examination of philosophical and humanities texts. The red nose is an opportunity to conjoin with people. It helps establish a safe space where laughing at our human frailties and life’s ironies is encouraged and accepted.

So what are the origins of the fear?

Katie Rogers looked to Dr. Schlozman, a child psychiatrist, for a possible answer in her New York Times article. Dr. Schlozman says it’s the exaggerated features of the clown that sets off warning flags. Perhaps there is truth in this reasoning, but the article falls short of doing any justice to the possible explanations behind the fear of clowns.

In America, the tradition of extremely exaggerated makeup developed for clowns was a response to the three-ring circus where their reactions need to be visible to audiences of up to 7000. Up close, such incredibly exaggerated makeup can be unnerving.

Clown wearing little make up stands with a boy who is audience participant in the live performance.It can also be scary when someone uses exaggerated makeup as a mask to hide behind and to suppress his identity. To “dress up as a clown” as not the same as being a professional clown. In fact, Katie Rogers’ article mentions sightings of people in “clown masks.” It raises an important question: Are people afraid of clowns or are they afraid of masks in general and who or what may be hiding behind them

At Clowns Without Borders our performers adapt their makeup and clothing to their specific audiences. Sometimes they don’t wear any makeup; occasionally they don’t wear red noses at all. They are part of an ancient aTwo laughing girls hug each other as they watch the clowns perform.nd universal tradition of performers who make us laugh through their naiveté, awkwardness, and poetry. Their costumes, physical demeanor, expressions, and often the red nose, are a mask. But theirs is an open and honest mask that allows their character to shine through so that the audience knows who that character is and can laugh along with all of its antics.

Therefore, we humbly implore you to consider what it means to be a real clown. Learn what they do; why they do it; the education and training involved, and recognize that many are humanitarians deeply concerned with promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

All over the world, there are many initiatives where clowns endeavor to build resilience through laughter. Regardless of the current “creepy clown” phenomenon, they will continue to do so, because, as the famous American musician Victor Borge said, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

A Poem for Clowns Without Borders

Self acclaimed, “poet, performer, and sometimes clown,” Sophie Fenella writes eloquently about the endeavors of the Clowns Without Border volunteer clown and captures the essence of life in crisis. “We have to laugh,” because there is resilience in laughter. Like this poem? Leave a comment!

clowns performing on lesvos

Where We Belong

By Jemima Evans

CWB USA Guest Blogger

 

My name is Jemima Evans, and I am a British citizen. Just a few months back, family, friends and myself were told to make a decision about belonging. In short, where did we belong, inside or outside the European border? We were to decide on Thursday 23rd June 2016.

Brexit, as it is commonly known, is the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw and end its membership in the European Union. The U.K. held a referendum, and by a narrow decision, the nation decided to leave. What happened in Britain is common knowledge, but the short and long-term impacts are just beginning to unfold.

Just a few weeks before the referendum, I made my way to a special exhibit. Call me by my name: Stories from Calais and beyond, features interactive art that tells the stories of those who have fled and arrived in Calais, France. It encourages viewers to imagine the terrifying and sometimes deadly experiences of those who have been forced into migration.

Hundreds of abandoned lifejackets line the fence outside Moria Refugee Camp, Lesvos, Greece.
Hundreds of abandoned lifejackets line the fence outside Moria Refugee Camp, Lesvos, Greece.

As you walk, you will find yourself in a room filled with life jackets; life jackets that used to belong to people. People who didn’t make it across the border to safety. As well as individuals that may not have lost their life, but perhaps their sense of belonging, and because of horrible conflict, are now labeled, “refugees.”

The exhibition also featured the Good Chance Calais theatre dome, which was built by Good Chance Theatre charity, on the south bank of the Calais Encampment. The dome offered created a space for refugees to sing, dance, play music, talk and to dream of the possibility of a better life. Sadly, on March 20, 2016, the dome was dismantled as the camp was cleared” (Call me by my name, exhibition).

The Good Chance Theatre said this about the loss of the theatre dome and temporary homes of those living around it:

“All of us have stood together in the belief that everyone deserves to live with dignity, that theatre and art can provide that dignity, and that everyone deserves a good chance.”

Clowns get the audience to help during the show in Lesvos, Greece.
Clowns get the audience to help during the show at a refugee camp.

In moments of the unknown, if we all stand together, then we might be able to find hope. As it stands, Britain has voted to leave the European Union. Just like the Good Chance Theatre, that does not mean we can’t keep our conversations going. It does not mean our borders have been bolted shut; it is simply a new time, a new chance.

At Clowns Without Borders that is what we aim to do. We want to keep having conversations. We find that through comedy, communication, and above all, laughter, we can give people a chance to belong.

clown holds child

Clowns Without Borders USA Condemns Creepy Clown Pranks

Dear Reader,

On October 14, 2016, Clowns Without Borders USA issued a press release condemning the actions of the “creepy clowns.” What follows is the exact language of our press release. We are including the release as a blog post for the benefit of our community; for you to know our position on the issue and our appreciation for the clown community. You can view the original press release here or at any of the several hundred outlets who picked up our release. Thank you.

 

Clowns Without Borders USA Condemns Creepy Clown Pranks

Clowns Without Borders USA (CWB-USA) condemns the actions of agents who are impersonating clowns to frighten others and the actions of those who are using distorted clown images to make fictitious threats and incite anxiety. The wave of negative and hurtful sentiments expressed against professional clowns pains our community. “While this phenomenon in the U.S. hasn’t affected our international programming, it certainly has affected the climate here at home. We honor and support our community of professional performing artists, who are experiencing prejudice because of this,” says Molly Rose Levine, Executive Director for CWB-USA.

Furthermore, we are distraught by the reports of school closures, verbal harassments and physical altercations linked to creepy clowns in numerous states. The agitation these threats may have caused people saddens us and is in no way a reflection of the mission and work of our organization.

The “Creepy Clowns” as they are now commonly referred to, are, in fact, not clowns. The term is a misnomer. The pretenders are disturbing figures who are pretending to be clowns and hiding their identity because they do not understand the art form.

“Dressing up as a doctor doesn’t make someone a doctor,” says Sarah Liane Foster, CWB-USA board member and U.S. Representative to Clowns Without Borders International. “Wearing a mask and a wig doesn’t make someone a clown. It’s intensive study and practice, and the ability to inspire laughter through play, in a state of honest naiveté, that makes one a clown.”

True clowns are professionally trained performers who have undertaken years of study. The paths to becoming a clown are diverse. Many artists accumulate a lifetime of training and experience in the quest to discover authentic humor. The skilled clown connects to the audience in a safe manner where they understand that the clown is a character and the red nose is a mask that invites interaction – – not to conceal identity for nefarious reasons.

“The correct use of the red nose is a mask that reveals the actor’s unique laughableness rather than hiding anything. The legitimate clown exists in a pure state of ridiculous honesty that encourages laughter because of the clown’s deep, vulnerable humanity,” explains Sarah Liane Foster.

“It’s not the first time that “creepy clowns” have made the rounds as a media fad in the U.S., and it’s a setback every time. To all of our incredible CWB-USA clowns – – thank you! Thank you for your energy and all of the work that you do to bring levity and laughter into people’s lives around the world,” says Levine.

Founded in 1995 by Moshe Cohen, Clowns Without Borders USA offers levity to relieve suffering in areas of crisis. Clowns Without Borders USA and the 12 CWB chapters worldwide partner with humanitarian organizations such as PLAN, UNICEF, and CARE. Their contribution provides psychosocial support to children and their communities in regions affected by natural disaster, violence, epidemics and mass displacement. Clowns Without Borders USA is a nonprofit organization. Its humanitarian mission of Resilience in Laughter is supported by a volunteer roster of professional artists. Learn more at www.clownswithoutborders.org