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Featured Artist: Luz Gaxiola

This week’s featured artist is Luz Gaxiola. Luz has performed with Clowns Without Borders in Greece and Lebanon. Most recently, she delighted attendees of our Virtual Benefit by playing the accordion surrounded by goats. Luz is a multi-instrumentalist, playing accordion, tuba, and trombone. She mixes music with circus comedy to create inventive performances. 

Introducing Luz Gaxiola

One of the most iconic photos of Luz is from a 2015 tour to Lesvos Greece. A young girl and the clowns are bouncing on a rubber life raft, transforming it into a trampoline. The girl’s face is partially covered by her hair, but her wide smile peeks through. Luz is holding her accordion, also grinning. The photo does not show that the girl, a Syrian refugee, was still damp from crossing the Mytilini Strait. The photo does not show the girl’s loss, fear, or the uncertainty of her future. The photo shows her resilience. The photo shows her laughter.

Here’s a chance to get to know Luz a little better.

Do you wear a nose when you perform?

I love wearing a clown nose. For people who are culturally familiar with clowning, they see the red nose and it is a signal:  That’s a clown, it’s time to play!

But I don’t always wear a red nose, especially if I dont’ know much about the situation where I’m performing or if I know I’ll be up close and will need to make a soft approach. Not everyone is ready to get into wacky play immediately. Sometimes not having a red nose leads to more flexibility to start with a gentle connection.

What are your favorite clown prop?

My accordion

You can hear the accordion before you see the clown. It evokes a mood and a feeling. A musical instrument is the most efficient way to establish a world.

Traveling with the accordion: you’ve got to really want to do it. It’s heavy and it’s delicate. It is definitely hard and sometimes annoying to travel with, but the accordion’s sound is so full and it’s such a big presence that it’s worth it.

The other cool thing about the accordion is that can take you where you need to go. If you show up with an accordion, someone will say, “Hey you with the accordion, come over here.” It’s like an entrance ticket.

 

What’s a favorite memory from working with CWB?

 

One night in Lesvos, I went on a walk to the beach. Our day of work was done, we had done three shows. I was just going to the beach by myself to play the accordion and relax. When I got there, rubber boats were landing. It was about sixty people arriving. This was it, their moment of landing. There were a ton of people, and it was a really quiet, delicate moment. I didn’t play the accordion. In that moment, it didn’t feel right. After everyone was safely off the liferafts and on the beach, people from a Norwegian NGO sprung into action getting people water to drink. I heard them talking making calls to set up bus transport to pick up everyone from the beach and take them to a refugee camp.

All of a sudden, there was a lot of people by the street, standing around and waiting for the bus. I thought, “this is the moment for the accordion.” So I walked up with the accordion and people flipped out. They demanded I play and we had a dance party on the street. A lot of the people there were from Afghanistan, and some asked me if I knew any Afghani music, which unfortunately I didn’t. So they showed me Afghani folk dances set to Mexican music, Italian tunes, and whatever else I played on the accordion. There was a great feeling of relief, they had just completed the most dangerous part of their journey and it was time to celebrate. They still had a long way to go but arriving safely in Greece was a major milestone. I stayed with them for about an hour until the buses picked up the last people waiting. I don’t have any pictures, there is no official Clowns Without Borders documentation, but I think about that night all the time. It started as a moment that wasn’t right for play, and then it became the perfect moment for play.

There was a woman who stood next to me while I was played, dancing with me and egging me on. She was about my age, and we connected. It was like we were instant best friends. A few days later, I saw her at the Moria camp and we hugged tightly. I think of her often and wonder where she is now.

What are your currently working on?

I’m really excited about developing a collection of acts that are ready for any circumstances, any weather. I want to make some rain-ready shows. So that’s my project, offroad, all-weather clowning!

What’s something you learned from another CWB artist?

I learned a lot working with Sabine. Sometimes people think we are diminishing someone’s situation by being silly. Sabine really helped me to see firsthand that it’s actually the opposite. Choosing to be silly can be an amazingly empowering decision for people living in stressful circumstances. It is a form of defiance to choose to engage in play, and Sabine was so good at showing that.

The vision of CWB Turkey

This week, we are spending a bit more time with Güray Dinçol to learn about his vision for creating Clowns Without Borders – Turkey. 

Partnership With Istanbul Municipality

İstanbul Municipality Cultural Department asked me to do this project in İstanbul Ghettos. These neighborhoods are like a small copy of Turkey, and reflect the country’s population and struggles.  We performed in neighborhoods where homeless, refugees, Kurdısh and Turkısh people live together with very low quality of life.The manager of the Cultural Department remembered the tours that we performed with Clowns Without Borders. He had also watched the short documentary that we did. The idea for this program came from the seed of CWB. Right now it is being realized on the streets of İstanbul.

So far, we have performed in 80 locations. I recognize the was the same sense, same work, and same feelings as the tours we did with CWB USA. The poverty is the same. The violence on the streets is the same on the streets. There is a big drug addiction problem for kids and young people. There is more racism than ever in Turkey. There are thousands of child workers and child brides. People forgot to smile. We have the big depression and chaos of the middle east in our neighborhoods.

This great adventure inspires me to dream about CWB Turkey again. 

The vision of Clowns Without Borders – Turkey

Performances

We can create performances similar to the ones that we did with Clowns Without Borders. We will perform in the streets, districts and refugee camps. Right now we have a community of musicians, circus artist, actors and dancers. They have clown training from many different schools.

Training for Humanitarian Workers

We will organize workshops for the trainers or NGO employees. We can offer different contents with respect to the demand in the field. Clown work, physical story telling, improvisation, drama, play workshop (sharing the plays or theater pieces that can involve children with the trainers), workshop on communication skills with children or a complete new format in accordance with local needs. 

Focus on Women

There are many issues of violence and displacement that especially impact women. In Turkey, there are places where men and women are separated, and women don’t always have the same access or rights. We will offer workshops specficially for owmen, especially in improvisation and forum theater. 

Workshops for Children

We wills share the joy of circus by creating workshops for children. 

 

Featured Artist: Güray Dinçol

Introducing Güray Dinçol

Güray Dinçol has led Clowns Without Borders’ tours in his home country of Turkey. Güray received physical theater and clown training from Giovanni Fusetti at the Rosefarden Theater in Norway after his master’s degree in theater. In addition to performing on the Syrian border, Güray performs for migrants and refugees in Istanbul.

Do you wear a nose when you perform?

Yes

What is your favorite clown prop?

A darbuka, which is a kind of traditional drum. And puppets!

What’s a favorite memory from working with CWB?

We were performing in a village 50 km from the Syrian border.There were racial tensıons and this fact divided the village. The villagers were supporting two different radical political parties. This political conflict divided the children in the community as well. While we were performing, all the kids came together, watched the same show and remembered their friendship from long ago. It was so touching to see how they came together and how they enjoyed the same show, how they laughed at the same thing and after the show how they played together.

What are your currently working on?

I am a Physical Theatre teacher and director. Right now I am the artııstıc director and organizer of a program called ‘Let’s play together’ which is sponsored by The İstanbul Municipality.

The İstanbul Municipality Cultural Department asked me to do this project in İstanbul Ghettos. These are neighborhoods where refugees, Kurdısh and Turkısh people live together in very low standards.The manager of the Cultural Department remembered the tours that we performed with CWB. The idea for this program came from the seed of CWB and right now it is on the streets of İstanbul.

We performed in 80 locations. I recognize the same sense, same job, same feelings like the tours we did with  CWB USA. The poverty is the same, violence is the same on the streets, there is a big drug addiction problem for kids and young people, racism is more than ever in Turkey, thousands of child workers and child brides, people forgot to smile and the big depression and chaos of the middle east is just over there in my neighborhood. This great adventure triggers me to dream about CWB Turkey again.

What is something you learned from another CWB artist?

Sarah Liane Foster and Tim Cunningham were my first inspiring masters for this field. It was an amazing experience to play with them. They were so quick to adapt to changing circumstances. Also it was great to observe their different professional clown skills like music, acrobatics, juggling … I’ve learned many clown acts and small tricks from all the clowns who came to Turkey for CWB projects.

Featured Artist: Robin Lara

About the series: Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work with Clowns Without Borders? Join us, as each week we feature an artist to hear more about their philosophy and their favorite moments of working with CWB.

Featured Artist: Robin Lara

Robin Lara has performed with Clowns Without Borders in Ecuador, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Colombia, and online! Her giant balloon act guarantees shrieks of delight, and her dare-devil unicycling and juggling makes people’s eyes go wide.

One of Robin’s favorite photos of herself with CWB is from a program in Harare, Zimbabwe.

 This is a photograph of three very strong women. Today we did a show in a children’s cancer ward in Harare and you would never, ever know it if you weren’t told. This was the most intimate show on the tour so far, performed in a patient room that had been cleared out of equipment then re-filled with 16 kids and their families and doctors. There would be more kids, they said, but the doctors are on strike right now and they had to send a lot of kids home. We don’t always get much information on what people are dealing with when we arrive at a performance site. Sometimes we know general things like they’ve lost their homes in the cyclone, or they’re orphans, or like this little girl, they’re struggling with cancer. But we don’t know their individual backgrounds and what kind of energy and trauma they’re showing up with that day. So we tread lightly, and focus on play and human connection. And what we find is that when we can pull people into the world of clown, they are so full of lightness and joy. You can see very clearly what each of us is thinking about in this photo, and it’s not treatments or medicine or pain. And for this moment, that is all we need.  – Robin Lara

Robin Lara

Do you wear a nose when you perform?

Sometimes.

What is your favorite clown prop?

Balloons.

*Side Note, when Robin Lara says balloons, she means BALLOONS! She performed with giant balloons that she can fit her entire body into.

What’s a favorite memory from working with CWB?

So many!! Juggling and skill sharing with the clowns in Haiti. EVERYTHING with the clowns in Colombia. Doing massive school shows in Zimbabwe and disrupting the orderly rows of schoolchildren.  Seeing the circus ship in Ecuador.

What’s something you learned from another CWB artist?

How can I even pick?! In Colombia I learned about how to interact with people gently like at old folks homes/people who have Alzheimers. In Haiti I learned a lot from my brother about how to interact with the world and plug into a community long-term when you live thousands of miles away.

Want to learn more about Robin Lara?

Watch this video of Robin performing in Haiti in 2010.

Read Robin’s reflections from being on tour in Zimbabwe, and performing for audiences of many sizes.

Featured Artist Series

What does it take to perform with Clowns Without Borders?

What kinds of artists work with Clowns Without Borders? Do they wear makeup? Did they go to clown school?Do all performers have to wear a red nose when they work for Clowns Without Borders? Are they from the United States? Do you have to know how to juggle to work for Clowns Without Borders? Does everyone works with Clowns Without Borders speak English?

These are just a few of the questions I regularly answer. These questions come from project partners, audience members, grantors, donors, students, and people who want to work with Clowns Without Borders. When I sat down to write my answers, I realized they were incredibly boring.

What kinds of artists work with Clowns Without Borders?

All Kinds

Do they wear makeup?

Sometimes.

Did they go to clown school?

Not always. Some artists trained at schools, others grew up in circus families, others learned from friends, etc.etc.etc.

Do all performers have to wear a red nose when they work for Clowns Without Borders?

Nope. It depends on the preference of the artist and also what the team decides is best for the specific show and tour.

Are all CWB-USA artists from the United States?

Nope. While our official names is Clowns Without Borders USA, we work with artists from all over the world. If you work with CWB, you are a CWB artist.

Do you have to know how to juggle to work for Clowns Without Borders?

Nope!

Does everyone works with Clowns Without Borders speak English?

Nope!

So who are the Clowns Without Borders artists?

I’m so glad you asked! Through the end of 2022, we’ll be featuring an artist each week. This is a chance to get to hear more about the artists who make our work possible.

CWB in Kenya

Welcoming New Board Leadership

Welcome Erin and Amrita

Clowns Without Borders USA is delighted to welcome Erin Leigh Crites and Amrita Dhaliwal to the respective roles of President and Vice President of the Board of Directors. We’re confident that their joint-leadership model will ignite radical change.

“Erin is truly and very simply, in the deepest sense of the word, kind. She listens, she is curious and her Kentucky spirit has a very enthusiastic resiliency,” says Amrita. We need that type of enthusiastic resiliency, mixed with Amrita’s love of project management.

The pandemic has us questioning…well, almost everything! Our past program model relied on small teams of mostly U.S.-based artists traveling internationally. Now, we want to be sure that our presence never causes harm to our audiences. That means reevaluating some of the ways we work.

Some things will never change: we remain steadfast in our commitment to offering moments of joy to people who have experiencing crisis, trauma, and displacement.

Thank you, David

We are also taking advantage of this moment of change to thank David Rosenthal for his leadership as Board President. Clowns Without Borders formed its current Strategic Plan under David’s tenure, including ambitious goals to increase organizational capacity. David held and created space in board meetings for strong opinions, bold actions, and the occasional dance party. Luckily for the organization, he will continue to serve on the board for another term.

David commented, “​​I enjoyed being President of the Board because of the board members I was fortunate to work with, and the mission of the organization to bring smiles, laughter and a brief bit of fun to children all over the world. I felt incredibly privileged to hold that position, and believe it is important to pass on leadership to very capable and incredible people.”

CWB – USA thanks David for his service to the organization and welcomes Amrita and Erin into their new leadership positions!

Sayda Trujillo (far left) performs with Clowns Without Borders

Honoring Sayda Trujillo

Clown is one of the few forms in theatre that does not distance itself from the audience. As a clown, I exchange looks, smiles, hugs, and chases with an audience; in fact, the clown can only live fully in acknowledgement of everything present. It’s immensely powerful performing clown in a corner of the Earth where loss has been experienced because the performance acknowledges that loss while also getting the audience to roar in laughter. That laughter is not an escape, it is activism in the body, it is collective resistance, it both redirects purpose and at the same time includes everything that is true in that moment.  It is in that laughter that we—the clowns and the community—become partners.

–Sayda Trujillo, Liberating Terror, HowlRound

Clowns turn power dynamics upside down. So what happens when a clown serves as a board member—participating in nonprofit-style leadership, making budget and hiring decisions, balancing commitments and refusals?

When that clown (educator, leader, activist) is Sayda Trujillo, meetings rock on their foundations under the impact of deep questioning and personal reflection.

Today, we honor Sayda Trujillo for her incredible service to the board since 2017. Part of her leadership stemmed from willingness to share her discomfort with, and questions about, participating in a governing model so directly tied to White Supremacy Culture.

Sayda took on the formidable task of co-forming CWB’s Equity Council to create explicit policies, commitments, and accountability towards equity and anti-racist work. Most importantly, she encouraged the Board to consider how each individual can include their own vulnerabilities, passions, and histories in governance. Her legacy is her insistence that the work towards equity and anti-racism is not an agenda item or a policy, but a culture that we are each responsible for creating.

Thank you Sayda.

Learn more about Sayda Trujillo’s contributions to Clowns Without Borders:

The Importance of Breath – Sayda reflects on leading workshops for first responders in Guatemala

All Together Now – Listen to Sayda Trujillo, on air, as she talks (and sings!) about her work with CWB.

The BackPack – Watch Sayda talk to comedian Chris Brogan about being a clown and her travel essentials!

Two clowns perform outside, in front of an audience gathered in the shade of a tree.

Returning to In-Person Program Programming

I have made the hard decision to cancel individual performances, and even complete tours, during my time at CWB. I cancelled a CWB performance in Haiti an hour before it was supposed to start. The team was standing at the venue when we realized we couldn’t carry through with the performances.

Performers often say, “The show must go on,” but choosing when to cancel is a balancing act. At CWB, we make every effort to produce an incredible performance under improbable circumstances. We travel to communities by boat, horse, and foot. We wade through rivers and ride motorcycles up steep, mountainous tracks. We travel to communities because they have experienced political unrest, violence, or a natural disaster…and sometimes those same situations force us to retreat (as we did following the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey) or change our itinerary (which we do on almost every tour!).

COVID-19 has only made us better at quick-changes. I cancelled our March, 2020 tour shortly before the clowns departed for Colombia. Last week, CWB wrapped a tour to Chihuahua, Mexico. We cancelled a show because a new COVID-19 case was reported in a town where we were scheduled to perform. Last night I made the final call to continue our upcoming tour in Ecuador.

Our team spent weeks going back and forth with our project partners. We asked ourselves, “Is it safe? Is it responsible? What about the Delta variant?” We have public health experts on our Board of Directors who advised the decision-making process. For now, the show will go on until our team decides that it’s unsafe to continue. Going ahead with the tour means that I will ask every day: “Is it still safe?”

In many ways, these are the same questions I asked pre-COVID-19. I continue to follow the main pillars of CWB: We trust our  partners. We go where invited. The audience comes first. We’re just keeping our quick-change a little closer at hand.

How We’re Making Decisions:

We trust our partners.

We are working with HIAS, UNHCR, JRS, and FUDELA. Our partners are all committed to the health protocols we have agreed on, including limited audiences, outside performances, and no physical audience/performer interactions.

We go where we’re invited.

We trust our partner Corporaci0n Humor y Vida, and the NGOS who have invited us to perform within their communities. We planned and imagined versions of this tour with an Ecuadorian-only team of clowns, and ultimately decided to continue with the international team based on feedback from our partners and the clowns.

The audience comes first.

Audience safety is paramount. Clowns Without Borders’ artists have unique privileges that the audience might not have: The ability to leave a crisis situation. A passport. Access to medical care or, in this case, a vaccine. We know that it is our responsibility to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to vulnerable populations. That’s why this tour includes a daily artist’s health check, and daily evaluation of whether the show will continue.

 

All the clowns squeeze inside a wooden picture frame. They are performing outside, in Palestine.

Palestine and The Power of Names

Naomi Shafer and Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone wrote this blog post. Learn more about our programs in Palestine, here and here

We frequently answer the question: “Why does Clowns Without Borders write ‘Palestine’?”

Our standard response is: CWB – USA follows United Nations naming conventions for all countries, nations, and territories, along with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is true. But it is not the full story.

Legal Definitions

Names have both legal and cultural implications. Different legal designations (citizen, refugee, Internally Displaced Person, etc.) impact eligibility for passports, visas, education, work, and housing in a person’s country of residence:

  • Internally Displaced People lack special protection under international law and often disperse into urban centers in their home country. It’s important to acknowledge IDPs as a separate legal category so they can receive necessary services, protection, and justice.
  • The United States, until recently, referred to refugees, former citizens, undocumented people, and more as “aliens.” These groups were subject to very different laws and regulations despite sharing such an imprecise term. Referring to all non-citizens as “aliens” reinforced a culture of dehumanization and otherness.
  • The United States government has called Indigenous people by various names including “Indians,” “American Indians,” “Native Americans,” and more, all while withholding federal recognition from some tribes and granting it to others. These terms ignore the fact that Indigenous people and their tribal names far predate the idea of “America.”

Designations and names specify or homogenize, depending on who does the naming. That’s why CWB considers international human rights standards alongside community self-determination.

Clowns Without Borders follows our partners’ lead, upholding our mission to be in solidarity with the communities we serve. This means using the language they use to describe their own experiences. It means believing that people are experts on their own experiences. In the case of Palestine, it also means following language accepted by the global community.

Staying Specific

CWB’s Black Lives Matter statement included a commitment to specificity. We committed to naming racist and colonial aspects of human rights abuses. CWB shared words of support for our friends and colleagues at Diyar Theatre in Palestine, but we have not upheld our own commitment to specificity.

True, our thoughts are with our partners in Palestine. They are indeed in extreme danger, as we wrote on our social media channels. But occasional statements of support belie Israel’s ongoing, systematic, colonial project. Our Palestinian friends and colleagues describe their experience as apartheid, and so must we. (Incidentally, Human Rights Watch agrees.)  

CWB often says, “We go where we’re invited.” We use this to explain how we plan tours, meaning CWB doesn’t choose where a tour should take place. It also means we listen to communities and respond to their needs. Our project partners in Palestine are inviting the world to step into this conversation. We will do our best to honor their invitation, to amplify their voices, and to be part of their journey towards overcoming injustice.

Fear of Repercussions

Why did it take us so long to get here? We feared accusations of partisan politics and anti-Semitism. We were silenced by our fears, but they’re unfounded.

Non-profits risk losing their 501(c)3 tax exempt status if they engage in partisan politics, such as campaigning for a specific politician:

“The National Council of Nonprofits has long held that the public’s overall trust in the sector would diminish and thus limit the effectiveness of the nonprofit community if individual 501(c)(3) organizations came to be regarded as Democratic charities or Republican charities instead of the nonpartisan problem solvers that they are.” (National Council of Nonprofits)

CWB – USA maintains that human rights are a nonpartisan issue. Allowing people to self-describe is not “political advocacy.” It is basic humanity.

Palestine Is a Place

The United States and Israel are both settler-colonial projects (the treatment of Indigenous people by Brazilian ranchers can also be considered settler-colonialism, among other global examples). Settler-colonialism describes one group’s attempt to erase and replace an Indigenous population. This erasure happens through a variety of tactics, including physical and cultural genocide, obtaining and controlling land, and promoting assimilation.

In United States history, settler-colonialism encompasses the concept of manifest destiny, the federal government’s pattern of broken treaties, the cultural mythology of “the vanishing Indian,” and more. A “vanished” Indigenous population makes settler presence convenient, if not ordained.

Rashid Khalidi, director of the Middle East Institute of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, tells NPR:

The Palestinians don’t exist in people’s imagination. They’re an abstract thing. And for many people, they don’t exist at all. They don’t have a right to exist. They certainly don’t have a right to tell their stories. And anything that we say is immediately – anything that’s said in terms of the Palestinian narrative is immediately thrown into doubt. –Throughline, NPR

Palestinians did not choose their experience, which includes internal displacement, international refugee status, unequal treatment in their homeland and abroad, and constant threat of violence. They did not choose to vanish from an historical understanding of the Middle East. But they can and do choose to name themselves.

An infographic describing the unequal treatment of Palestinians and Israelis born in East Jeruselum
Source: Visualizing Palestine

Self-Determination

Demanding self-determination interrupts a settler-colonial narrative which insists that colonial projects are in the past, rather than ongoing structures of oppression, subjugation, and dispossession.

Native Hawaiian scholar J. Kēhaulani Kauanui writes:

What does it mean to engage the assertion that settler colonialism is a ‘structure not an event’? One obvious case is the Nakba as an ongoing process—rather than an isolated historical moment of catastrophe marking the 1948 Palestinian exodus, when Jewish Zionists expelled more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs from their homes and homeland during the war that forged the state of Israel.13 In North America, there are numerous attempts to remove indigenous peoples from their lands for corporate resource extraction ranging from oil to minerals and water, causing environmental devastation with genocidal implications. –Lateral, Spring 2016

How can Clowns Without Borders USA support its Palestinian colleagues in their resistance to ongoing settler-colonialism? One small way is to believe that Palestine is a place, not an empty or unnamed land. If Palestine is a place, then Palestinians must be a people and their human rights must be respected. This is why CWB – USA writes “Palestine.”

World Children’s Day 2020

Es más fácil construir niños felices que reparar niños rotos.

It is easier to shape happy children than to repair abused children.

World Children’s Day

November 20th is World Children’s Day, also known as Universal Children’s Day. It commemorates the anniversary of the UN General Assembly adopting the Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). It is a day to increase global commitment to improving child welfare.

Clowns Without Borders is committed to making sure that children’s rights are protected, which is why we are taking this Universal Children’s Day to spotlight a project combining clowning and the right to safety.

Why Children’s Rights?

The UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of the Child asks us to view children as independent citizens and consider their specific developmental needs. Many of the rights in The Convention reflect the Declaration of Human Rights, but they also go further to ensure that children (as individuals and as a group) have the right to express their views (Article 12) and the right to play (Article 31).

Right to Play

Children learn through play. It is essential to their development. It is how they express themselves, build relationships, explore interests, and manage challenges. Often, games are used as an educational tool, to stimulate interest, or to teach critical skills. However, the Right to Play (Article 31) is about play in its purest sense. Play for pleasure.

“That every child has the right to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” –Article 31

At Clowns Without Borders, we often work within play for the sake of pleasure. We invite our audience to laugh, to join us in song, to try out an act for themselves. One of the best possible outcomes of a CWB tour is when children start playing with each other.

Right to Safety

Sometimes we use play as a tool for teaching our audience about a challenging topic, such as Land Mine Risk Education. The right to safety works hand-in-hand with the right to play. They are equally fundamental to a child’s dignity and well-being. This summer, Clowns Without Borders partnered with Corporación Humor Y Vida and Recreando Lazos Sociales to address the issue of family violence in Ecuador. Family violence is known to increase in times of stress, and the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare stressors throughout our societies. Lockdown conditions exacerbate family stress, interruption education, trap children in potentially unsafe situations, and isolate them from their peers.

A group of clowns and psychologists worked together to discuss strategies to prevent violence against children. Our goal is to encourage children to advocate for their rights.

 

You can watch the rest of the series, on our YouTube channel.

Want to do more?

The United States is the only member of the United Nations not to ratify the Convention of the Rights of the Child. You can learn more at the American SPCC.

 

The team hugs in Puerto Rico

CWB Welcomes Two New Board Members!

“We clowns are well positioned to respond to the unexpected with imagination, creativity, joy, and a sense of expansive possibility.”

– Marisol Rosa-Shapiro, Board of Directors

Clowns Without Borders USA is delighted to welcome Meredith Gordon and Marisol Rosa-Shapiro to the Board of Directors. Both are eager to step on during this unique time, taking leadership as CWB adapts to the current pandemic situation. We hope you’ll join us on September 9th, at 12pm Eastern for a Facebook Live event introducing Marisol and Meredith.

Meredith Gordon

Bahamas 2019
Meredith Gordon (right) with Clay Mazing and Leora Sapon-Shevin, on tour in The Bahamas

Meredith Gordon (aka Squeeze The Clown) is a performer, administrator, and writer, with 20 years of experience as a hospital clown. He led the Atlanta Clown Care team for Big Apple Circus and is a founding member of Humorology Atlanta. Meredith is also one of the co-founders of D.R.I.V.E. Forward (diversity, representation, inclusion, voice, equity), an organization founded to raise awareness around issues of diversity in clown and arts communities.

Meredith, who performed on a recent CWB tour to The Bahamas, says, “I am honored to join the CWB board. Clowning offers a unique opportunity to bring a sense of levity and joy where it is needed. While serving on the board, I hope to continue this tradition and bring the CWB spirit to more people.”

Martha Neighbors, Board Treasurer, first met Meredith while working for Big Apple Circus’ Clown Care Unit. She nominated him to the board because of his empathy as a hospital clown, his decades of professional experience, and his impressive leadership history. After speaking with Meredith for the first time, board member Sayda Trujillo says, “I was left with a lot of inspiration for the way love of clown manifests in different people. Meredith is a clown who listens deeply and is a generous collaborator.”

Marisol Rosa-Shapiro

Marisol Rosa-Shapiro (left) and Darina Robles on tour in Tijuana, 2019

Marisol Rosa-Shapiro is a performer, teacher, leader, organizer, facilitator, mover, and shaker. She has a sensitive and nuanced view of international aid and CWB’s role within the broader context of humanitarianism. She says, “I am excited to join the CWB – USA board at this critical time. As a relatively small organization with a global perspective, CWB can be uniquely agile in addressing the needs of this difficult, strange moment.”

Marisol first learned about Clowns Without Borders when she studied at Helikos School with Sarah Liane Foster. She has since performed with CWB on three tours, all connected to the U.S./Mexico Border. In 2018, following her tour in Tijuana, Marisol helped CWB draft its first anti-oppression statement and adopt new protocols for training and supporting cross-cultural teams. Sarah Liane Foster says, “She brings a deep understanding of the work of a clown in intercultural settings, an infectious enthusiasm, a commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression, and so much more!”

In addition to her service with CWB, Marisol is currently working to roll out the second season of Adventure Theater Live!, an interactive, Zoom-based show for kids ages five to nine, set in The Great Great Forest. Season Two will launch in early October. You can learn more about it at www.adventuretheaterlive.com.

A sunlit image of David juggling clubs

Honoring Sarah Liane Foster and Selena McMahan

“If either Selena or Sarah called me at, say, 3:00am on a Wednesday night and said something like, ‘Hey Tim, could you send me your left leg?’ I would wake up, start sawing, and head to the post office.” – Tim Cunningham

It is with our deepest gratitude that we thank Sarah Liane Foster and Selena McMahan for their incredible service to Clowns Without Borders USA. Both women have resigned from the board, after serving for a combined 23 years. “I am so appreciative of Sarah and Selena,” says CWB founder, Moshe Cohen. “On top of their wonderful clowning, their dedication to CWB has been one of the rock-steady foundations of our organization over many years of dedicated service. Always ready to dig into the biggest obstacles and forever taking on challenging responsibilities, they will be a hard act to follow!”

Twenty-three Years of Service!

Selena 2014 Haiti
Selena McMahan (center) in Haiti, 2014

Selena served on the board for 10 years, including as President to CWB – USA and Clowns Without Borders International. Board Secretary Tim Cunningham says, “Selena embodies the inquisitiveness of clown, asking the golden question: What if we tried this differently? She challenges those of us on the board to wonder, ‘Have we ever thought about it this way?’”

Sarah served on the board for 13 years, and is known for taking on hard tasks with determination and a smile. Tim reflects, “Some of the most meaningful lessons on life, love and resilience are lessons I learned while performing in Haiti with Sarah. I always knew that no matter what happened, if the car broke down, or if we were chased off the stage by a herd of goats (which really happened), Sarah would be there to support me, the team, and the organization.”

Clowns Without Borders International

Sarah Liane Foster

In addition to their CWB – USA board contributions, both Sarah and Selena played critical roles on the steering committee for Clowns Without Borders International (CWBI).

Alex Strauss, who replaced Selena as the president of CWBI, says, “She helped me understand the different structures within the organization and introduced me to each chapters’ history and needs. She is an inspiration to many. Just last week, while on tour in Hungary, I met a Hungarian clown who once took a workshop with CWB – USA. He said he will always remember the awesome time he spent with Selena as a workshop teacher!”

Alex also had the privilege of working with Sarah. “Working together with Sarah was a fantastic experience,” he says. “She is one of the key people who kept the organization ‘on track.’ She helped to put together a very detailed history of CWBI, thanks to her precise minutes.”

Invisible Work

Board members’ work is largely unseen. It happens in committee meetings, budget drafts, and phone calls. We can’t possibly summarize all the incredible work Sarah and Selena have done for CWB, but we look forward to sharing some of their tour blogs and remembering some of their experiences as CWB – USA artists.

Clowning and Coronavirus: CWB’s online adaptations

I used to know what my job was. I produced clown tours and workshops for displaced people, migrants, and communities in crisis. Amidst all of the unknowns and intangibles of that work, I knew what I was doing.

Since the coronavirus pandemic started, I have been less sure. Our objective is to inspire resilience through laughter. I am incredibly grateful to the artists, project partners, and audience members who have pioneered this transition to online programming.

So what have we been doing? It is my delight to recap the work and play of the past three months.

Lighten Up: Thirty-minute workshops open to the public.

CWB – USA founder Moshe Cohen offered 10 workshops, or “levity pauses,” to invite moments of reflection, play, and presence. Moshe created the series as a way to recognize, and honor, the challenges of coronavirus, specifically the challenge of staying in touch with one’s joie de vivre.

The Levity Pause was an invitation to be present. Instead of ignoring or covering up the challenge of isolation, Moshe invited participants to explore it. Each session opened with an awareness exercise. We explored feelings of being stuck, disgust, delight, and digital community, all with humor.

Carlos d’BufFo Dædalus, who joined us weekly from Mexico City, commented:

“During isolation due to the pandemic, 30 minutes each Tuesday pierced the darkness and brought me back some light. Thanks to Clown Without Borders USA, I was able to lighten the weight I’ve felt over my chest since March when I was “displaced” from my life. I learned to play and find the fun even in the use of a mask and disgust of the virus. Thanks to Naomi Shafer and Moshe Cohen, I stopped missing laughter. It was a relief to feel the remnants of those minutes’ chuckles for the rest of the week and to know that they would be there (on Zoom) next Tuesday. I don’t really have the words to express my gratitude. I know it’s what they do: ‘relieve the suffering of people’ and they do it without borders.”

Team: Moshe Cohen

Partnership With Diyar Theatre: Workshops for clowns in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan

CWB has a three-year partnership with Diyar Theatre to provide clown training and capacity building for a cohort of 18 Palestinian clowns. While we are unable to continue with the scheduled intensive, we adapted the program to include weekly workshops for clowns in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria.

Mike Funt has previously worked with CWB in Puerto Rico, following Hurricane Maria. Mike travels the globe performing, directing, and teaching. While he believes that “at its core, clown is an analogue form,” he has built clown activities especially for Zoom. Each week, we take a moment to transform our spaces, and then dive into the work/play of creating an ensemble and exploring our individual clown.

Due to travel restrictions (that predate coronavirus), Zoom is perhaps the only room in the world where this workshop could take place.

Team: Mike Funt, Naomi Shafer, Osama Awwad, Rami Khader

Clowns In Conversation

Part of CWB’s mission is restorative narrative and raising awareness about the Right to Play, the role of clowns, and the lives of displaced people. We used live panel discussions and film screenings to address cultural humility, why laughing matters, and the early years of Clowns Without Borders.

You can watch the full series here.

Team: Adam Auslander, Andrew Horton, Ania Upstill, Arturo Gaskins, Calvin Kai Ku, Cynthia Choucair, David Argüello, David Lichtenstein, Dustin Allen, Eric Rubin, Erin Leigh Crites, Erwan Gronier, Ilana Levy, Jan Damm, Johnny Holder, Jonas Sjogren, Josie Mae, Kolleen Kintz, Leah Abel, Leora Sapon-Shevin, Melissa Aston, Meredith Gordon, Moshe Cohen, Naomi Shafer, Paúl Gomex, Rebecca Ann Hill, Rudi Galindo, Sabine Choucair, Susie Wimmer, Tamara Palmer, Yomara Rodriguez

Proyecto Ecuador

We  planned to spend August in Ecuador working with Corporacion Humor Y Vida, an Ecuador-based organization specializing in clown performance  for  social change. Now, we’re making short videos in conjunction with a group of psychologists, to address how stress contributes to family violence and what families can do to prevent it.

Team: Carolina “Coicoi” Duncan, Eric Rubin, Naomi Shafer, Paúl Gomex, Paty Galarza, Shana Cardenas, Santiago Bello

Mexico Virtual Tour

We  planned to spend May in Mexico partnering with our dear friends at Llaven nü. We would have toured shelters for women and girls who are survivors of sex- and gender-based violence and human trafficking. By the time coronavirus forced us to cancel the in-person tour, the all-female team had already started devising a show to uplift and empower the audience while also honoring the trauma they’ve experienced. While we were not able to travel in person, Mexico-based artists Darina and Vanesa  contacted our partners to see if we could screen a performance.

We created a virtual clown show. Since the women in shelters are quarantined together, they are able to gather and watch as a community. We’re delighted to know we’re still laughing together, even if we can’t be together.

Team: Arturo Reyes, Anaelle Molinario, Darina Robles (Founder Llaven Nü), Maria José Diaz de Rivera, Sadye Osterloh, Stephanie Avalos, Vanessa Nieto

The Zoom Room

Zoom used to be a word I used exclusively with the toddler in my life. We zoomed in the stroller. We zoomed as we animated a spoonful of peas into an airplane. We shrieked, “Zoom zoom!” while racing to put on our shoes. We solemnly observed trains, planes, and motorcycles, and agreed that they were zooming.

We zoomed, whooshed, zapped, bammed, and tra-la-lad our way through most activities.

I now say “ZOOM” more frequently and with much less delight.

Zoom is the place I am stuck while dreaming of the places I want to be.

Zoom is the place I am stuck while dreaming of the places I want to be.

I never expected Clowns Without Borders to have online programming. For me, the core of what we do is physical and in-person. Our shows transform spaces, inviting joy, community, and connection into places defined by pain, strife, and isolation.

Can we do the same with Zoom?

I’ve spent much of the past four months grieving. Each time I logged onto Zoom, even after Clowns Without Borders started online programming, I thought about what was missing. I planned to spend June in Lebanon and Palestine, participating in CWB’s partnerships with Clown Me In and Diyar Theatre. When Rami and I started talking about how we could continue our scheduled training for Palestinian clowns, we both lamented that it would be another year before we met in person. We did what so many producers are doing, and transitioned the program online.

I expected the workshops to be tinged with sadness. To my astonishment, they are full of delight.

 

I expected the workshops to be tinged with sadness. To my astonishment, they are full of delight.

Mondays are a time when ZOOM is a place of transformation.

On Mondays, Mike Funt and I join clowns from Lebanon and Palestine. Soon we will be joined by clowns from Jordan and Syria. Zoom might be the only room, in the whole world, where we can all gather.

Why? Here’s a gross oversimplification: Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria border each other. Palestinians hold Palestinian Authority Passports, though Palestine is not recognized as a nation. Travel within, and between, all of these countries (territories) is restricted.

Lebanon prohibits entry from anyone with Israeli stamps in their passport. Israel classifies Lebanon as an enemy state and Lebanese passport holders may only enter Israel with a pre-arranged visa and special permission, which prohibits entry to Palestinian territories. The workshop could not happen in Israel, Palestine, or Lebanon.

Israel and Syria do not have diplomatic relations, making travel between the two countries almost impossible. The workshop could not happen in Syria.

Theoretically, the workshop could happen in Jordan, but only with an exceptional number of visas, and the participants putting themselves at personal risk. Palestinians’ travel is restricted within Israel. For a Palestinian Authority passport holder to get to Jordan, she needs both an exit visa from Israel and an entrance visa from Jordan.

I’m ashamed to admit that inviting other artistic partners didn’t occur to me until after the first two workshops with the Palestinian clowns. I was so focused on what I was missing—eye contact, standing in a circle, meeting Rami’s baby—that I didn’t think about the opportunity be truly without borders.

It hadn’t occurred to me that ZOOM has no checkpoints, no visas, no border crossings. Geopolitical boundaries are so ingrained into how I think.

It hadn’t occurred to me that ZOOM has no checkpoints, no visas, no border crossings.

We say we’re “Clowns Without Borders” but really, we’re clowns negotiating borders. COVID reminded me that the borders are also in our minds. It hadn’t occurred to me to have a training for Lebanese and Palestinian clowns in the same workshop. I had accepted that it wouldn’t be possible. I reinforced the border.

In its own way, the Zoom Room has become a place of play. It has also become a place of resistance. A place of resilience. And space for transformation.