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CWB at Healthcare Clowning International Conference

In late April of 2022, Meredith Gordon traveled to The Hague in The Netherlands for the Healthcare Clown International Conference. Afterward, Meredith talked with Naomi Shafer, Executive Director for Clowns Without Borders, about the meeting. Here is an excerpt from their conversation.

What is the Healthcare Clowning International Meeting?

HCIM is an international meeting of healthcare clowns. 35 countries, 68 organizations, and 850 people were represented, primarily hospital-related and mostly clowns from Europe and the Americas. The meeting was an exchange of ideas. We discussed the artistry of healthcare clowning and organizational issues. The meeting was initially scheduled for October of 2021. It was postponed and moved to April of 2022.

How does HCWIM connect to CWB?

CWB works parallel to the work of healthcare clowns.* Something that came up was how organizations prepare artists for the work. Hospital clowning has specific requirements for hospitals. Many of the values are similar to what is needed in the CWB context. It’s also essential to understand what the clients (audience) need. A fundamental question of CWB and healthcare clowning is how you address someone experiencing a crisis. The crisis could be a patient and family dealing with a medical emergency, or the problem could be a refugee’s struggle.

*CWB works in the realm of psycho-social support. Our partners are often interested in how laughter connects to emotional wellbeing, healing, and recovery.

What were key issues that seemed especially relevant to CWB?

A story of a clown told comes to mind. A child didn’t want to receive the medical treatment she needed. The patient refused the treatment until the clowns entered to help ease the child’s worries. The clowns could be with the child when the procedure needed to happen. Then one day, the procedure needed to happen when the clowns were not there. The medical staff was nervous. Previously, the patient refused to do the procedure without the clowns. They thought, how can we do this procedure without the clowns? But the medical staff gave it a try. To their surprise, the child managed the situation well. The doctors asked the child, “how did you get through that without the clown?”

The child said, “the clown wasn’t there in person, but I had the memory of the clown. I thought about being with the clown. and that helped.”

In that same way, the work of CWB provides laughter and a sense of joy and makes the audience the center of the performance. This focus is a way of honoring and respecting the audience/client. It’s an important reminder that we are there not only for entertainment but also that we can provide a new pathway for patients/audience members to manage emotions.

Do you have a favorite memory or golden moment from the conference?

I talked with someone from a hospital clown organization who has recently started international programs for refugees. This organizer mentioned that they learned that they could do more to support the artists on the ground. That was a big learning curve for them. That was an important reminder to me because I think this is something CWB does well. We work with artists to prepare them emotionally to understand the context of the work. Perhaps we could learn more about standardizing this type of support by working with organizations newer to this work.

You presented (Twice!) at the conference. Could you tell us a little about that?
Yes, I did two presentations there. The first was my movement workshop called “Why Stop The Music.” During COVID, I have done this workshop once in person; otherwise, it’s been all online. I was surprised that everyone did all of the activities so well. It was such a joy to be in a room full of eager, cooperative artists who were receptive to the information I was sharing. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Most of them were professional performers with many years of experience. We all enjoyed being in the room together and sharing ideas after two years of Covid.

The second presentation was a DRIVE forward Workshop. We had a great conversation about diversity. I represented our Drive Forward team by presenting five of the concepts we’ve used in our work. Through this workshop, I emphasize that there is no quick and easy fix to diversity issues. I see this approach as a direction to move in rather than a final destination where everyone reaches diversity nirvana. We talked openly about how to support people on your team who are marginalized. Several people in the workshop had specific examples where they wanted to be more inclusive.

Program Announcement : Egypt

Program Overview

Clowns Without Borders returns to Egypt in partnership with The Nadha Arts School for Social Theatre (NAS). The program will start with an intensive for Egyptian physical theatre artists. The team will then create and tour a street show for street children, refugees, and internally displaced people.

Context

UNHCR reports, “Egypt hosts more than 270,000 registered asylum-seekers and refugees from 65 countries. The majority are from Syria, followed by Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Somalia.”

In Egypt, the majority of refugees are concentrated in urban areas, such as Cairo and Alexandria. Even before COVID-19, rising inflation, unemployment, and economic instability increased the vulnerability of both refugees and host communities. As more and more people in Egypt struggle to cover basic needs, violence and xenophobia increase.

Egypt sources 80% of its wheat from Russia. According the The Guardian,

“The ripple effects of the war include food price inflation, higher interest rates and a devalued currency.”

Partners

“We are not using art to deliver messages inundated with human rights issues. Our message is simply joy of art”

Reham Ramzi, NAS

The Nahda Arts School for Social Theatre (NAS) aims at enhancing local communities through performances on streets and squares across Egypt’s villages and towns. CWB is delighted to work with NAS alumni to create an original performance to tour throughout Cairo. NAS operates under the El-Nahda Association for Scientific and Cultural Renaissance of Jesuit Cairo.

Objectives

CWB will lead an intensive for alumni of Nahda Arts School for Social Theatre (NAS). This workshop will be the foundation of a show creation, which the ensemble of Egyptian and American clowns will perform on the streets of Cairo. The team will perform for street children, refugees, and Internally Displaced People. Due to the nature of street shows, the performances are also open to the public.

Team

Mostafa Wafi and Reham Ramzi, founder of NAS are leading the project coordination of the team, including the selection of 3 additional Egyptian artists. David Lichtenstein, Robin Lara, and Hannah Gaff will be representing CWB-USA and leading an intensive.

We’re Hiring: Outreach and Communications Coordinator

Clowns Without Borders is thrilled to announce a job opening for a new position. The Outreach and Communications Coordinator will craft the public voice of CWB. We are looking forward to meet candidates who can advance our advocacy work and online storytelling. 

We are no longer accepting applications for this position

 

Outreach and Communications Coordinator

Clowns Without Borders is hiring an Outreach and Communications Coordinator for part time work(15-20 hour a week). This is a remote position with flexible hours. 

This person will be responsible for the online voice of Clowns Without Borders (CWB) across all platforms. They will drive content creation about CWB’s programming and displacement (blog posts, newsletters, and  social media posts). This includes developing media for the organization’s fundraising campaigns. They will also maintain, respond to, and create press contacts to connect CWB’s work to external media opportunities. 

As CWB works to expand its domestic programming, the outreach and communications coordinator will be asked to research and reach out to refugee-serving organizations in the United States. 

This job relies heavily on written communication, and also requires the coordinator to participate in conversations and interviews with artists. CWB is expanding its communications strategy to include more video, audio and visual storytelling. 

*This job does not require or include international travel.

Responsibilities:

  • Write and copy edit program descriptions
  • Develop all social media content.
  • Write blogs based on artist-interviews, program feedback, and current events.
  • Manage Website administration.
  • Write, format, and manage strategy and content for the newsletter.
  • Reach out to and manage media contacts and opportunities. 
  • Develop and maintain and archive of CWB press
  • Research potential partnerships with mission-aligned organizations in the United States. 

Qualifications:

  • Passionate and committed to the arts and serving immigrant and refugee populations.
  • Ability to work independently. 
  • Excellent engagement and relationship-building skills
  • Strong communication and storytelling skills
  • Demonstrated ability to develop, maintain, and adhere to project and task timelines
  • Exceptional organizational skills and attention to detail.
  • Copy-writing and editing experience.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of various internal and external communication platforms including: Constant Contact, Instagram, Youtube, WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter
  • Authorized to work lawfully in the United States. 

The Exceptional Candidate

  • Savvy with SEO and Google Analytics
  • Design experience 
  • Experience with audio or visual storytelling
  • Spanish and/or Arabic language proficiency

 

Salary and Benefits

  • $25 an hour, 15 – 20 hours a week.*
  • Monthly healthcare stipend
  • Paid vacation 
  • Flexible, remote working hours 
  • *While this is a remote position, 75% of the working hours must overlap with the Executive Director’s hours (M-F,9-5 Mountain Time).

 

Values:

CWB-USA values collaboration, cultural humility, and respect. This applies to all ways that we work as performing teams, organizers and performers.

CWB welcomes applicants with lived experience of displacement and migration. 

CWB does not discriminate in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), national origin, political affiliation, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, genetic information, age, membership in an employee organization, retaliation, parental status, military service, or other non-merit factors

 

To Apply

Please submit the following to info@clownswithoutborders.org SUBJECT Line : Communications Coordinator

  • Cover Letter indicating your interest in CWB. 
  • Resume or CV
  • 2 Work Samples (at least one written)
  • The names and contact information for two professional references.

 

Introducing the US-Based team for Ecuador

Meet the US-based artists for our collaboration with Corporaction Humor y Vida. Arturo Gaskins and Lucy Shelby will be traveling to Ecuador to lead workshops and perform. Rachel Wansker is leading the online component of this program, which includes English-language classes and puppetry workshops.

This program is funded in part by the Public Affairs Section, US Embassy, Quito. The primary objectives of the program are cultural exchange and advocacy. CWB will provide artist training and capacity building to the Ecuadorian-based organization. Together, the organizations will create an original performance about the Rights of The Child, which they will tour throughout Ecuador.

Arturo Gaskins

Arturo Gaskins was born in Puerto Rico (USA). In 2005 he won the Humanities Honor Medal for the Atelier Teatral project (theater company at the University of Cayey PR). He obtained the Master in Lecoq Based Actor Created Theater, at the London International School of Performing arts (LISPA). In 2010 he founded the Circo Nacional de Puerto Rico of which he is still director and interpreter. Arturo has collaborated with CWB-USA in Colombia and the United States (Puerto Rico). 

Lucy Shelby

Lucy Shelby is a trained clown, healer and artist. Her trainings, teaching, and performance has taken her around the world where she has worked with and learned from yogis, master clown teachers, Aitor Basuari, Ronlin Foreman, Mick Barnfather, and many others, Balinese mask carvers, and Mayan Elders. Lucy was one of the founding teachers for Synergy Partner Yoga Trainings, creating the play elements of the practice. This is Lucy’s first program with CWB. 

 

Rachel Wansker

Rachel Wansker is an actor and educator from Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Theatre and Performance Studies from Kennesaw State University. For the past nine years, she has performed with fifteen professional theatre companies in three different countries. She is working as a teaching artist at The Alliance Theatre where she provides arts integration and acting classes for students of all ages throughout Georgia. Rachel is a staff member at The Center for Puppetry Arts where she teaches puppet building and performance workshops. This is Rachel’s first program with CWB. 

Program Announcement : Collaboration with US Embassy Quito

“When we started our application, we wondered, would the embassy even take our work seriously? We are delighted that they recognized the importance of play in education. Children learn through play. Especially for children who have experienced trauma or live with high levels of stress, play is essential.” — Naomi Shafer, CWB

Clowns Without Borders & Corporación Humor Y Vida awarded grant from US Embassy, Quito

Clowns Without Borders was recently awarded $39,925 of grant funding by the Public Affairs Section,U.S. Embassy Quito, Ecuador to support a joint program with Corporación Humor Y Vida. This program has two main objectives. The first is a cultural exchange between Clowns Without Borders and Corporación Humor Y Vida. CWB will provide artist training and capacity building to the Ecuadorian-based organization. Together, the organizations will create an original performance about the Rights of The Child, which they will tour throughout Ecuador.

Clowns Without Borders has 30+ years experience producing over 150 tours in 40 countries bringing experiential learning and psychosocial interventions to post-conflict zones throughout the world.

Clowns and Public Affairs 

“We are thrilled to receive this grant and to strengthen our partnership with Corporación Humor y Vida,” says Naomi Shafer, Clowns Without Borders Executive Director. “The two organizations share a vision of using art to leverage social change, this grant allows us to hire and train artists in both countries to develop a program to teach about the Rights of The Child.

“It is easy to dismiss our work as a joke,” Shafer continues. “When we started our application, we wondered, would the embassy even take our work seriously? We are delighted that they recognized the importance of play in education. Children learn through play. Especially for children who have experienced trauma or live with high levels of stress, play is essential.”

Corporación Humor y Vida

For the past ten years, Ecuadoran NGO Corporación Humor y Vida (CHV) has utilized alternative education methods of theater, circus, clown, puppetry and other art forms to deliver human rights education to at-risk communities. Simultaneously they have supported democracy and security in border communities by working closely with local governments and providing alternatives to youth recruited by armed groups. Lastly, they have offered psychosocial opportunities for play and creative expression bringing performance and workshops to communities which have never received these types of opportunities from other sources.

“As “Humor y Vida” Corporation we are very happy and grateful to be able to count on the support of the CWB and the United States Embassy in Ecuador for being able to carry out our XII Edition of the Festival Revuelta a la Mitad del Mundo Por Una Cultura de Peace and build bridges of dialogue and cultural exchange between Artists from the United States and Ecuador with tools that contribute to educational processes and cultural integration between the Ecuadorian population and the population in a situation of mobility and the Ecuadorian population

COVID in Ecuador

COVID-19 has struck hard in Ecuador exacerbating existing inequalities in access to education while increasing instances of human rights violations, especially gender–and-family-based violence. Vulnerable populations – in particular immigrants and refugees from Venezuela and Colombia – have been hit hardest.

 

Coloring Book 1

Grant Announcement : Miriam’s Magical Memorial Mission

Clowns Without Borders was recently awarded grant funding by The Javitch Family and Magellanic Foundations as part of Miriam’s Magical Memorial Mission. These grants will be used to fund program support in CWB’s mission to promote resilience through laughter for communities who are displaced, living in conflict zones, or living in situations of emergency.

 

Honoring Miriam Javitch

The grants, part of Miriam’s Magical Memorial Mission, are made in honor of Miriam Javitch, whose wish was to support “clowns and get them back to work bringing laughter and joy to peoples’ lives.” Miriam’s Magical Memorial Mission honors the legacy of a woman whose personal and business life was dedicated to helping family, friends, colleagues, and clients to transform their lives through realizing their personal and leadership potential. She brought to this a love for the good and light inside of everyone and taught so many to look for laughter, joy and gratitude in each and every day.

 

This grant offers CWB an unprecedented opportunity to increase its capacity. In light of the pandemic, and the organization’s increased demand for programs, CWB has decided to shift away from a volunteer model.

 

Capacity Building

“We ask so much of artists”, says Naomi Shafer, CWB Executive Director. “In addition to their professional time and skill, we also ask our artists to perform in unconventional, and often uncomfortable, conditions. The work is physically and emotionally taxing. It demands artists to be fully present for the 2-3 weeks of the tour, as well as a commitment to preparation and follow up.”

 

For years, CWB artists have donated their time. “On one hand, artists volunteering their professional time and skills represents the incredible generosity of our clowns,” comments Shafer “It is how we as an organization have been able to exist for so long. Part of our narrative to donors has always been, ‘look at how much we can do with so little funds.’ But of course, we were only able to do that because we pushed a huge cost to artists. We as an organization are no longer comfortable with that model.”

The Challenge

These grants offer CWB the opportunity to double its organizational budget by acting as a challenge grant. The funds are contingent on CWB’s ability to increase its individual fundraising. “If you’re worried that your $10 donation no longer has as big an impact on the organization, fear not!,” cautions Shafer, ‘Your $10 can help us leverage $100,000.”

Return to In Person Programming

We are delighted to announce our first in person program of 2022. In March, Clowns Without Borders will be traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan. We will be meeting with partners, leading workshops, and offering performances, with the goal of setting up a multi-year program.

Iraqi Kurdistan (also referred to as Southern Kurdistan, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and Kurdistan Region) is an autonomous region in Iraq. Kurds or Kurdish People are an ethnic group and the population is estimated to be between 30 and 45 million According to the Kurdistan Regional Government, refugees and IDPs (Internally Displaced People) represent 28% of the population of Iraqi Kurdistan (The Kurdish Project).

Introducing Tara Azizi

Tara Azizi is a human rights lawyer, and is the program lead for CWB’s upcoming work in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Tara introduced CWB to the project partners after spending a month working in Iraqi Kurdistan, including the camps. After returning to the United States, she said,

For the first time in my professional career, I felt pretty helpless working with legal procedure. The children were constantly worried that a new bomb attack would hit, making it hard for the kids to focus on something else. It was hard to find a child who laughed.

Tara is Tara Azizi is a Human Rights Lawyer with a demonstrated history of working in international development cooperation. As a result, she has established relationships with legal experts, intergovernmental entities, UN agencies, and other partners. Tara is of Kurdish origin from Iranian Kurdistan.

Kurdish refugees in Iraq

During this program, our audience will be Kurdish refugees from Iran. Due to their lack of legal status, the women and children do not have the option to leave the camps and apply for a beneficial legal status in Iraq. Unfortunately, they still have not been considered for the UNHCR’s refugee resettlement process or provided a long-term solution by the UN at the camps. The Iranian Kurdish camps were established in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1993 and most of the families have been in the camps for generations. The camps have suffered from conflicts and war and about two years ago, they experienced a traumatic missile attack, where most of them lost loved ones.

We will also be performing for Yazidi communities. The Yazidi are an ethnic minority, indigenous to Kurdistan. In 2014, they were among the civilian communities targeted by the Islamic State in the Sinjar region of Iraq. The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) documented crimes against the Yazidi including targeted executions, abduction, and human trafficking. In 2021, the Higher Regional Court in Frankfurt Germany ruled these crimes against humanity, and passed a conviction of genocide (Amnesty International).

Program Structure

Each CWB program is designed with our partner’s specific requests in mind. In March, our focus will be building relationships with our partners, and learning how CWB can make the most meaningful impact in the camps. Since the communities we will be working with are experiencing protracted displacement (i.e they have been displaced for over 5 years,) we have the opportunity to foster long-term programming. We will be traveling with supplies for workshops and performances, as part of our inquiry : what’s wanted? How can CWB best serve our new partners and audience in Iraqi Kurdistan?

Want to know more?

Language matters. We’ve written a whole serious to ask (and answer) some common questions, such as: What does “refugee” mean? and What is protracted displacement? We also wrote a post about Internal Displacement. Soon we will be writing about autonomous regions versus countries versus territories.

Photo from 2015 performance in Northern Kurdistan (Turkey).

Featured Artist : Leah Abel

This week’s featured artist is Leah Abel. Leah has performed with Clowns Without Borders for over 12 years. She brings a wacky sense of humor, foam roller, and giant appetite to every program she’s part of. One of Leah’s special skills is finding whoever is in charge (school principal, director of a refugee camp) and bringing them onstage. 

Do you wear a nose when you perform?

Yes, usually! But sometimes if I see that it makes people nervous, I take it off. I also work as a hospital clown, and I don’t always wear a nose there. It feels like it is my job to see if it is comfortable for the folks I am working with, and if it is okay (even if it is weird) then YES, I wear it. And if not, I am not tied to it. I mean, it is tied around my face, but you know what I mean.


What is your favorite clown prop?

My clown partners are my favorite prop. But, I never objectify anyone.

Other than that, I love wearing two sets of pants, so I can do a classic pants drop.

I also love small magic for between shows. Aka, I like something BIG, and something small. Lately, I have been carrying around a big life-like rainbow trout fish. AND it makes such a great “Whomp” noise when I wack someone on the shoulder with it.


What’s a favorite memory from working with CWB?

Working with you (and everyone that I’ve worked with). I don’t know, how do I choose?

Like I said before, I work as a Hospital Clown, I perform at community and corporate events doing duo aerials, stilting and walk-around AND run a small social circus non-profit. AND I JUST LOVE WORKING WITH CWB SOOO MUCH.

CWB influences and informs all the other great circus work I get to do. I am still friends with people I went on tours with, and with some of the people from the partner organizations we worked with. For me, it’s all about the relationships and connections we make.

Andres, Naomi and Leah stand nose-to-nose
What are your currently working on ?

I am the ED pf Circus UP, an organization dedicated to making circus more accessible in Boston. The mission of Circus Up is: Circus Up uses circus arts to overcome social barriers and build community with people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. Our Vision: A world where inclusion is the model, access is the norm, and play, creativity, and diversity are celebrated.

Clowns Cry on a Clowns Without Borders Tour
What’s something you learned from another CWB artist?

On a trip with Selena and Lucho to Haiti many years ago, we had a lot of funny moments of translation. Sometimes it seemed like we were having conversations about “can you drink milk at night.” And I learned in fact, that yes, you CAN “drink milk in the night.” Lucho did so every night. And, just wow- who knew???

What question do you wish I had asked?

I wish you asked me when I should expect you (Naomi) to come over and finish doing the dishes. There are only like three in the sink, but one is sooo sticky with the crud of a fish and mango waffle that didn’t turn out like I had hoped. So, when are you coming over?

 

Featured Artist: Moshe Cohen

This week’s featured artist is Clowns Without Borders’ founder, Moshe Cohen. Since 1987, he has performed in Myanmar, Kosovo, South Africa, Nepal, Guatemala, Haiti, Croatia, Chiapas (Mexico), South Sudan, and Baton Rouge, LA. Moshe continues to perform and teach internationally. Over the past 25 years, he has given over 2000 performances in over 30 countries. He teaches workshops exploring the expression of personal humor through physical theater and contemporary clown. Moshe has most recently performed with CWB – USA in Guatemala.

Do you wear a red nose when you perform?

When I am medical clowning. I do yet rarely on stage.

What is your favorite clown prop?

The mini harmonica (one octave)

What’s a favorite memory from working with CWB?

One of my favorite memories was in Chiapas in 1996, when I accompanied Pablo Romo to visit a small community. Pablo was the head of the Catholic Human Rights Center in St Cristobal (Centro Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas).

When we arrive, Pablo takes a little leather shoulder bag, and starts pulling out a priest’s robe. I  didn’t realize until that moment that he was a priest as he always dressed casually. He instructs me that I have to attend mass with him, that he has to introduce me to the community so that they don’t think I am a bruja (witch.)

The mass itself was quite special as Pablo lead the ceremony with a local Sacerdote (the indiginous community priest) and the service alternated between Catholic prayers and Mayan language songs sang by the Sacerdote, accompanied by a small group of musicians.  Indeed in the midst of it, Pablo introduces me as ‘buen gente’ (good people) and that I am here to offer them something special after the service. Soon after that, the Sacerdote and Pablo start giving communion to the congregation.  Pablo approaches me, wafer in hand, and I’m  wondering if he really is going to offer me the wafer and communion as he knows i’m a Jewish man.  He steps up to me and positions the wafer about 6 inches from my mouth, yet rather than offer me the wafer, he leans in and whispers in my ear “Ok, go get ready for the show.”

 

What are your currently working on ?

I’m rehearsing for a late January show where I play the clown in a show produced by the Mongolian Contortion Center and Circus Center here in San Francisco.

 

What’s something you learned from another CWB artist?

Patience

What question do you wish I had asked?

What was your first experience performing for refugees? In 1987 I was invited to come perform in 3 small Guatemalan refugee camps in Chiapas.

 

A performance shot taken through a clown's legs, looking toward the audience

Featured Artist: Andrés Aguilar

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.

In Kakuma, Kenya, in 2015, a young man was confused and alarmed because “something came out of him” during the show. He explained what he meant in  in a long conversation with two interpreters.  We got to understand at the end that it was his own laughter. It had been so long ago that he laughed so hard, he could no recognize the “other voice” that came out without his will and understanding.

Featured Artist: Andrés Aguilar

Andres has performed with Clowns Without Borders all over the world. Most recently, he joined CWB’s partnership with Mines Advisory Group to create digital mine risk education programs. He also co-created a performance about land mine safety with MAG and CWB in Myanmar. His career is prolific. He toured with Ringling Brothers  & Barnum and Bailey circus. He founded to Risaterapia, a humanitarian clowning organization with sites in 32 cities in Mexico.  He plays 100 musical instruments. He cares deeply for the planet.

A photo that captures Andres’ spirit is one from Kakuma Refugee camp. Andres is wearing his musical washboard, and turned towards a group of curious children. The photo captures the children’s curiosity, and Andres’ generosity. Two different children each hold a drumstick, and one gets the sense that everyone who wants will get a turn.

Do you wear a nose when you perform?

When in humanitarian clown activities I do wear a red nose all the time. When performing it depends on the character. I am very flexible about it.

What’s your favorite clown prop?

My own body.

What’s a favorite memory from working with CWB?

In Kakuma, Kenya, in 2015, a young man was confused and alarmed because “something came out of him” during the show. He explained what he meant in  in a long conversation with two interpreters.  We got to understand at the end that it was his own laughter. It had been so long ago that he laughed so hard, he could no recognize the “other voice” that came out without his will and understanding.

What are you currently working on?

I promote a culture of well being I call “Contentura” (contentment as a personal emotional project) with a radio show called “Fracasorama“, a daily morning ten minute live transmission on Facebook called “Fideos contentos” and with every show, workshop or corporate speech I offer. My latest show is called “Corto Cirquito” and is about my memories from living in a traditional circus.

 

What’s something you learned from another CWB artist?

I became great friends of amazing people like Erin Crites, Julia Register, Gabi Winter and Naomi Shafer. People I consider teachers and I look up to their work.

The many lessons I’ve learned from them go from the beautiful and subtle art of loving every moment and letting go of expectations, to the useful skill of adapting to every cultural challenge trough humbling down while keeping the leadership and staying in control of the situations.

Featured Artist: Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

This week, we are featuring Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone, who worked as Clowns Without Borders’ Communication Director for the past five years. While we are sad to see Nicole go, we are grateful to all of her work with CWB.

 

I went from thinking of clown as a type of performance to understanding it more as a social practice. I am so awed by clowns’ philosophical and physical grasp of failure and how that is such a foundational part of humor, the status quo, and power dynamics.

What did you know about clowns before working with CWB?

 

Basically nothing.

I knew what a mime looked like. Or, I thought I knew what a mime looked like, because I had this idea of a traditional, European mime.

What do you know about clowns now?

Something I learned from CWB is how clowns can enter tense situations and highly conflictual or downright violent situations and, not necessarily redirect the energy, but diffuse the energy.

Yes, it can be silly, but it is also this incredibly heightened form of listening, and improvisation, and an astute understanding of power dynamics. That all contributes to humor (when we’re lucky).

I’ve been really struck by the way clowns can change the direction of what’s happening and the breadth of what clowning is. These past few years, as we’ve been focusing on the activist side of clowning, I’ve learned that it’s not necessarily silly, or funny, or lighthearted. The clowns bring their full artistic presence and talent and vision to these real world social problems.

I went from thinking of clown as a type of performance to understanding it more as a social practice. I am so awed by clowns’ philosophical and physical grasp of failure and how that is such a foundational part of humor, the status quo, and power dynamics.

Little boy points at Melissa as she makes a funny face

How did you approach choosing what images to share and what to write about each program?

I wanted to communicate the larger scene or scenario that an image represents. Something that I’ve tried to stay away from is just cuteness. I see a lot of cuteness online and it is an easy out to difficult work. I try to listen to what is being asks of white people and white-led organizations in the field of humanitarianism, especially via No White Saviors. The story is not, “the clowns are saving the child,” and so it is important that our photos aren’t a parade of suffering or of heroism. I wanted to make sure that the images we share and the stories we tell are more complex. I am indebted to IVOH and their framework of Restorative Narrative, which helped guide me in thinking through how to translate our work. I want to share stories of an exchange. CWB doesn’t exist for the benefit of the artists, but over and over I hear them say, “I can’t even tell you how much I get from the gift of the audience’s attention. I am here giving my all through the performance, and the audience gives so much more via their presence and attention. Even when the audience doesn’t find my best joke funny, that gives me something too.”

I won’t ask if you have a favorite type of clown content….but do you? 

I love any video that has screaming, roaring laughter in it. We have those from all over the world. I love the split second beat of silence, and then the eruption.

There are videos of Ania, Ahmad, Osama and Poki in Palestine. The little boys are pounding the ground laughing. Then in another video from that same tour, in another city, the boys in that audience are pounding the ground laughing. I love seeing that, because they must see their brothers, uncles, and fathers laugh that way.

What about the stories that are less joyful?

I love Josie’s story from Ecuador about circus having moments for awe, reflection, and wonder. It’s not just for joy. That is very much reflected in the photos of her juggling (which I never posted, because I worried it would be teasing of the kids). In these photos, there is a group of kids whose mouths are in perfect O’s, heads tilted back, eyes wide, as they stare at Josie’s clubs WAY up in the air.

After the last tour in the Balkans, Sabine talked about performing in a place that was heavy with sadness. She said it felt like the migrants would never get out of there. The artists and audience created a few moments to fill the place with hope and even a bit of laughter.

I remember Dustin saying that there is this misconception that a Clowns Without Borders performance is low stakes, because it is for people who maybe don’t have something to compare your performance to, or because you aren’t going to get reviewed. But that actually it is incredibly high stakes, because each audience member could be spending their energy, their presence, solely focusing on surviving, but instead they are choosing to value art. That is the reason to give your best self, your best performance.

I really appreciated Leora saying, “I really doubted it could be as good as CWB’s social media makes it seem, but wow, it was.”

Clowns Without Borders on tour in Myanmar in partnership with MAG

 

Why should someone support Clowns Without Borders?

CWB is able to reach tens of thousands of people on an emotional level. We know, based on what our audiences tell us, that our impact lasts. It makes an intergenerational difference. Babies to elders attend our shows, repeat our jokes, play our our acts, and then share that resilience and laughter with the community around them. . Material suffering and scarcity is only going to increase. So many people’s physical health is politically forsaken, and that to me is a reason why CWB needs to exist.

What’s next for you?

I’m now working with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, an environmental non profit focused on clean water. We just recently partnered with the International Rescue Committee-Seattle, to work with newly resettled refugees. This program was to introduce new neighbors to their new watershed.

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.