What’s All This Talk About the NEED for Laughter?

Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist, postulates that across all cultures and societies, humans all have the same needs. And unlike Maslow, Max-Neef argues that these needs are not hierarchical, or in other words, the need for food is just as important as the need for affection, because if one is valued higher than the other, poor outcomes will follow. We recognize that food, water, shelter, and security are vital, but we believe that joy, happiness, and laughter rank very high on that scale, even when they forgotten by those who suffer.south africa. two girls laughing and wearing the red nose

Refugees leave behind everything to seek refuge because everyone has the right to live. It is not ideal to travel to lands unknown and place yourself at the mercy of others.

For those thrust into prolonged, life-threatening situations, each day adds thick layers of stresses that pile and compress like a fault line. It’s the lack of release; the inability to blow off steam; the monotony of daily existence; the familiar routine that has evaporated and the madness of it all that often brings terrible anxiety.

Interrupting the flow of this viciousness is imperative. A small dose of relaxation and a spoonful of play go a long way in feeding the human spirit and helping a person face another day.

Being empathic of people in crisis is about appreciating the desire for pteen boy juggles three ballshysiological, mental, and spiritual fulfillment. What happens in the long minutes of the day as refugees wait for the next unknown move in their life? How do they find the quiet solitude to process the hardships they have already faced, before encountering the next set of

Moments of release come in the form of play. Clowns Without Borders artists use humor to alleviate the dreadful suspense of hardship. Children watch a show, interact with the clowns, and then continue to mimic the antics after the show finishes. Listen
to what happened in South Africa some years ago.

CWB-USA and CWB South Africa ran a huge three-month tour of refugee camps and local villages in South Africa back in 2005. SOS Children’s Village was our primary partner. The clown troupe spent their time performing shows and held informal skill building workshops.

We returned the following year to continue our work with SOS. Everywhere our artists went, the kids repeated the acts the clowns had performed for them the year prior! The kids, captivated by the shows, had absorbed what they saw and did during their time spent with the clowns, and then replayed it.  Long-term mechanisms for relief exist in playfulness. This phenomenon has happened in other country locations across the globe. It is an indicator of the positive impact of our mission. Or, as Emmanuel from the Malakal VISTA team (Project South Sudan 2017) says about us, “It’s asouth sudan 2017ctivities like this that make me proud to do my job.” Emmanuel is a lawyer who has been to Washington DC to speak to Congress about the situation in South Sudan.

The need for humor and laughter is real. For us, it’s the best way we can help the world, especially those in suffering.


Illustration: Rebeka Ryvola

Find Your Funny Workshop Returns

Clowns Without Borders returns to the Omega Institute this summer to host our professional development workshop, “Find Your Funny.” Four professional Clowns Without Borders artists will provide an array of clown and physical theatre training from July 2-7, 2017, on site at the gorgeous Omega Institute campus in Rhinebeck, NY. Helpful for teachers, social workers, medical professionals, community leaders, artists, and performers, this workshop helps you find the funny that’s already inside you—and inspires you to spread your joy to benefit others.

Clown is more than the nose, more than the costumes and much deeper than the make-up. We are here to work with you, as you are, to explore YOUR funny. No costumes, no noses, no make-up needed.

Experience? Not needed! We will present you with eight playful sessions that span from storytelling and the historyIMG_0636_Find Your Funny 2016 of CWB-USA to exploring playfulness in your own body and within a group of people. We will study traditional forms like slapstick and physical comedy and also experience ways to find fun with common objects and the often intimidating unknown.

Instructors: Hilary Chaplain, Kali Quinn, Kolleen Kintz and Tim Cunningham
Tuition: $430 plus accommodations





Session 1: “A Home with CWB: Stories”

Facilitator: Tim Cunningham

Tim will welcome the group with verbal and physical introductions. A few games that share the essence of clown will be included.  The whole team of teachers will spend the session intertwining stories and experiences of working with CWB so as to lay a foundation of understanding about the richness of this work.


Session 2: “Jump into Clown”

Facilitator:  Kolleen Kintz

Why clown? This work helps you become more present, authentic, and open, through embracing the power of play. This workshop is a “flash in the pan,” a vigorous and exciting introduction. We will warm-up and play games in groups of various sizes and solo to work towards finding your inner clown.


Session 3: “Creating Character through Movement”IMG_0629_Find Your Funny 2016

Facilitator:  Kali Quinn

This session will play with and give new vocabulary to how we can use the architecture of our body, breath, gesture, and space to create an expansive range of characters and contexts. Enjoy learning about how the physical affects the metaphysical and discovering what access points work best for you.


Session 4: “Slapstick and Physical Comedy”

Facilitator:  Hilary Chaplain

Here you will learn how to create funny moments from a place of honesty and vulnerability that give your audience permission to laugh at your sense of play. Working solo, in duos and groups, we will learn the techniques of traditional slapstick that make us laugh.


Session 5: “Embracing the Unknown”

Facilitator:  Kali Quinn

Based in physical exploration and mindfulness, this session will encourage you to recognize your relationship to fear and uncertainty, expand your sense of humor and awareness, and with the compassionate and creativity of clown, connect to others and play with abandon.


Session 6: “Musicality in Comedy”

Facilitator: Kolleen Kintz

Rhythm and musicality are a big part of comedy. Finding the music can help you develop comedic timing. By exploring through group and solo exercises, we will look at punctuation in movement and the “rhythms of funny.”


Session 7: “Playing with Objects”

Facilitator:  Hilary Chaplain

IMG_0625Everyday objects can become great sources of fun! Using puppetry techniques combined with the world of the clown, we’ll create stories and find the humor in the world of objects.


Session 8: “Closing Circle”

Facilitators: The group

This session will wrap up the work we’ve created during the week.  Time to reflect on how to move forward in our funny will be key in our discussion and play.

Find Your Funny and register today!

Announcing New Members to CWB-USA Board of Directors

Clowns Without Borders USA proudly announces the addition of four new members to the Board of Directors. Our new members bring a wealth of expertise, energy, and a deep passion for the mission of our organization–to bring laughter where it’s needed most. Get to know our newest members: Erin Leigh Crites, Gulshirin Dubash, Martha Neighbors, and Sayda Trujillo.


DSC_0292-1Erin Leigh Crites is an international theatre artist, educator, and purveyor of make believe. In the past ten years, Erin has traveled extensively to explore the global community and create bonds through theatrical play. From 2013 to 2015, she worked in an international ensemble to develop and originate a role in Nobel Prize Winner, Dario Fo’s newest, unpublished play, La Storia di Qu for the International Milan Expo. This work reinforced her passion for international collaboration and fueled her continued teaching of workshops in ensemble dynamics, clown, mask work and devising, all of which center around the conveyance of meaning through physicality rather than language. Currently, she splits her time between Los Angeles and Idyllwild as an ensemble member of Fiasco! Physical Theatre and as a full-time instructor in the theatre department at the international boarding school, Idyllwild Arts Academy, respectively. She joined Clowns Without Borders in 2010 after receiving her MFA in physically based ensemble theatre from Dell’Arte International.

How did Erin first find out about Clowns Without Borders? She says, “It was the wee hours, after a long night of wandering conversation, when Adrian Mejia told me I should go on a trip with Clowns Without Borders. He was right. And I honor his memory with every trip. Thank you, Adrian.”


Dubash_Headshot copy-1Gulshirin Dubash (teacher/actor-creator/director) is originally from Mumbai, India, and has spent the last several years doing theatre between the United States and India.  She has been faculty at Interlochen Arts Academy since 2011 where she most recently directed, A Flea in Her Ear, The Servant of Two Masters, Blood Wedding, A Departure (a devised work), The Secret in the Wings and The Caucasiam Chalk Circle. Having received her MFA in Ensemble based Physical Theatre from the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre in California, her work is grounded in the pedagogy of theatre practitioner Jacques Lecoq (physical theatre – Commedia dell’Arte, melodrama, clown, street theatre, devised work). Having a strong interest in Eastern forms of theatre she has studied Japanese Noh theatre with master teachers Rick Emmert and the late Mitsuo Kama.  She has been a performer with CWB since 2007, having created the India-centered mission called “Project Muskurahat.”

When asked why she became a member of the CWB-USA Board, she explains, “Being a part of CWB-USA is one of the great loves of her life as it melds her desire of theatre for real change and her love of performing.” Recently her ability to perform has been limited, but she believes she can make an impact by being on the board and living her life in the pursuit of this mission.


Martha superbowl rings-1Martha Neighbors has been fundraising in the arts for more than 20 years, most recently with Big Apple Circus, where she fell in love with clowning and tripled the Circus’s funding for its seminal Clown Care program. Prior to Big Apple Circus, Martha worked in theatre, dance, visual arts and museums, raising lots of money to help artists realize their dreams and produce innovative, original work. Currently, she is the director of development at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan in New York.

Martha is thrilled to be on the board of Clowns Without Borders, having learned of the organization through a former Big Apple Circus Clown Doctor, Tim Cunningham. She firmly believes that the world needs more laughter and that bringing joy to desperate situations improves the lives of all with lasting benefits. Martha also serves on the board of the A.S. Neill Summerhill Trust, which promotes the educational philosophy and writings of educational pioneer A.S. Neill and provides bursaries to attend Summerhill School in England, of which she is a proud alumna.  She has an M.A. in art history and museum studies from the University of California and graduated summa cum laude from Hunter College in New York.  That Summerhill education really worked.

Martha proclaims, “It is a true pleasure to be part of this organization, and thank you for including me! I lovingly blame Tim Cunningham.”


Image 44Sayda Trujillo was born in Montreal and grew up in Canada, Guatemala, and the USA. She is a theatre artist specializing in voice and movement. She also devises original physical theatre performances. Her performance and teaching experience abroad includes work in Guatemala, Ecuador, Singapore, Spain, Germany, Colombia, UK, Egypt, Palestine with The Freedom Theatre, and most recently in India. Her three solo shows BANANA LEAVES, DEFINITELY OOPS, and I WAS RAISED MEXICAN have been presented nationally and internationally at theater houses including La Mama ETC, REDCAT, and NYTW.

Since 2005, Sayda has volunteered for Clowns Without Borders performing for thousands of children in Latin America and the Middle East. She teaches Acting, Viewpoints, Tai Chi Chuan, Contact Improvisation, Voice, and Solo Performance. Her training combines a BFA in Acting from the California Institute of the Arts; a post-graduate certificate in Physical Theatre from the Dell’ Arte International School of Physical Theatre; and a Masters in Voice Studies from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London where the training encompassed a multiplicity of workshops in Vocal Anatomy, Accents, Vocal Pedagogy, Practice as Research, culminating in a Master’s Thesis: Latino/a Voices: Reconsidering the ‘Natural,’ ‘Familiar’ and ‘Cultural’ in Freeing Vocal Expression. Sayda is full-time faculty at Dell Arte International.

As to why she has joined the Board of Directors, Sayda replies, “I have been involved with CWB-USA since 2005 as performer volunteer and project leader. CWB-USA has profoundly influenced my personal work and practice; and my relationship to the world. It makes me very happy to be able to go deeper and serve in a different way, to be an advocate, to help fundraise, to learn about the magic that holds this organization.”

Need Your Daily Exercise? Try Clowning.

By Guest Blogger and Performer, Molly Siskin 


There is no exhaustion like the one that comes at the end of a long day hard at work in clown training. Clowning has a particular way of exercising performers both physically and emotionally because in many ways it is both an art and sport.

You might not immediately think of clowns at athletes, but traditionally circus clowns would often perform alongside the acrobats in the troupe, executing some of the same skills but with a unique twist that only a clown can bring. Clowning is a very physical form of theatre and requires a high level of physical dexterity, awareness, and control. Additionally, the long hours and fast-paced schedule of a clowning career (particularly in the circus), require stamina and strength. Modern clown training is easily comparable to physical theatre or modern dance, both practices that utilize body movement to tell a story or convey a mood, and may even use similar exercises, games, and movement-improvisational work. The parallels between clown and dance have not gone unnoticed. Charlie Chaplin was once called “the greatest ballet dancer that ever lived” when he received his honorary Oscar. The ability to communicate a story with one’s body requires nuanced control of your body and facial muscles. Physical awareness and expressiveness take time, sweat, and practice. For some, that can mean a rigorous regiment of daily training to gain strength and physical ability. Famous Russian ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov once said, “Get used to pain. It’s part of a dancer’s life.”

Three clowns "flopping." Lesvos, Greece, 2016.
Three clowns “flopping.” Lesvos, Greece, 2016.

One way that clowning differs from most dance is what Clown Theorist Jacques LeCoq called “the flop” or the moment the clown fails. If the clown is attempting an acrobatic stunt or a beautifully executed dance move, the flop often constitutes a fall or intentional use of incorrect form to complete an intricate or dangerous physical task. Falling and failing are fundamental parts of clowning, and although they appear to be chaos, they are approached very carefully. Just as in the principles of stage combat or stunt work, when falling, it is important to be in total control before you can safely appear to be out of control. Falling can take practice and time to perfect. A long day of falling is sure to leave a clown-in-training tired and sporting a new bruise or two.

In an era of more subtle, theatrical clowning gaining in prominence, not all clown routines are equally physically performative and taxing. However, clowning also takes a high level of emotional energy. Many teachers continue to develop LeCoq’s clown theories of finding each performer’s personal clown, following creative impulse, and staying strongly connected to an audience using the partial mask of a clown nose to both hide and reveal the performer who wears it. This methodology can leave the performer feeling very personally vulnerable, meanwhile staying connected to the audience can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. Many training programs emphasize honesty in clowning. Even when the clowning experience is not traumatic, being a proxy for a whole audience and honestly, openly, and physically expressing one’s experience can be exhausting.

Find Your Funny graduates.
Find Your Funny graduates.

At the end of a long day, a clown-in-training may feel like they have run a marathon, fallen off a chair, and attended a particularly moving therapy session. Though this may be exhausting, the feeling of using your whole body and emotional range, particularly when it is working towards the goal of laughter and joy, is particularly satisfying.

It is the personal satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, and cathartic release of emotion that are hallmarks of the workshops facilitated by Clowns Without Borders performers. Whether you are attending a workshop like “Find Your Funny” at the Omega Institute in New York, or are a refugee living in a refugee camp for the indefinite long-term, the workshop principles remain the same. People are encouraged to learn new physical skills. They are encouraged to build community with others through simple moments of joy that build into exuberant laughter. It’s like remembering a great secret you once forgot: That people can and do stay connected when bonds are formed in laughter.

Are We Allowed to Laugh?

By Tim Cunningham, CWB-USA Volunteer


I was invited to participate in a very last minute and end-of-year capacity building project with our friends in Turkey who are on their way to forming a new chapter of Clowns Without Borders in Turkey– Sınır Tanımayan Palyaçolar. I arrived the night of December 30th to Güray’s neighborhood, which had not had electricity for two days because of heavy winds. He walked me through the quiet streets of Kadıköy, the ancient neighborhood just on the Asian side of Istanbul. The streets were not quiet only because there was no power—this was a Friday night, the night before New Year’s Eve and we were in the bar district—people had just not been going out. Güray’s friend’s met us at a candlelit bar, one of the few that were open and immediately began cracking jokes about bombings, terror attacks and how no one came to Turkey anymore to visit.

“So what’s wrong with you?” One asked me.

At some point during our second beer the power came back on, the bar came to life with light and sound, but still, not many other people came in that night.

The next day, Güray, Ecenur, Melike, and I met at his apartment to plan an afternoon show for a nearby hospital. Though strong performers, none of them had extensive experience working in hospitals. We planned and rehearsed for three hours and then, in costume, took a cab to the Siyami Ersek Hastanesi, a cardiac hospital. There we were first greeted by a cat that walked from the hospital lobby to rub up against my leg—for those of you who have not been to Istanbul, there are rumors that there are more cats than citizens here; and all cats, those domesticated and those living in the streets are treated like royalty. An anesthesia resident came down from the acute care unit and brought us upstairs for our show.

We had planned, well hoped, for a large room with space to run around and maybe even high ceilings do to some juggling. When are we allowed to laughWe got neither. We were brought into a small playroom with probably the capacity of about 20 people. It was not what we expected; it was perfect.

Children trickled in with parents, some in wheelchairs with central line IV’s coming out of their necks, a gray tone to their skin. One child had two surgical drains pulling bright red blood from his body. As a nurse, I took for granted that situation is “normal” for a cardiac care unit, however, for the other clowns, they had not seen anything quite like it before. A group of five or so mothers then came in with infants; they sat together, and though I doubt that their relatively newborn children will remember any of the show, the mothers laughed heartily throughout the experience.

We opened our show with some quiet music, and when one of the audience members, a child who was maybe five years old, took the stage and began to belly dance to the delight of the rest of the audience, we took that as permission to increase the volume and energy—the show was underway. We played for about 30 minutes, some magic, some juggling, different ways to present and highlight kids in the room and then the four of us split up in the room to give each child direct and undivided attention.

One child, who looked particularly sick, stood for most of the performance. She moved slowly perhaps because of her disease condition and also the multiple IV lines coming from her body, but she refused to sit while we played. She helped me juggle by tossing balls to me when I purposefully dropped them in front of her and she also instigated the disappearance of the magic handkerchief by blowing on the hand in which I had stuffed it (the handkerchief, after vanishing into thin air found its way to the 17-year-old patient in the back of the room and came out from under the collar of his shirt). She played boldly with us and left the room with a huge smile when the performance was over saying teşekkür (thank you).

After the show, the anesthesiologist who coordinated our visit escorted us to a couple of rooms to visit some kids who were unable to leave their beds; she told us along the way that this performance and time at the hospital was far more than what she could have imagined. Her surprise met our surprise when she then told us that the young girl who juggled with me was a patient that had been extremely depressed as of recent, so much so that the doctor did not think that the girl would even come to the show.

We work in a world of surprise, always as clowns and maybe almost always as humans.

That night Güray and I celebrated New Years with a few friends at a neighbor’s home. Just one hour and 15 minutes into 2017 we were met with another surprise, the mass shooting at a night club on the other side of the Bosphorus River from us. We were immediately on our phones texting friends and families, reading news reports, quiet and sad. Eyes wide at the news and hearts sunken low. We knew we were safe. Well, thought we were safe at least.

January 1st was somber except for a few jokes about terrorism. Too soon, I thought, but then reflecting on the fact that this country, since the horrid suicide attack in Suruç in July of 2015, has seen multiple acts of terrorism, I wondered if the threshold for jokes about the violence decreases each time an attack occurs.

When are we allowed to laughThe second part of this short project was offering clown workshops to Turkish clowns who had worked with CWB in the past or who were interested in volunteering for CWB in upcoming projects. We had a total of 15 participants, and for two days we explored character, status, clown choreography and our relationships to objects and playfulness. Though we were practicing and studying clown, the mood was frequently measured. A police car parked outside of the studio during the last few minutes of our workshop. It kept its sirens on and what sense of play was in the room was quickly transformed to an uneasiness until the vehicle slowly drove away.

There are fewer jobs available in Turkey now as the economy is weakening. There are even fewer jobs in the arts. There are drastic changes occurring in this place, many of which are a result of the attacks here and the artists are all feeling a new, uncertain squeeze. But we played hard, and we played well. We played as best we could. After the workshop, some of the artists commented that yes, they learned some new skills that they are happy to practice, but more importantly they laughed, themselves. Many said they had not laughed so well in a long time.

One artist thanked me for coming to Turkey. She said with all that is going on, people are not coming here any longer (she When are we allowed to laughdoesn’t blame them), but because of it, she expressed a sense of loneliness in this unpredictable place.

We at Clowns Without Borders support our artist friends and colleagues living throughout Turkey. We believe that everyone can laugh when the time is right. And as clowns, we recognize we cannot often predict when laughter will arise, but we strive to be ready to nourish and celebrate it when it does.

Leapin' Louie swings his lasso

18th Annual Portland Benefit for Clowns Without Borders

18th Annual Portland Clowns Without Borders Benefit Show


The area’s top variety and circus performers put on an amazing, hilarious, family-friendly show to support a great cause.

Friday, January 27th, 8:00 PM, doors at 7:00 pm.

Family friendly! Beer, wine, pop, and snacks available.

Alberta Rose Theatre, 3000 NE Alberta St.


$25 Advance, $35 At the door, $15 Kids (12 & under)
$50 Premium Seats (support CWB and sit in the front center section – advance only)


The Scoop:

Clowns have a bad rep these days, but it doesn’t get us down because we know some of the best clowns around! They are performers who can make can make children and adults alike, laugh out loud with few words and a handful props. Good clowns create beauty in a difficult world. For more than 20 years, Clowns Without Borders USA has sent circus and theater professionals to war zones, refugee camps and crisis areas all over the world. And for 18 years the Northwest’s best circus artists, physical comedians, and variety acts have been coming together annually to create a thrilling evening of comedy and circus to support Clowns Without Borders USA. This year’s CWB-USA Benefit Show is no exception, featuring the area’s top acts, with live music by the Shoehorn Hat Band. Last year’s show sold out in advance, so get your tickets now.

18th annual clowns without borders portland benefit show

Paulina Muñoz and Omri Geva come from separate backgrounds working with a variety of circuses and dance companies and have come together in the last year to create an aerial dance duo that displays extraordinary creativity and athleticism.

A Little Bit Off is the 16-time award-winning internationally touring physical theater company co-founded by Amica Hunter and David Cantor. The company devises original comedic shows and acts which combine elements of clowning,  juggling, puppetry, dance, slapstick, and acrobatics. Amica will be going on her first Clowns Without Borders project in Chiapas, Mexico between now and the show.

The incredible Patrick McGuire was a featured juggler for 10 years with Cirque du Soleil, and we are so lucky to have him.

Milagro Theatre will be performing an excerpt from their brand new production, El Payaso, an original play about Ben Linder, the Portland juggler/engineer who was murdered by US-sponsored Contra terrorists in 1987 while building a small hydroelectric dam in Nicaragua to bring electricity to a few mountain villages. El Payaso premieres Jan. 13th at Milagro.

The evening will be emceed by Australian physical comedian Emily Newton. Emily has toured her one-woman comedy shows across the nation. She has settled in Portland now and is one of the funniest people in this town.

Masterful Italian physical comedian Stefano Iaboni will perform his cutting edge silent comedy. Stefano tours the world with his clown duo The Beat Brothers.

Charlie Brown is the funniest of the thick pile of professional comedy jugglers in the Northwest. Former Karamazov Brother, former star in the Broadway hit Sugar Babies, and currently a semi-retired farmer in Damascus, Oregon, he is as funny as ever.

Cowboy Comedian Leapin’ Louie has made them laugh in 29 different countries around the world and is beloved18th annual clowns without borders portland benefit show here for his lasso spinning, whip cracking, and crazy comedy in The White Album Christmas. He spent much of November teaching physical theater to Syrian, Afghan, and Congolese refugees in Dallas, Texas with Clowns Without Borders USA. He’s been working with them for 18 years.

Alicia Cutaia will be performing aerial dance. She is co-founder and director of ARC In Movement and dancer with BodyVox.

Also Rose Festival Clown Prince Angel Ocasio, The A-WOL Aeros Youth Company, and actor/director Noah Veil.

The Evening is directed by Nomadic Theatre director Michael O’Neill

Live music by the Shoehorn Hat Band jazz trio. Michael “Shoehorn” Conley, makes music with his feet and dances with his horn. Utilizing saxophone, tap dance, wind instruments and percussion he plays original jazz and world beat music. Opening for Savion Glover in Russia or playing Jimmy Mak’s (god bless his soul) here in Portland, Shoehorn cooks it.

18th annual clowns without borders portland benefit showAbout CWB-USA in Portland:

All proceeds of this circus vaudeville extravaganza benefit Clowns Without Borders USA which sends professional performers to volunteer in areas of crisis around the world, to relieve stress and suffering through laughter and play. Portland artists David Lichtenstein, Sarah Liane Foster, Michael O’Neill, Morgan Goldberg, Amica Hunter, Heather Pearl, Noah Veil, and Curt Carlyle have performed and taught in dozens of projects in Haiti, South Sudan, Turkey, South Africa, Guatemala, Colombia, Chiapas, the Philippines, India, and more. CWB-USA has its office in New York and utilizes artists from all over the world but Portland, Oregon is perhaps our greatest center of both artists and fan support.

“CWB shows are a chance to have a family night of belly laughs that will help spread joy to children around the world.” Jeannie Zamarripa, 2016 Portland CWB Benefit audience member.

Chiapas 1998 - a clown and children

Coming Full Circle: Our 100th Project

It’s a watershed moment for Clowns Without Borders USA. Our first undertaking of 2017 is also our 100th project since our Rudi and young boy look at the red nose in Rudi's hand. celebrating our 100th projectorganizations’s founding in 1995! Therefore it is fitting that we are returning to Chiapas, Mexico, where it all began for CWB-USA. Founder Moshe Cohen began making trips to this magical part of the world to serve the people of Chiapas in CWB-USA’s nascent days.

chiapas, mexico. boy youth audience member spins a large ball on his finger. celebrating our 100th projectThe indigenous community residing in Chiapas were oppressed in poverty and brutalized by the government of the time because of the land on which they live. The region where they reside and have for hundreds of years, is rich in minerals, water, and crops such coffee and cacao, but the indigenous people are among poorest and most marginalized in Mexico. Chiapas is a jewel, but the people and region have been taken advantage of by power, politics, and trade agreements. The Zapatista Revolution began in 1994 and was the locals way of saying, ‘we want autonomy.’ They succeeded in becoming autonomous, but at significant cost.

Rudi Galindo, a long-time volunteer, professional clown, and colleague of founder Moshe Cohen, is leading the team returning Chiapas this January for CWB-USA’s 100th project. Rudi has been traveling to share levity and moments joyful play, every year for nearly two decades. He is compelled to return and give the gift of laughter and to keep a promise.

Many years ago, on a trip to Chiapas, Rudi and another volunteer, David Lichtenstein, went to a displacement camp for the indigenous people seeking escape from recent massacres at the hands of the military. It was a wet and cold January. Thick mud coated the land. Rudi and David kept falling in the muck and mire as they performed for the audience in the displacement camp. Afterward, at the show’s end, they took their noses off and collected props preparing to exit. A hyper-emotional woman came up to Rudi and spoke rapidly to him in the indigenous language. She was anxious and animated, and Rudi called for someone to translate. What the woman said impressed upon his soul forever. She exclaimed, “I’m frightened that you’re going to leave. I feel so much safer when you are here! Because everyone is laughing and at peace, so we all forgot to be afraid. Please, do not go!” It was tearful for everyone, Rudi and David included.Andres holds up a toddler boy at a late 1980s performance in Chiapas. Celebrating our 100th project

Rudi was so moved that he vowed to come back, and return he has, every year since 1995.

The Zapatista Revolution is quiet now, and while it may not be over, the guns are no longer pointed, and the people of Chiapas have found a new normal. In their autonomy, they work hard to administer government and services. They have taken the concept of education and applied it on a larger scale–both for children and adults. Human rights for all is the cornerstone of their governance. They govern by respecting the earth, each other, the woman and the child. This remarkable place is unique, and if you travel there, it seems as if you’ve left Mexico and entered a different world. It’s a place where the people look noticeably different from Mexicans and where their mannerisms, language, and culture distinguish them as indigenous. It is a place where Rudi is forever connected to the people.

Chiapas_2015_Morgan. celebrating our 100th projectWe encourage you to ally with the people of Chiapas, too. You can follow our milestone project updates, photos, and videos on our social media pages and explore with the clowns. Visit our page about Mexico to delve into the library of information about our past work in Chiapas.

Thank you for your continued support! Make a gift and help fund the team traveling to Chiapas. Share this blog!

clown shoes

How Clowns, Police, and Abraham Lincoln Intersect Social Reform

By Guest Blogger Nadiya Atkinson


The conventional image of clowns is in the Big Top circus, wearing bright clothing and entertaining the crowd. Across the history of circus, clowns have had the central role in bringing fun and humor into the dangerous stunt shows. However, clowns have not only impacted the evolution of circus into the beloved art that it is today. Some have influenced society as well, from politics to social reform.

Antanas Mockus
Antanas Mockus

Antanas Mockus was the mayor of the Bogotá, Colombia, for two terms. He is highly educated with a focus in mathematics and philosophy. During his two, two-year terms, he introduced innovative policy measures in Bogota, from voluntary taxes to cutting water usage by 40 percent solely through public education. However, he is most known for his popular initiative of replacing part of the police force with 420 mimes. Patrolling intersections, the mimes would embarrass pedestrians and drivers who broke the law, imitating their movements or loudly denouncing them with flamboyant hand gestures. Within the first month, drivers began to respect crosswalks, with pedestrians adhering to laws as well. Clowning does not only inspire laughter–it can inspire social change as well.

Clown in Bogota teaches drivers and pedestrians the safety laws of the streets.
Clown in Bogota teaches drivers and pedestrians the safety laws of the streets.

Abraham Lincoln is well known across the world, inspiring books and movies, and is considered one of the greatest U.S Presidents in history. However, not many (except for circus nerds) know of Dan Rice, one of the household names during Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. Rice combined circus and humor with political commentary, and was incredibly popular, coining the sayings, “one horse show” and “greatest show,” and inspired the phrase “to jump on the bandwagon,” after asking Zachary Taylor to campaign from the top of the circus bandwagon.

Dan Rice
Dan Rice

Living during the Civil War, Rice spoke to his audience, at first reprimanding Lincoln for engaging in the war, but eventually agreeing with the president, stating in a speech to his audience that African Americans “are God’s creatures, and shouldn’t belong to Jeff Davis, or any other man.” Rice ran for Senate, Congress, and President of the United States, albeit dropping out of the races. Mark Twain paid homage to him in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in the description of a circus scene, and Walt Whitman praised him in the local newspapers. He was one of the models for the beloved Uncle Sam, with his well-known goatee. By utilizing circus as a stage, Rice was able to reach a broad audience, creating a new form of theater and circus with anecdotes, witticisms, the circus arts, and political commentary.

Clowns Without Borders USA recognizes the powerful influence that clowning can have on improving the world. Although clowns are performers, through performance, the arts can create positive change in society. CWB-USA realizes the importance of theatrics and the business of play, embarking on a mission to spread laughter in areas that need it most, bettering the lives of kids and communities. And we could not make our trips without support from the community. Please consider donating to continue our goal of creating resilience in laughter.

Lesvos; children in camp

Clowns, Standing Rock, and Tribal Connections

Demonstrators at Standing Rock have been protesting against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota since early April of this year. The numbers of protesters and police at Standing Rock have grown substantially, as have tensions and arrests. Frigid temperatures and snow have also arrived in full, adding a new level of complexity to the intense situation.

In September, the Standing Rock Sioux tribe held a rally of 500+ people to get the attention of the White House, which, combined with the well-organized protest and media coverage, may have helped. On Sunday, Federal officials announced they would not approve permits for construction of the pipeline in an area near scared burial rights and which would go underneath a dammed portion of the Missouri River. Furthermore, the Army Corps of Engineers said it would explore alternative routes for the pipeline by use of an Environmental Impact Statement. The following day, they denied a permit for construction of a critical section of the pipeline. Protesters, or “protectors” as some call themselves, had been ordered to leave their camp as of December 5. With the Army Corps of Engineer’s decision to deny the final easement to drill under the river, and DAPLs statement of intent to continue forward undeterred, and it will be interesting to see how this story unfolds.

Several professional performers who also volunteer with Clowns Without Borders trekked out to Standing Rock and joined other demonstrators in solidarity. All went for various personal reasons, but their reports back to us indicate that the atmosphere of the protesters is one of fellowship and unity. One clown has this to say about the experience in North Dakota:

Joining the water protectors at Standing Rock was a powerful, informative, and inspiring experience. The indigenous protectors accept others lovingly to come, pray, share, and be present. It is not a ‘protest’ but a mass protection of the water source and a mass prayer ceremony. I was put to use; chopping wood for the sacred fire, and was happy to put my heart and body into helping in such a practice. The courage and spirit of the protectors are exemplified in everything happening around the camp.

Historically, clowns have been a traditional part of indigenous peoples lives and held important roles within tribes. Clowns and their performances during ceremonies and religious events were officially sanctioned by the culture. The humor used was often therapeutic in that they helped people make light of taboo and sensitive subjects. In some cases, the clown helped “discipline” societal rule-breakers by publically embarrassing them and shame their wrong-doings. They were “delight makers” and entertaining, a trait that is common in all tribes or clown societies. Given the shared history of clowns and indigenous people, we are proud of the volunteers who joined at Standing Rock and reprised this role, albeit in a modern form, to alleviate for a short time, the discomforts felt by the people who stayed to protest the Dakota Pipeline.


Towsen, J. (1976). Clowns. Hawthorn Books, Inc., New York.

Make Laughter Abundant for All on Giving Tuesday

The burdens of dealing with tragedy don’t always leave room for humor. When hardship is prolonged, we may not even realize that we lost the sense of joy, the desire for wonder, or the freedom to play. In places where many resources are scarce, Clowns Without Borders works to make laughter abundant. We hope you will take action and support this work.

Gabi Winters recently volunteered for Project Kenya 2016, where she worked in the extreme environment of the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Camp population is closing in on 200,000 people, and more than half are minors. The camp residents are two clowns double summersault at kakuma refugee campin a constant state of survival and uncertainty about their futures. Moments of laughter are scarce.

Gabi learned very quickly that her interactions needed to make the audience feel safe. She built trust through affection and attentiveness, using every opportunity to connect with those around her. Through small moments of connections, and by keeping an open mind and an open heart, we see a great transformation.

Clowns Without Borders frequently travels great distances to reach those in crisis. At its core, our work is to create small moments of laughter. I invite you to do the same. Take laughter with you.

The world is changing. We can shape how it evolves. We can encourage curiosity, compassion, and courage. We can amplify kindness so that the disenfranchised are laughing children enjoy the clown performance at kakuma refugee campgiven a voice. Take laughter with you, and take a moment to share laughter with others.

Join us now and support our mission. A small gift helps us share laughter with those in crisis; who are displaced and without a home. Laughter takes no space in a suitcase and can bind us together through times of struggle.

Read more stories about how our volunteers take laughter with them HERE.

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clown tools

Clown Spotting

By Tamara Palmer & Selena McMahon


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

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

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

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

So what are the origins of the fear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Poem for Clowns Without Borders

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

clowns performing on lesvos

Where We Belong

By Jemima Evans

CWB USA Guest Blogger


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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