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Clowns Without Borders USA Condemns Creepy Clown Pranks

Dear Reader,

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

 

Clowns Without Borders USA Condemns Creepy Clown Pranks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

shoulder stand

Top Clown Schools in the U.S.

This blog is a resource for those who dream about clowning. We’ve listed some of the top clown schools in the U.S. If you’ve been considering seeking formal training we hope that these schools might inspire you. We receive many inquiries from talented, aspiring volunteers who don’t have a background in circus or clown, but are eager to get involved. It’s wonderful to hear from so many passionate people interested in learning more about the art of clown. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and we’re not experts about all of the wonderful physical theatre schools in the U.S. If you attended or know of a first-class program that you’d like us to share, leave us a comment on this blog.

 

Dell’Arte International

DellArteInternational logo. Clown schoolLocated in rural Blue Lake, California is Dell’Arte International, a school for theatre training, research, and performance of the actor-creator. Its School of Physical Theater teaches actors to develop their use of physical spaces, gestures, and movements and approach stage performance as poetic expression. Students are guided by instruction while continuously exploring and producing creative works. Physical theatre education is the core of Dell’Arte academic programming. It offers a professional training program, Master of Fine Arts advanced ensemble program, a summer intensive, and a study abroad to Bali.

Dell’Arte was founded in 1971 by Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Jane Hill who wanted to share the European traditions of physical theater training with North American artists and performers. The school is an internationally recognized institution. It is replete with studios, gymnastics/acro classrooms, mask construction area, costume shop, theatre, amphitheater, sound and video systems, as well as outdoor wilderness space along the Northern Coast of California. Of course, a school such as this would not be complete without a Big Top Tent.

Whether you are a clown or performer who wants to take her skills to the next level, or if a three-year Masters of Fine Arts program is more your style, we recommend you consider Dell’Arte International. Tuition and scholarship opportunities are on their website. Many Dell’Arte graduates populate the Clowns Without Borders volunteer roster, and we are proud to work with all of them. http://dellarte.com

 

Center for Movement Theatre with Dody Disanto

CenterforMovementTheatrewithDodyDisanto logo. Clown SchoolSituated in Washington D.C. is The Center for Movement Theatre taught by Dody Disanto. The Center is a gorgeous and large building that is a work space for practitioners, teachers, and trainers who are independent consultants operating from the facility. Dody Disanto teaches Movement Theatre classes. The classes offered are well balanced among 6-day summer intensives, clown weekends, and 12-session comprehensives.

The Center is complete with gym, natural light-filled studio, and treatment rooms. Dody Disanto instructs students in her physical approach to acting based on the work of the late Jacques Lecoq. Ms. Disanto was a protege of Jacques Lecoq and trained under him in Paris. At the core of this style of theatre is the use of Neutral Masks.

To best understand Neutral Mask work, we recommend you sign up for a course. However, for the sake of this blog we offer a cursory explanation. The stage is a space for actors to move within. Physical theatre training compels a student to learn the space – how use it and her body gestures to communicate with maximum clarity and intention for the audience. There is no “right” way to move, according to Lecoq. Rather, the student creatively expands her expressions and dynamic actions, progressively evolving her skills.

Students wear the Neutral Mask during training. As soon as a pupil dons the mask, they must be at the “ready” in the words of Dody Disanto. Ready to play, create, and broaden the physical senses. Jacques Lecoq’s Neutral Masks gradually become smaller in size, the more refined one’s theatre skills become. Eventually, the actor wears only a clown nose. Check out The Center for Movement Theatre’s website for more details.

 

Celebration Barn Theater

CelebrationBarn logo. Clown SchoolThe immersive theater is the playhouse style of The Celebration Barn located in rural Maine. Here students arrive to create original works and set inside a beautifully restored horse barn. Come here and come prepared to play! Participants receive quality instruction from talented teachers and exposure to other exceptional actors. Workshops and residencies focus on collaboration and pushing the artist’s creative exploration to the edge.

The nature of the workshops vary. Polish your performance at a retreat with Robert Post; try something new with Intro to Eccentric Performing; dive deep into Buffon and the Ecstasy of Mocking; trigger your imagination with Spymonkey’s Creating Clown Material. The Celebration Barn also hold shows on its grounds and features a traveling comedy play.

Is the setting important to theater training? If you are inclined to say, ‘yes’ to that question, you may want to investigate the Celebration Barn. It’s located not too far from several primary east coast cities and sits in idyllic western Maine. www.celebrationbarn.com

 

Pig Iron

PigIron logo. Clown School“Founded in 1995 as an interdisciplinary ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Company is dedicated to the creation of new and exuberant performance works that defy easy categorization.” The previous sentence, borrowed straight from the Pig Iron website, is the perfect summation of who they are and what they do. Pig Iron is an award-winning Philadelphia-based theatre company which is best known for its experimental theater. The company has been touring with their unconventional in-house productions since 2004.

Pig Iron education focuses on performance acting with full-impact creativity. Their programs consist of a three-week summer session, workshops, and residencies, as well as leadership programs catering to the business professional. Where exactly does the clown fit into all of this? The June summer intensive is where students explore play and how to initiate an immediate connection with the audience, with the red clown nose to guide them.

The fall of 2015 marked the beginning of Pig Iron’s new MFA and Certificate programs in Devised Performance, offered in partnership with the University of the Arts, Ira Brind School of Theater Arts. Learn more about how this partnership creates new theatrical innovations while perusing the unique photography displayed at the Pig Iron website. https://www.pigiron.org

 

Circus Center

CircusCenter logo. Clown SchoolThe physical aspect of clowning sometimes relies on technical skills, such as those based in the circus arts. Circus Center is a renowned school offering courses in flying trapeze, aerials, acrobatics, stretching and conditioning, trampoline, and juggling. These are the Center’s primary programs. Find and read more about their extensive list of classes – level and age specific – by visiting Circus Center’s website.

The heritage of Circus Center is rooted in the Pickle Family Circus of San Francisco, whose work some have credited as a key factor in the renewal of the American circus. The Pickle Family Circus took a new approach to the circus. They moved the ring outdoors; the focus of their acts was positive in nature, with character-based clowns who created humorous moments by their supposed inability to complete the simplest actions. The rest of the story for you to discover, because this article is about clown schools in the U.S., not the history of the American circus.

Circus Center welcomes all skill levels and trains to match each person’s needs. We appreciate their extensive selection of youth programs. Children as little as five-years-old can begin playing and learning useful and beneficial circus skills.

For those seeking specialized clown cultivation, Circus Center also runs the Clown Conservatory. It is a 24-week full-time program complete with stage work, humanities-based readings, and master classes in a variety of disciplines. Additionally, Clown Conservatory has a professional performing company and outreach program. http://circuscenter.org

Think another program should be on the ‘top clown schools’ list? Leave a comment and let us know!

fence

Theatre of the Heart

When you love something, anything; people sense it. Love takes many forms. Rudi Galindo, clown, professional performer, and a Clowns Without Borders (CWB) volunteer since day one, is so full of love that it exudes from his wide, bright smile and fills the room. He found his passion long ago and it’s been filling him with love ever since. It is his devotion to theatre and the enduring connections he creates with audiences.

Rudi has always had an ability to impact the audience. During performances, he aims for the audience’s hearts, then their ‘funny bones,’ and then their intellects. He is interested in exciting people by evoking emotions that sometimes lay latent. He calls it, “Theatre of the Heart.” Theatre of the Heart turns the traditional concept of performance on its head. To be theatrical is to put on a show, sometimes a fiction. But Rudi’s style of creativity invites the audience to be anything but fake. Whether the show makes you laugh, cry, or feel tenderness, the idea is to draw out the true senses of the heart and allow for a protective space to let those emotions be expressed without repercussion. When the community around you is experiencing and expressing at the same time, well, these moments become meaningful and striking.

Rudi’s style of creative theatre has traveled with him as he has performed all over the United States, Europe, and Central America. His love for theatre and honest kinship with viewers endears him to the audiences of Clowns Without Borders projects. Rudi has communed in laughter with many, many people served by Clowns Without Borders. He has been volunteering since the mid-1990’s, working with Moshe Cohen in the initial days of CWB USA’s founding.Rudi and young boy look at the red nose in Rudi's hand. theatre of the heart

 

In fact, Rudi is the owner of the ‘paper bag trick,’ a sleight of hand gag now used by all Clowns Without Borders chapters. During this trick, a volunteer audience member joins the clown on stage. The clown leads the volunteer through a fun, light-hearted improvisation session with a paper bag that is empty. But at the end of the gag, when the volunteer finally gets the bag, she finds there is a red nose inside and she has magically made it appear. She gets to keep the nose, but more importantly, she gets to keep the metaphor: Something that was imagined is now concrete.

Rudi Galindo has a special place in the historical records of CWB USA. He is a volunteer, board member, professional performer, educator, trainer of new CWB USA volunteers, trick-creator, and humanitarian. There is one location that will certainly stay anchored to Rudi’s heart forever – Turkey.

It was 2015, just after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Rudi was headed to Turkey for a Clowns Without Borders project to bring joy to refugee camps. Violent uprisings across Turkey had made many places unsafe for the clowns. Everything was eerie and unsettled.

Undaunted, Rudi and the team made their way through Turkey towards the Syrian border, visiting as many places as possible. They stopped in Suruc, at the Amara Culture Center where a suicide bomber had recently unleashed terror at the local community center, killing 32 and injuring dozens of people. On July 20, 2015, an organized group of young people went to Suruç to deliver toys for kids at the nearby refugee camp. On that day, they were planning to make a statement to the press and hand in the toys to the kids via representatives. But, during the statement to the press at the garden of Amara Culture Center, the bombing took place.

Many friends of the Turkish artists were slain by the bomber; murdered for helping others.

A stage is nearby. The stage is riddled with jagged shrapnel holes and splintered wood. It was here that Rudi said the team would perform, because, as he put it, “We are going to make this stage a place where joy, laughter, and art belong again.” Everyone was impassioned, and the whole performance was an emotional adventure. It brought forth a cathartic combination of tears, laughter, and an understanding that the locals were taking back ownership and control of their community.

At the end of the show, Rudi gave the audience a message with tears in his eyes. His words embody the motivation behind the work of Clowns Without Borders. “The reason we are here is because we care about you. We play because we want you to feel better. You are not forgotten, you are in our hearts.”

Learn more about Rudi’s many projects and Clowns Without Borders by visiting www.clownswithoutborders.org/projects/. Please make a gift and help support the sharing of #ResilienceInLaughter at www.clownswithoutborders.org/donate/.

South Sudan 2014

Laughter Transforms Discrimination

By Nadiya Atkinson

Clowns Without Borders USA Guest Blogger

 

Language surrounds us. Contemporary rhetoric is constantly utilized, from conversations to the media, to debates, to institutions, to water-cooler chats, to political discourse, and to novels. It is a necessary part of our society, as society progresses through the diversity of opinions on topics. It allows individuals to hear multiple sides to one issue and change public opinion on others. However, recent studies, (http://nber.org/papers/w22423), have portrayed rising polarization in political rhetoric in the past few decades. Some persuasive rhetoric often champions social divisions or violence against certain minorities and populations. Such language affects not only adults, but children as well, who hear the opinions of their parents, teachers, classmates, media, etc., and base their actions off of what they hear.

An infamous experiment was made in 1968 by Jane Elliot, a third-grade school teacher in Riceville, Iowa, in which she separated the class based on eye color – blue or brown – and proceeded to tell the students that one eye color was better, and demeaned those who had the alternate eye color. The students quickly caught on and began to discriminate against the students who didn’t have their eye color, regardless if they had previously been friends. Learning materials and more about the experiments are located at http://janeelliott.com.

Children are extremely sensitive and open, as they learn by examples given to them by adults. If social behavior promotes the inferiority of some individuals, kids will learn that those people are inferior, regardless of whether it is true or not. If society portrays minority groups as inhuman and violent, kids will learn that these groups are dangerous and less-than.

Every single person is racist. Every person is biased. These are not placements of blame, or guilt, but simply the consequence of living as humans in our society. It is a natural instinct to make preconceived opinions on outward appearance and differences because survival is based on making split-second decisions on whether something is safe or not. As much as I would like to believe that I am not, I too am racist. I, like everyone else immediately conclude a person’s trustworthiness the moment I see her, without allowing her to pronounce a word.

However, our humanity comes from the ability to assess and change those split-second formulations of an entire person’s identity solely based on their appearance and cultural background. And language, the words we write, say, or hear, is easy enough to change merely by processing it before speaking it. We can encourage this awareness in young people. The rhetoric of hate, fear, and lack of understanding can and must be changed to one of compassion, love, and respect. It is vital that kids do not learn the prejudices of the previous generations.

What is the best way to dispel false notions of people and allow for a more open, interconnected society? Laughter. Clowns Without Borders is always utilizing laughter to create more interconnected, healthy, and positive experiences for groups in underprivileged parts of the world. If we play together, we can do many things together. If you need a bit scientific evidence for the multitude of benefits that laughter gives, I recommend starting here:
http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/give-your-body-boost-with-laughterboy stands proudly on red-nosed clown shoulders. laughter transforms discrimination

Even as Clowns Without Borders offers programs far away from home, we see that the United States is undergoing significant tension and unrest itself. It is for this reason that we have created ‘Take Laughter With You’ a cross-cultural teaching resource, and made easier with play. Click here to learn more.

Children need to have the opportunity to inherit respect and understanding for other cultures, as well as the ability to understand that despite social constructs, little separates us as individuals. The most human way for kids to accept this is what kids do the best: Play and laugh.

Laughter has a language. It is a vocabulary of compassion, humor, and joy, and is understood and shared by every single individual across the world. It does not discriminate between color, culture, political parties, or social standing. It is universal.

 

Photo credit: Lindsey Cooper

Illustration of clown on unicycle

Look Away From Fear and Towards Education

By Molly Rose Levine

 

As someone with friends and colleagues scattered around the world, the fallout of violence and disruption hits close to home, no matter where that happens to be: Juba; Beirut; Nice; Baghdad; Athens; Aleppo; Paris. After the attack on the Istanbul airport last month, my heart clenched in my throat as I waited to hear if any community member had been traveling through the airport. I breathed a sigh of relief: another tragedy dodged. Little did I know that a few weeks later we would still be changing plans to accommodate violence in the region.

South Sudan had been experiencing a period of peace since a treaty signed in August 2015, but unfortunately experienced violent clashes at the beginning of July. Together with our partners at INTERSOS and Save the Children Juba, we made the call to postpone our project. Without a safety/evacuation plan from our partners and support from the Consulate, we will not send our artists into active conflict areas. In the end, we could not assure the safety of our team in the event of increasing clashes. This decision was difficult after so much time and energy was put into the project. I wrote a blog which explains more about the situation in South Sudan. Read it here.

Three days before our artistic team planned to travel to Turkey; the failed military coup happened. We waited for the aftermath, hoping against hope that in three days the situation would be stable. By the time we needed to make the call, we did not have enough information to move forward, and so we grounded the US artists. Our artists understood and were grateful for our thought and consideration – they felt we were making the right call.

The silver lining? Our Turkish counterparts continued with the program! Professional clowns artists in Turkey performed for 5,000 children in 19 shows, across ten cities and refugee camps. Even in the midst of turmoil, they still made an impact and shared laughter with the communities who need it more than ever. The program continuing with our Turkish counterparts was the ray of sunlight in the dark cloud of disappointment.

Like our colleagues in Turkey, we know that there are people in crisis right here in our country. Since 1975, Americans have welcomed over 3 million refugees from all over the world. Refugees have built new lives, homes, and communities in towns and cities in all 50 states.  And yet, we are now finding ourselves in a climate of extreme fear and xenophobia, despite 30 years of welcoming refugees. As violent disruption continues to increase steadily around the world, we feel called to do more here at home. We want to have more impact by sharing the twenty years of organizational knowledge about listening; empathizing; communicating cross-culturally; and processing trauma with laughter and play.

The world is changing. In a world where violence, conflict, and disruption seem to be all around us, what can we do? How can we be agile? How can we do our beneficial work where it helps the most?

This fall Clowns Without Borders USA is launching an Education Program called, Take Laughter With You. This program will be age appropriate learning on topics including human displacement, cross-cultural understanding, listening and empathy building – all wrapped up in a healthy dose of PLAY. We are growing this program from the roots of a similar and successful initiative created by Clowns Without Borders Sweden. We feel a sense of urgency to bring this program to fruition, so we’re excited to be prototyping in real time, learning as we go, and actively reacting to feedback from communities we work with – just like we do in all of our programs.  

If you’re interested, you can help in this first phase by filling out this quick survey! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XWB7LNW

We are so excited to see how we can grow and learn together! Will you join us?

Take Laughter With You

New Education Program: Take Laughter With You

By Naomi Shafer

 

What do Albany, NY, Dallas, TX, Burlington, VT, and Boise, ID all have in common? Craft Beer? Bears? Nope (well, maybe): Each is a designated Refugee Resettlement City.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is a result of The Refugee Act of 1980, a piece of legislation that sought to standardize resettlement programs for all refugees admitted to the United States. Though certain states have specialized services for refugees, in each county, and possibly each classroom in the United States, there are refugees, children of refugees, grandchildren of refugees, and great-grandchildren of refugees.

This past year, “refugee resettlement” has become an explosive topic, too often one colored by xenophobia and fear. While many Americans trace their lineage back to their ancestors’ home countries – countries frequently fled due to famine and violence – Nationalism seems to trump empathy in the current discussion of refugees. The United States is traditionally thought of as a melting pot, a country for the homeless, but our borders are tightening. Those borders are not only at Customs control but also in our minds.

Clowns Without Borders is launching a domestic education program, called “Take Laughter With You.” The message is simple: Wherever you go, Take Laughter With You. We cannot fly to Turkey or South Sudan. We lack the security clearance to return to the Moria camp in Lesvos. We can make a change at home. We can work with children in the United States, just like we work with children in refugee camps, to build community and start cross-cultural conversations.

We see young people as powerful change agents. On our international projects, it is often children who approach artists first. It is the children who initiate play and transform the refugee camps, replacing isolation with collaboration. We believe the same can be true in the United States.Clown with checkered pants play in school court yard w children. Education.

We do not need airplane tickets to inspire resilience in laughter. We only need schools, youth groups, and communities to invite us in. We are prototyping this project in real time, refining as we go. We are already building relationships with educators and community leaders. We want our program to be agile, relevant, and immediate. That means, when you invite us, we will come!

  • Are you an educator or a parent who wants to be involved as a consultant?
  • Are you an educator or a parent who wants to invite us to your school or club?
  • Do you have ideas about how to teach children empathy for refugees?

If you answered yes to any of these questions – fill out this survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/XWB7LNW

 

Now is the time for positive change. Now is the time to protect all children’s futures. Will you join us?

Visit our Resources page to get a glimpse of the “Take Laughter With You” prototype.

Learn more about the Office of Refugee Resettlement: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/about

 

 

 

Burma 2009 dave's feet

A Case for Clowns: Ebola

A Case for the Clowns: Ebola

Why Clowns Without Borders Works

 

By Tim Cunningham

 

Tortell pirouettes quickly and the microphone swings around behind him; it has a life of its own. The centrifugal force of the windscreen pulls the instrument around his arms and legs, making his clown blazer flop poetic in the wind. The crowd’s eyes are wide with surprise when he catches the mic just before it hits him in the face—Tortell’s eyes matching the eyes of the 100 children and families in the audience. His relief, their laughter.

He has just spent the first 10 minutes of the show warming up the audience, a master street artist who draws the crowd in as he sets the stage. It is more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, pushing 105 even. The audience and clowns from Spain stand in the shadow of a two-story colonial building with stone archways and wooden doors. Its tile portico is cool to the bare feet of some of the audience, the West African designs deflect the heat of the pounding sun. It is about three in the afternoon, Tortell and his clowns have already performed two shows in Freetown and now they are presenting their final show of the day before heading further east.

This is the first day of Clowns Without Borders shows in Sierra Leone since the Ebola epidemic began in late 2013. It is now early 2015, February. This is also the first Clowns Without Borders show that I have ever seen as an audience member. This is the first time I’ve seen healthy children and families play, dance and be together since I had arrived in Sierra Leone eight weeks prior.

Once Tortell regained control of his rogue microphone he announced the opening of the show—acrobats and movement artists entreated the audience to a spectacle that consisted of partner juggling while standing on the ground and on shoulders. The performers danced with fantastic and impossible objects—a giant fabric butterfly and streamers. All the while Tortell interjected the finessed scenes with mischievous intrigue, he tried (and always failed) to recreate what the movement artists had just performed, he filled the space with magic tricks winning over the audience with his glorious, comedic bungles.

I stuck out as an audience member, the only white person in the crowd. And though I tried to stand back from the front row, away from children and among the adults, parents turned to me and asked me when I would go and join the clowns.

“I’m not in the show.”

“Yes, but you must be.” An audience member grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the stage.

I froze, not playfully, but with a sense of deep, reactionary discomfort.

“No no, I am not in the show. They are my friends there, I know them, but I am not in the show.”

I had not been touched for almost nine weeks, by a stranger, that is. We were not supposed to.

The government of Sierra Leone had set a national edict—ABC: Avoid Body Contact. When the woman from the audience touched my arm and I felt a surge of adrenaline, then fear. It was fight or flight. I was breaking the rules; they had been broken on me. I felt like, for a fleeting moment, a victim. Had I been contaminated?

The woman then laughed out loud, seeing my awkward reaction to her touch “OK, but I think you are a clown too! Look at them, they are so amazing!”

Another man near us noticed our commotion and he then held my hand as he explained to me why Tortell’s magic plastic bag bit was so funny. He described in detail how he thought the magic trick was happening, and having done the gag before myself, I can say that he was mostly correct.

“But look at the children!  Look at them! They love this so much!” Another man chimed in.

Clown balances on a standing suitcase before a large crowd of children. A case for clowns, ebola.

Around us, scrambling to the top of adults’ shoulders were kids who clambered to get closer to the clowns. Their laughter was silenced to a vibrant, low chatter only when the clowns presented movement pieces of silks flying through the air and then thunder released again when Tortell entered and tripped over a brick on the rough strewn road. Like waves of the ocean, their laughter came and went. Laughter like this, according to the host who welcomed the clowns from a small German NGO, had not been heard for some time.

I came to Sierra Leone, like hundreds of others, to work as a nurse. From 2013-2016 the Ebola epidemic, first in Guinea, then Liberia and Sierra Leone took the lives of more than 11,000 people. Children (under the age of five) who were infected had a 20% chance of survival when the disease prevalence was near its peak. As a pediatric nurse, I still find it hard to describe the heartbreak of losing eight out of every ten pediatric patients we treated with Ebola. The rate of survival for older children increased with their age, as did fear; as did depression; and as did withdrawal from play and community.

The unfathomable psychological destruction of the Ebola crisis reared its ugly head every day to those of us who worked in the “hot zone,” constantly desperate for supplies, more human power and for a cure. Children who survived the disease appeared frightened to leave our treatment units and return home—we learned very quickly that community members were often not welcomed home after surviving Ebola because of stigma born of fear and misunderstanding the nature of the contagion. People separated themselves from others, people were afraid to interact like before, people were judged and communities fractured. Children no longer played.

Towards the end of the clown show, one of the acrobats found a red, triangular flag and showed it to the audience, which had doubled in size and by now had formed a complete circle around the artists. The clown waved the flag proudly in the air. Tortell snatched it, then invited an audience member to come to the stage. A grown man stepped forward much to the pleasure of the audience. The clowns made the red flag disappear, then appear again from places like the man’s ear or from inside of his shirt. Then a clown made the cloth disappear and reached into Tortell’s waistband to retrieve it. Instead of the cloth coming forth, a long strip of plastic, red and white caution tape, like that used at the site of a crime scene appeared as the clown ran from Tortell revealing its full length. The tape had red and white vertical stripes—the same tape used throughout Sierra Leone to quarantine homes with people suspected of having Ebola. The clowns ran around the audience member with the tape and they all became entangled in a picturesque finale for that bit. The audience, especially the man they volunteered were beside themselves with laughter. A man near me, who still did not believe that I was not in the show held my arm and leaned against me for a better view. For a moment, we were all limitless in our laughter.

I looked through the audience and for the first time since I had arrived in Sierra Leone, there was not a face that showed fear.  People were not stymied to stand with each other and accompany each other in playfulness. Everyone was together. Everyone looked normal.

War, poverty, and disease trigger the worst of humanity. They create a “new normal” of suffering, stigma, and division. What the clowns did on this excruciatingly hot day was provide a platform whereby normalcy reigned again. The laughter broke the hold of stigma—even if it was just for a moment—and through the ridiculousness of the clowns, people saw each other not through the lens of disease but through that of a common humanity.

 

Please read Tim’s original blog post here.

flag of south sudan

South Sudan Dares To Live

By Molly Rose Levine

 

Yesterday was a sad day.

I woke up to an email that I never want to get. Our partners in South Sudan letting us know that the situation in Juba has devolved violently. Our partners are on lockdown, travel blocks are in place for most travel to South Sudan, and some aid organizations are evacuating their staff. INTERSOS and Save the Children Juba can no longer guarantee a safety and evacuation plan for our artists, and it is not advisable that we plan on sharing programming in the next few weeks. Even if the situation calms down, it can change again in an instant. It’s a risk that we take when working in active conflict zones. When we confirm a project, we work under the assumption that that’s not going to happen- but this time, the assumption became reality.

South Sudan is only five years old. South Sudan officially voted to leave Sudan in 2011, and the current conflicts are a piece of a civil war that has been a conflict on some level since 2013. It is between the Government of South Sudan, led by President Salva Kiir, and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition, led by former Vice President Riek Machar. It is also an ethnic war, between the Dinka people and the Nuer people. This racial tension spills over into civilian casualties as well and is a significant driving factor of internal displacement. There was a peace agreement in August of 2015 that brought high hopes for many, and the clashes this month are something that many hoped would not come to pass. This is an extremely simplified overview of the background, and it is worth diving in to learn more about this conflict and how it affects the children and families of South Sudan. You can start here, here, and here.

With a heavy heart, we notified the artistic team around the world, in Brazil, Russia, and Colorado, that we would be postponing the project. Spent the time on hold with the airlines to cancel tickets and file insurance claims. Sent messages of support to our friends in South Sudan. So much time, energy and enthusiasm screeching to a halt, barred by violence that none of us have any control over. Each artist, upon hearing the news, shared sadness and grief at the worrisome turn the country has taken, and in the same breath re-dedicated themselves to our work: “I’m here when it’s time. I’m ready for the project. When it’s safe, we’re ready to go.”

And there’s a reason that even as we cancel flights, wait for VISAS we now can’t use, and move on with our lives, that we still wait with bated breath for the moment when it’s once again safe enough to send in the clowns.

That reason is our audience.

Sarah liane foster helps a youth stand on her shoulders. Water in the background. As fighting broke out in Juba, hundreds of civilians fled to the UN compound to seek protection. There are already more than 1.6 million people in Juba who are internally displaced due to the conflict. And just as we now cannot come, they cannot leave. Even as we postpone our program, our audiences are there, trapped in an environment of conflict, and now we cannot be with them.

Yet, the resilience in laughter is present even when we are not. The children and families living through this civil war show incredible resilience every day. They dare to live, every day. When the moment comes when we can create a performance, or tour a juggling workshop, these strong people are going to be there, ready to laugh and build community with us, in spite of unthinkable circumstances.

When that moment comes, we will be ready for them, with noses, horns, bubbles, and belly laughs, to celebrate how much these people matter. Even in an active crisis, in the midst of a civil war, in the midst of a violent conflict, the children, and families who are living in South Sudan matter. They are valuable and human – as human as any of us. They did not ask to be a part of this war. They deserve moments of laughter and levity. They deserve moments of stress relief. They deserve the basic right to safety. And we will hold them in our hearts until we can tell them that in person.

clown performs in refugee camp in jordan

Social Circus

By Nadiya Atkinson

Clowns Without Borders USA Guest Blogger

 

Grinning from ear to ear, the two children attempt to balance one plate on their individual sticks. Not an easy feat for anyone, let alone two kids from an impoverished area in Nicaragua. The pair works together and manages to stabilize the plate, smiles lighting up their dirty, excited faces. The joy is palpable, and not uncommon in CWB’s travels across the world.

Social circus, a movement that Clowns Without Borders, Cirque du Soleil, and other organizations have been embracing for some years, is the utilization of circus to teach kids in at-risk areas new skills and to improve their confidence and emotional health. Social circus is commonly used to foster change intervention, specifically in the personal and social development of those involved in the program.

multiple-person two-high technique, haiti, social circus technique
Workshop participants cheer as they maintain interlocking positions in this difficult technique. Haiti.
  • In Lebanon, CWB used social circus principles and play to teach school kids to avoid explosive materials. Bombs and mines line the Syrian-Lebanon border. These “explosive remnants of war” have caused the death of many children.
  • In Haiti, CWB shared songs and smiles with youth living in refugee camps still in place after the Haiti earthquake of 2010.
  • In Kenya, CWB partnered with UNHCR to teach workshops, offering new variety and access to different skills for the refugees in residence.
  • In South Sudan, CWB led the kids in Juba in classes, encouraging the various tribes to communicate together and have the children learn new skills that they then showed their community.
  • In the Philippines, CWB taught instructors aspects of performance and circus. The instructors utilized their new abilities to support the mental health of children who survived Typhoon Haiyan.
Human interweave while juggling. social circus technique
Trust, skill, and practice make this move possible.

Social circus is an incredibly powerful tool in allowing children to regain self-confidence, and feel as though they are part of a larger, safe community. It stresses the significance of teamwork and confidence. CWB employs social circus to create stronger relationships between youth in impoverished communities. Trust is the fundamental aspect of circus. It creates an incredibly supportive and safe environment in which the student can test their limits and explore their strengths and weaknesses.

 

Cirque and theatre demand reliance on others of the group. All participants are necessary for the effectiveness and safety of the art form, making it a vital experience for children that live in harsh conditions. Social circus teaches kids to become more connected with themselves and their society. And of course, it allows kids the most underrated reason – Fun. What could be more vital to kids than play and fun and laughter when they are struggling with emotional and physical hardships? I started circus two years ago, and even as a privileged resident of San Diego, California, circus has had an enormous, beneficial impact on my mental and physical health.

Laughter is an incredibly powerful tool in allowing individuals to overcome trauma. Social circus aims to not only provide joy and laughter but share skills with children and teachers that they can use in the future. From handstands to juggling, social circus teaches coordination, confidence, and hope.

Please consider donating or just spreading the word about CWB to allow us to continue our mission!

Serious Comic Business

Serious Comic Business

 

We came, we played, we shared work and built community. The Clowns Without Borders International General Assembly for 2016 has come to a close, but not before accomplishing some serious comic business. Clowns, board members, and leadership from across the planet joined for three days of meetings and workshops to take care of several important goals for the year. CWB-USA representatives Sarah Liane Foster and Molly Rose Levine attended the gathering held near Dublin, Ireland.

 

The General Assembly (GA) fills a room with comedians and artists who support a serious mission: Bring laughter where it’s needed most for healing and psychosocial relief. Discussions and debates, sometimes intense, all lead to critical operational decisions for the chapters that make up the federation of Clowns Without Borders International (CWBI).

Representatives of all CWB chapters gather for serious comic business.
Representatives of all CWB chapters gather for serious comic business.

 

The essential agreements are substantially enhanced by the value of working with multiple cultures, in one location, for one purpose. Sharing decisions with other cultures is the ultimate collaboration exercise. Each member needs to activate their cultural intelligence to build and sustain relationships, fostering trust that creates confidence in decision-making.

 

 

The collaborative essence championed at the GA extends during CWB projects. Artist volunteers embody it.

 

This year the GA approved the Emergency Response Protocol. Now, in an emerging disaster, CWBI has a method for how we can work together to react swiftly and efficiently. We will share logistical resources between all of the chapters. A working group is charged to oversee this protocol when the next disaster strikes. We have never tried to work this closely as an international federation, and it’s exciting to see us coming together, exemplifying the spirit of collaboration as an internal value that transcends borders.

 

In another fantastically inspiring outcome of the meeting, CWBI inducted Brazil as the 13th chapter of the Federation! It was with laughter, applause, joy (and some happy tears) that we welcome the first CWB chapter in Latin America. Brazilian artists Aline Moreno and Arthur Toyoshima are the foundations of this chapter. The United States team are thrilled to continue to work closely with them as they grow and build an organization.Team photo. Serious comic business

 

2016 was the 5th meeting of its kind. A representative from CWB France said that this year feels like the true beginning of CWBI. The Federation has reached a new level of function. The chapters are at various levels of maturity and come together in collaboration (not competition) where cultures are working together as one.
Everyone smiles in the same language. Clowns Without Borders operates in the same “language.” If you believe in the power of smiles and collaboration, please support our mission.

Never Lose Your Clown

Never Lose Your Clown:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CWBI

Clowns Without Borders International (CWBI) Convenes!

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

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

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

 

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

Forging New Partnerships

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information about CWBI, please visit: http://www.cwb-international.org

FUN-Raising

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

By Kolleen Kintz

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

 

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

 

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

Clown performance, Spring Fling. Fun-raising.

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

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

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

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

To Clown, or Not to Clown

By Jemima Evans

Clowns Without Borders USA Guest Blogger

 

Why clowning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Something beautiful.

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

2. Trauma and healing.

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

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

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

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