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.

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