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3 Clowns in Mexico Spark Emotional Healing on the Path of ‘The Beast’

3 Clowns in Mexico Spark Emotional Healing on the Path of ‘The Beast’

In November 2023, Clowns Without Borders (CWB) toured Puebla, Mexico, a city along the path of La Bestia, the infamous train network that runs from southern Mexico to Ciudad Juarez.

For adult and child immigrants, often journeying the rooftop of the train, La Bestia symbolizes risk and determination, two necessary companions for the journey north.

In this post, you’ll witness the transformative power of humor in the face of adversity through audience participation, shared fears, and moments of pure joy.

Let’s jump in!

(Quotes throughout the post are from Molly Shannon.)

A Clown Show Next to La Bestia

A clown bounces a ball on his head in front of a train
CWB Artist Thom Wall performs in front of La Bestia.

Our story begins at a shelter beside the tracks, a temporary haven for those traveling north. The audience was mostly men in their late teens and twenties, with some kids and a few women present. Most of the audience was from Honduras and Venezuela. 

Here, the weight of migration — the dangers faced, the loved ones left behind — hung heavy.

“There was a worn-to-the-bone energy of many men there, a tautness, a closed-offness, which we were told to expect. Many are fleeing from violence, as well as encountering it along the way.”

But amidst the survival energy, there was also hope — a group of young men, eager and ready to engage, sat off to the side, ready for whatever the performance had in store.

A clown poses with 3 young men at the clown show.
Molly poses with audience members after the show. Faces are covered to protect their safety and privacy.

“In the show, we are clowns journeying on La Bestia: boarding the train, jumping off the train, stopping temporarily to camp, eat, sleep, jumping back on the train at the end, all while experiencing extreme weather.”

The artists improvised, incorporating real-life sounds into their show.

“We played it that we were doing a theatrical production, with stuff going wrong with the sound: actual heavy rain, thunder, and, most notably, the actual train, La Bestia, passing by during the show. With tons and tons of weight, it made deep booming and wavy-sounding noises as it passed by.”

Because the audience was living the experience presented, their response to the show was immediate and positive. For example, the show created moments for the clowns to share their fears and invited the audience to do the same.

“We arrived at the point in the show where we talked about things that scared us in the night. After we went through our fears of spiders and bears, the audience started shouting, ‘Coyotes!,’ ‘La Migra!,’ (smugglers and immigration authorities in English) to laughs of acknowledgment and understanding.”

In another moment during the skit, a helpful shout from the audience, “You’ve just gotta jump!” underscored the dangerous reality of people’s journeys. But it also revealed the care and camaraderie toward those with shared experience.

Clowns in Mexico Make Inclusion Center Stage Two Boys Steal the Show

A boy joins a clown on stage in front of a train.
A boy joins CWB Artist Molly Shannon on stage during the performance.

Emiliano Shines in the Spotlight

Emiliano, a 9-year-old deaf audience member, caught our attention.

He didn’t know how to use sign language or read, but he could engage with the show — and he did so with enthusiasm.

Prompted by the clowns to mimic rain and wind sounds, he eagerly participated and made sure he stayed in sync. His smile radiated with delight the whole time!

After the performance, Molly and Thom approached him for fashion advice, communicating visually. While Molly received a thumbs-up for her attire, Thom’s fashion sense didn’t quite get the same approval. 😂

Carlos Leads “Dead or Alive” Game

Clowns in Mexico stage game "Dead or Alive"
Can she be brought back to life?

Carlos, another boy who was about 7 years old, eagerly joined the clowns on stage during the classic CWB skit, “Dead or Alive.”

When Carmelita (Molly) “died” and required resurrection, Carlos, brimming with excitement, eagerly led a group of children onstage.

“With the energy of everyone united and at that moment, Carlos and the other children contributed all their energy and enthusiasm to revive Carmelita.”

Death is a complex and frightening concept, especially for children. Taking part in a scenario where they can “fix” death, children gain a sense of control over a situation that feels out of control. They become the agent of change, reversing a scary outcome.

In Mexico, the Audience Carries The Clown Magic

Three clowns on stage, one of them is jumping in the air with a table abover her head.
Where would you fly if you could?

As the performance continued, moments of magic unfolded. One instance occurred when an audience member transformed a simple prop into a whimsical adventure.

Molly took on the role of a guard, embodying a strict military demeanor as she marched around. She invited another member of the audience to join her, but the drill quickly transformed into a playful dance.

“[Then] he noticed the pile of brooms, slipped his arm gallantly through mine, and led me over to them. He picked up a broom, and I thought maybe he was going to dance with it, but then he hopped aboard it, a la witch on a broomstick style, and beckoned me to join him.”

Embracing the moment, Molly jumped on the broomstick.

“I had a real fun time playing up that I was working, on duty, I cannot, but wait, [the other performers] are sleeping, maybe just a short flight on the broomstick. So I hopped on and he took us on a swooping circle around the sleeping Thom and Vane, and I made a big deal of keeping quiet to not wake them. He dropped me back off, put the broomstick away, and sat down laughing.”

The transformative power of play is on full display in this story, with an audience member elevating the story beyond the artists’ expectations, and to the sheer delight of the audience.

Reflecting on the experience, Molly notes,

“There was something magical in him choosing to fly on a broomstick, something that I am sure he wishes was possible in his situation: a magical, easy, quick journey to wherever you are going.”

The Team

Three clowns on stage in Mexico.
Looks like you might not want to taste that.

This tour had a three-person performing team and a non-performing team member.

Vanessa Nieto (Mexico) and Molly Shannon (US) most recently toured with CWB in Mexico in 2022. This was Thom Wall’s first CWB tour. Thom is a featured performer in CWB’s 25th Annual Portland Benefit Show (March 30, 2024). Majo Diaz de Riviera was indispensable in organizing the team’s logistics.

The November 7-15, 2023 tour reached 312 adults and 1,060 kids.

Conclusion

La Bestia may symbolize risk and determination, but CWB’s presence offered a flicker of light — a reminder that even on the darkest path, a moment of human connection and a shared laugh can spark healing and glimmers of hope.

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