You may already know that Clowns Without Borders (CWB)-USA operates in many countries around the world. Another approach to clowning is community-based, wherein organizations focus foremost on local needs.
Clown Me In (CMI) is a community-based organization that primarily works with and for communities in their own country of Lebanon. Relationships with different communities living in Lebanon drive their art, storytelling, and activism.
In June 2022, CWB’s Naomi Shafer caught up with Clown Me In, in Lebanon, for a brief tour.
Naomi was delighted to join CMI’s existing show. The team, composed of Naomi Shafer, Sabine Choucair, Stephanie Sotiry, Riwa Houssami, and Ramy Abi Khalil, performed nine times and reached over 3,000 people.
In this post, you’ll learn about Clown Me In, its flavor of clowning, and how communities responded to their clowning following the Beirut explosion in August 2020.
Clown Me In: Taking Community-based Clowning to Another Level
Since 2008, Clown Me In has been using community-based clowning to ask for social justice through street theater and protest, and to encourage people to use the spaces they create for social therapy.
Social therapy is a non-medical, creative form of group therapy that aims to help people in emotional pain. Participants of CMI’s social therapy sessions become a therapeutic unit capable of supporting others.
At Clown Me In, Relationships are the Magic Dust of Transformation
By deeply listening to people’s lived experiences, Clown Me In creates artistic performances and interactive events that encourage dialogue and healing.
For instance, in 2022, CMI collaborated with 49 communities to address violence.
In each community, adults, children, and teens came together to form a task force. The task force met for three sessions of laughter, clowning, and story-sharing around the theme of violence.
After the third session, the task force developed games and performances that tackled the specific cases of violence that people spoke about. The task force then shared the games and performances with the entire community through a free outdoor day of play.
In this way, the community itself led the intervention, promoting healing and building community capacity.
Hope Amidst the Rubble: Four Stories of Clown Magic
In August 2020, one of the largest explosions ever recorded occurred at the Port of Beirut. The explosion killed 218 people, injured 7,000, and left over 300,000 displaced from their homes.
Clown Me In stepped out on the streets of Beirut three weeks after the explosion. The mood was dark, and the city was still covered with gray dust and piles of rubble.
However, the overwhelmingly positive response to brightly colored clown costumes and offers of play and laughter suggested that the city was ready to heal.
Below are four stories from this time period as shared by Sabine Choucair, CMI’s co-founder and our long-time collaborator:
In Karantina, one child found us wherever we were performing in the area. He told one clown that he’d been seeing the show in his dreams every night.
He also told us to please come up with a new performance because he knew the current one by heart!
We had so many kids who were severely injured in the blast but insisted on coming to walk with us and watch the show.
Angie, a 5-year-old girl, dared to leave her half-destroyed home for the first time to follow the clowns and jump, sing, and play.
Her mom was in awe, and she wouldn’t stop thanking us.
Clown Me In’s community-based clowning has built trust and collaboration through its relationships. For years, they’ve interacted, listened, reflected needs, and involved the community in its own healing.
Thank you for joining us as we shine a spotlight on a special partner in clown: Clown Me In.
Our amazing photographer for the CWB tour, Charbel Sammour, took all the photos you saw in this post and all the ones you’ll find in the video below.
Check out the YouTube Short video here (it’s not long! 😉)!