This week, we are featuring Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone, who worked as Clowns Without Borders’ Communication Director for the past five years. While we are sad to see Nicole go, we are grateful to all of her work with CWB.
I went from thinking of clown as a type of performance to understanding it more as a social practice. I am so awed by clowns’ philosophical and physical grasp of failure and how that is such a foundational part of humor, the status quo, and power dynamics.
What did you know about clowns before working with CWB?
I knew what a mime looked like. Or, I thought I knew what a mime looked like, because I had this idea of a traditional, European mime.
What do you know about clowns now?
Something I learned from CWB is how clowns can enter tense situations and highly conflictual or downright violent situations and, not necessarily redirect the energy, but diffuse the energy.
Yes, it can be silly, but it is also this incredibly heightened form of listening, and improvisation, and an astute understanding of power dynamics. That all contributes to humor (when we’re lucky).
I’ve been really struck by the way clowns can change the direction of what’s happening and the breadth of what clowning is. These past few years, as we’ve been focusing on the activist side of clowning, I’ve learned that it’s not necessarily silly, or funny, or lighthearted. The clowns bring their full artistic presence and talent and vision to these real world social problems.I went from thinking of clown as a type of performance to understanding it more as a social practice. I am so awed by clowns’ philosophical and physical grasp of failure and how that is such a foundational part of humor, the status quo, and power dynamics.
How did you approach choosing what images to share and what to write about each program?
I wanted to communicate the larger scene or scenario that an image represents. Something that I’ve tried to stay away from is just cuteness. I see a lot of cuteness online and it is an easy out to difficult work. I try to listen to what is being asks of white people and white-led organizations in the field of humanitarianism, especially via No White Saviors. The story is not, “the clowns are saving the child,” and so it is important that our photos aren’t a parade of suffering or of heroism. I wanted to make sure that the images we share and the stories we tell are more complex. I am indebted to IVOH and their framework of Restorative Narrative, which helped guide me in thinking through how to translate our work. I want to share stories of an exchange. CWB doesn’t exist for the benefit of the artists, but over and over I hear them say, “I can’t even tell you how much I get from the gift of the audience’s attention. I am here giving my all through the performance, and the audience gives so much more via their presence and attention. Even when the audience doesn’t find my best joke funny, that gives me something too.”
I won’t ask if you have a favorite type of clown content….but do you?
I love any video that has screaming, roaring laughter in it. We have those from all over the world. I love the split second beat of silence, and then the eruption.
There are videos of Ania, Ahmad, Osama and Poki in Palestine. The little boys are pounding the ground laughing. Then in another video from that same tour, in another city, the boys in that audience are pounding the ground laughing. I love seeing that, because they must see their brothers, uncles, and fathers laugh that way.
What about the stories that are less joyful?
I love Josie’s story from Ecuador about circus having moments for awe, reflection, and wonder. It’s not just for joy. That is very much reflected in the photos of her juggling (which I never posted, because I worried it would be teasing of the kids). In these photos, there is a group of kids whose mouths are in perfect O’s, heads tilted back, eyes wide, as they stare at Josie’s clubs WAY up in the air.
After the last tour in the Balkans, Sabine talked about performing in a place that was heavy with sadness. She said it felt like the migrants would never get out of there. The artists and audience created a few moments to fill the place with hope and even a bit of laughter.
I remember Dustin saying that there is this misconception that a Clowns Without Borders performance is low stakes, because it is for people who maybe don’t have something to compare your performance to, or because you aren’t going to get reviewed. But that actually it is incredibly high stakes, because each audience member could be spending their energy, their presence, solely focusing on surviving, but instead they are choosing to value art. That is the reason to give your best self, your best performance.
I really appreciated Leora saying, “I really doubted it could be as good as CWB’s social media makes it seem, but wow, it was.”
Why should someone support Clowns Without Borders?
CWB is able to reach tens of thousands of people on an emotional level. We know, based on what our audiences tell us, that our impact lasts. It makes an intergenerational difference. Babies to elders attend our shows, repeat our jokes, play our our acts, and then share that resilience and laughter with the community around them. . Material suffering and scarcity is only going to increase. So many people’s physical health is politically forsaken, and that to me is a reason why CWB needs to exist.
What’s next for you?
I’m now working with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, an environmental non profit focused on clean water. We just recently partnered with the International Rescue Committee-Seattle, to work with newly resettled refugees. This program was to introduce new neighbors to their new watershed.