In December, 2018, a group of CWB clowns partnered with Oakland Catholic Workers for their holiday celebration. OCW serves the Bay Area immigrant community through food distribution, language classes, and transitional housing. At the holiday party, parents receive wrapped presents to distribute to their children on Christmas.
By the time we arrived at the church, a line of about 30 or 40 families had already formed at the door. They waited to enter the hall, where they would receive a black plastic bag of wrapped gifts to bring home.
The clown ensemble gathered, and we were on. The five of us fell into a procession. We paraded down the line, greeting people with gags and the sounds of an accordion. After a bit or two, we would retreat to the hall to regroup and discuss our next entrance. We repeated this process for the next few hours.
I watched both children and adults light up when they were invited to play with the clowns, or when they saw someone ride out on their new bicycle. This experience highlighted something I’ve recently learned about clowning: It’s a gift, something to be given. A gift of presence and curiosity, stupidity, resilience and joy.
It was a special treat to collaborate with Oakland Catholic Workers. On my first circus tour in 2016, I experienced a long and unexpected layover in St. Louis, MO. The people I met there, who were involved with the Catholic Worker movement, helped me find food and housing when I needed it.
It was sweet to come back to this organization some years later, to sharing circus skills they indirectly helped me develop.
There are so many moments that stand out: When a couple of little kids were brave enough to stand on our legs to make a human pyramid; When the whole line of families clapped for us before we even started clowning; When I got a personal hug at the end of the day from a family that could not speak English well, but told us they were happy to see clowns.
It was such a joy to assemble five clowns and work out our schtick. We found a phone app that makes fart noises (!) so there was already an abundance of delight.