Never Lose Your Clown:
Reflections by Circus Performer and Clowns Without Borders Volunteer, A. Giovanni Zoppe
Circumstance can profoundly propel the paths we walk. Circus defined the path of Clowns Without Borders volunteer, Giovanni Zoppe, of Zoppe, an Italian family circus since 1842. Giovanni was born into a circus family. His entrance into the world was in the parking lot outside the studio of WGW, where his father, Alberto, was performing his animal fantasy act for Bozo The Clown. Ever since Giovanni has been learning and perfecting his circus skills and performing across four continents.
From Giovanni’s perspective, the difference between circus performer and the clown is that there is no difference. You learn all the skills of the trade when you grow up within the circus, and as you get older, you focus on your unique talent. Giovanni’s is bareback riding on horses, where he engages in spectacular and sometimes dangerous stunts.
Whatever is happening in the show, Giovanni never loses his clown. The clown character does everything in the circus, and all skills channel through the clown for the performance.
In February of 2016, Giovanni joined his first Clowns Without Borders project to El Salvador. Five artists and one logistician spent two weeks in the country. El Salvador suffers extreme violence. As violence increases, children’s access to basic human needs such as access to schools, essential health benefits, and safety has been significantly challenged.
The team spent two days building the show they would share with people in various parts of the nation. After all, they had just met. The beauty of the show is that words don’t matter. Location and cultural appreciation are always taken into account on a Clowns Without Borders project, but Giovanni explains, “it doesn’t matter if the audience is in El Salvador or the United States, because the physicality of the performance transfers to those watching. The activity and comedy replace words.”
At every show, you must be prepared for anything. It is the job of the clown to entertain, to bring laughter, joy, and playful interaction. It is the job of the clown to help the audience release tension through the pure fun of the comedy, and to forget whatever hardships they face, even if just for a short time. The clown helps the audience.
In El Salvador, the audience, or more accurately nearly everyone they met, helped the CWB team. Giovanni describes warm and welcoming people, and audiences full of love. They gave to the clowns affection, fondness, and authentic emotion – enjoying each moment of the show with a fullness that comes from having few material possessions, but an abundance of fidelity for life.
The troupe spent two days in San Martin, a rural area far from the capital city of San Salvador. Residents had gone 30 days without running water – a frequent occurrence. The team did not know this was the case when they arrived. The people with whom the clowns stayed in San Martin offered everything and with open hospitality. They provided lodging, food, and water. Water for drinking, toileting, and bathing, and without blinking an eye for its scarcity.
Giovanni would love to return to El Salvador. Specifically, he would like to trek deep into the treacherous valley separating Honduras and El Salvador. Tiny villages dot this extremely remote area. It is so remote that it takes four days to navigate into the valley on duplicitous footpaths. Clowns Without Borders would also love to return to El Salvador to bring more resilience through laughter to those in crisis.
Where the children and families are in need, the clowns will go. If you’d like to support us, please visit the donate page.