Two clowns perform outside, in front of an audience gathered in the shade of a tree.

Rarámuri Resilience: Audience Feedback

Qualitative Data

CWB artists constantly gather qualitative data about their work on tour. Is the audience laughing, or are they unimpressed? Are certain games more engaging? Do community members want to participate, or mostly watch? This kind of information combines with audience and partner feedback to inform our impact assessment.

We know we’ve shared resilience through laughter when: the audience is engaged; the community asks us to return or stay longer; partner feedback is encouraging and/or constructive. There are other markers of success, but CWB can continually gather the above types of qualitative feedback throughout a tour. 

On this tour, team leader Darina Robles emphasized Rarámuri mythology and wove community beliefs into the show’s storyline. Additionally, our project partner Comisión Estatal para lo Pueblos Indígena watched an early performance and offered feedback to the clowns. We are incredibly honored and grateful to serve the strong and welcoming community Rarámuri community.

Audience Feedback:

Les agradecemos mucho que hayan venido, es muy bueno para los niños. ¿Cuándo regresan de nuevo? –Elvira, gobernadora

CWB artist Julie says that Elvira, the governor, said she couldn’t stay for the show and then ended up staying until the end. La gobernadora told Julie that the show was good for the children and asked when CWB would return.

Me reí, mi parte favorita fue cuando danzaron conmigo. –Brisa, 6 años

After this show, Julie found out that the kids were torn between working—since it was held in a “touristy” spot and many Rarámuri women and children earn money by selling artwork—and coming to the show. Julie says that she feels very proud and grateful that the children stayed for the whole time. One little girl said her favorite part was when the clowns danced with her.

Es la primera vez que veo payasos en vivo. Creo que me reí más que los niños. Ha sido muy bueno reír porque lo del Covid ha sido muy estresante. –Juanita, maestra

A teacher told Julie that she laughed more than the kids, and that the show was an important form of stress relief during COVID-19. Another woman told the clowns that she and her family, including her 70-year-old mother, walked three hours to see the show.

Me gustó mucho cuando creamos los animales y ustedes eran los animales. –Silvia, 8 años

Mi parte favorita fue cuándo hablaron de la Sierra. Yo vivía en la Sierra pero mi papá vino a trabajar a la ciudad. –Jimena, 10 años

Letting the child lead means that every CWB show includes opportunities for audience members to take center stage, succeed where the clowns fail, tell the clowns what to do, or influence the direction of a game. One little girl told the clowns that her favorite part was when the kids made up animals and the clowns became those animals. Another little girl said she liked hearing about la Sierra region, because she used to live there before moving to the city with her father.

Another little girl told Darina that her favorite part was hearing her people’s story. She said, “You told about our mountains and our animals. You are saying that we, the Rarámuri, are here to take care of the world. It’s not just that god takes care of us, but also that we take care of god.”

Reí como si fuera uno de los niños. Regresen cuando quieran, aquí los esperamos. –Liliana Palma, gobernadora

Liliana, a governor, told the clowns that she laughed like she was one of the kids. She invited CWB back whenever we would like to return.

La risa es muy importante para nosotros Raràmuri. Es bueno vivir con alegría, la tristeza enferma. Hay ambos, alegría y tristeza. Los felices pueden hacer felices a los tristes. Además, cuando estamos felices o reímos de algo, Dios también se ríe con nosotros. Qué bien que estuvieran aquí haciendo reír a los niños y también a las mujeres, porque la risa también es necesaria para los adultos. Que vayan muy bonitas. –Lolita, artesana.

A community member and artist named Lolita told the clowns that laughter was important to her community because, though life is both happy and sad, sadness sickens people. She was grateful that the clowns played with both children and adults because adults need laughter too.

Haiti 2020

Trust the Kids

In every CWB show, the audience becomes the star and kids lead the way. Robin Lara writes about the ingenuity of kids in Haiti, and what it looks like to trust yourself, even at a young age. 

Haitian people are genuinely ingenious when it comes to resolving day-to-day issues (you should see how they repair a punctured tire!) and their kids are no exception. I’m consistently blown away by how capable all the kids are here, and can clearly see that it’s because their elders trust them.

Walking around rural Haiti, we see toddlers wandering completely alone. If anything happens, a slightly older kid will come scoop them up, get them giggling, and set them back down. No one is ever too far away to deal with a crisis.

I watch slightly older kids demonstrate sharp-knife skills that are far better than mine. At one point a pre-teen almost cuts his toe off with a machete (not saying there aren’t still accidents!) but he handles it with incredible poise. He stays calm, doesn’t complain, and cleans and dresses his own wound.

Kid balloon work is fascinating to me. If a balloon pops, they just find a way to blow it up again using the remaining piece of latex. We cut off the necks of balloons to make juggling balls, and the kids blew up the tiny tubes and tied them off with string. They smash rocks to make filling for juggling balls and they pick up juggling skills way faster than most kids I’ve met.

Kids in Haiti are generally unsupervised outside of school (at least, they lack supervision that’s recognizable to Americans). They observe their elders getting stuff done and they become master emulators because they’re given the opportunity to try. I watch kids problem solve in ways that make me feel like a total dummy.

These kids grow up to be confident and independent. I’m returning home inspired to trust the kids in my life, and honestly, to trust myself. What would you do if you only thought you could?

Haiti 2020

Embedded In Community

Robin Lara and her brother Tim toured to Haiti over the 10th anniversary of the catastrophic 2010 earthquake. Tim is deeply connected to a community on La Gonâve, and his friends there were happy to welcome him and his sister for their CWB tour! 

A Special Welcome

My clown partner in crime on this tour was my older brother, Tim. He has been going to Haiti once or twice a year for the past eight years. He is part of a community that formed around a women’s art center at the top of a mountain on an island off the coast of Haiti. He has true, close friends and even godchildren here. It’s a huge deal to everyone that Tim brought his sister. I’m called Woben, in Haitian Creole, instead of Robin. I’m surprised to see how embedded my brother is in the community here.

One of his closest friends is a smiley, toothless old man named Vege who loves Tim so much that Vege sometimes just sits next to him stroking my brother’s beard. We spend hours each day, including almost every meal, with Vege, cracking jokes nonstop and trying to answer his riddles. Vege and I hit it off immediately, and he can’t stop talking about how I put a machete on my chin and it didn’t fall off—I was balancing it!

Making Connections

But Vege isn’t the only connection I’ve made. We share every meal with local people, eating what they eat. Our door is almost always open and the stream of people ceases only when we go to sleep. When I get sick, children feel my forehead and urgently tell my brother I have a fever. I juggle with those kids almost every day. We’re able to save a toe when one of the kids almost cuts his off with a machete. When I get to know someone new, I also meet their entire family. That’s not something I can say for any of my friends back home. These folks fill our first audience of the tour, which makes it the most fun. They know and love us, and are happy to show their support in the form of belly-laughs and non-stop cheering.

Many people on the island come to see our show multiple times. People seem to know us everywhere we go. Folks ask us to please stay, and not only do more shows but teach them how to do what we do. There’s no word for “clown” or “juggling” or even “show” in Creole, so we’re bringing a completely novel experience that has ended up as a smash hit.

Growing Closer

On humanitarian clown trips, I’m motivated to do as many shows as possible in order to reach the maximum number of people. Sometimes the trade off is a fleeting sense of community. I always grow close with those who are on tour with me, but over three-and-a-half weeks, I’ve learned more about everyday life on a small slice of Haiti than I could have ever imagined.

And so, I’m grateful. To my brother for being the kind of person I can share this experience with; to the people of Matènwa and greater La Gonâve for opening their hearts and their homes to me; and for the privilege to have this experience in the first place.

Vege made me promise that when I left I’d take him with me in a suitcase, even if it meant we’d have to cut off his legs to fit him in. In the end we settled on a more reasonable agreement: that I am his Woben, and he is my Vege.

Haiti 2020

Committing to Community

Sometimes CWB partners with established NGOs like Save the Children and Gift of The Givers. Other times, we work with local community organizers who fly under the radar, yet remain deeply committed to wherever it is they call home. CWB artist Tim extends his gratitude to his friend Ricardo St-vil, who works tirelessly for his Grann Sous community in Haiti. 

Ricardo St-vil has been a good friend of mine throughout the eight years I’ve been coming to Haiti. He is a resident of and champion for Grann Sous (GS), located a 30-minutes walk from Matenwa. He has seen many friends and family leave Lagonav in search of more opportunity abroad. Port au Prince (PAP), while dangerous, has more educational opportunities; many folks seek work in agriculture and construction in Chile; and of course, there’s always the great siren of America, luring those lucky enough to secure a visa (which is increasingly difficult under current political conditions).

Ricardo has had stints in both PAP and Anse-à-Galets (the port city of Lagonav), but he’s committed to his GS community. In his mind, he has a choice: he can either leave like others have, or work to make his community a place where people want to stay.  He has chosen the latter, and works tirelessly in the pursuit of his vision for a more engaging GS. He ran a sports program for a while (he currently manages the GS women’s soccer team) and now runs a community library that offers programs for kids on weekends. He also, incidentally, speaks impeccible English and is largely self-taught.

When I told him my sister, who is a clown, was coming to Haiti and hoped to perform on Lagonav, I wasn’t surprised to hear he was eager to arrange shows for us in GS. Our first show was at the Catholic church, and hundreds of community members came and laughed with us. People appealed to us to do more shows, saying twice as many would come the next time. We were even invited to perform at the GS Flag Day celebration on May 18th, where schools from all over Lagonav compete in marching and dancing.

After some shows in PAP fell through, we decided to return to Lagonav where we figured we could quickly set up more shows on the fly. Our first call, naturally, was to Ricardo, who secured us three more school shows in GS, within two days. In addition to securing the shows, Ricardo also acted as tech crew (setting up sound systems for us) and hype man. Ricardo would call over the mic, urging people to come watch our show. His voice was integral to each show’s success. As he put it, “Haitians love loud music. If they can hear loud music, they will come to see what’s happening.”

After our final show, Ricardo’s mother and his wife prepared for us a wonderful feast of rice and beans, chicken, plantains, potatoes, and (in my opinion) the best pikliz in Haiti. Ricardo, mèsi anpil, we could not have done this without you.

If you are interested in learning more about Ricardo’s work in Grann Sous, email Tim at tdutcher [at] wesleyan [dot] edu and he can put you in touch with Ricardo.

Haiti 2020

“What Should We Call This?”

Even though laughter is universal, the words that accompany CWB performances change all the time. Tim writes about Haitian cultural familiarity with circus and clowning, and the creative wordplay required to communicate with our audiences. 

“What should we call this?”

During our trip there have been some unexpected linguistic barriers. While my Kreyol has improved drastically (I can now even make phone calls with relative ease), explaining what we offer remains a consistent challenge. Even though there are words for “clowns” and “circus” in Kreyol, many folks on Lagonav simply haven’t been exposed to either of them.

Early on, I try using the word kloun but most folks don’t even know what that is. I’ll say sirk and get blank looks. I try using the words komik or komedyen which people are better able to understand, but for many it brings to mind the character of Tonton Dezirab, a sort of country bumpkin and archetypal comic figure.

I try teyat (theater), which doesn’t feel quite right, while progwam feels too vague.  When Antoine arrives, we begin to use the word espektak, which captures the energy and thrill of what we were doing—even if people don’t quite know what they’re getting into.

Even words describing specific acts like jongle (juggling) or monosikl (unicycling) fall flat for most, so I widen the terms, saying tire boul konsa (a very rough translation of “throw balls like this”) while miming juggling, or describe the unicycle as a “special bike with only one wheel.”

Robin’s balloon act is, in many ways, the easiest to describe. Most folks around the world can imagine what it might be like for someone to enter a giant balloon, even if they don’t have context for it.

What is pretty universal, however, is how folks respond after seeing the show. We hear lots of comments like, “I had no idea what to expect, but I loved it!” or, “I’ve only ever seen things like that on T.V. and now I got to see it in real life!”

As we pass folks on the road, they’ll often shout out catchphrases from the show, such as pi danje! (More danger!) or pa danse isit! (Don’t dance here!). But one of the most common things we hear is, Eske ou pral jwe ankò? (Are you off to play again?).

Ecuador 2019

Flying Together

Darina Robles, founder of Llaven nü and frequent CWB artist, writes about the ways an engaged audience gives back to the artists. Mira abajo para español. 

Bringing the Tour To Life

The idea for ​​this project was born in November, 2018, at the World Social Forum on Migration–Mexico. Fernando López, national director of Jesuit Refugee Service–Ecuador (SJR), approached me after I gave a talk about CWB – USA and Llaven nü’s 2018 tour aimed at migrants in southern and central Mexico. He suggested that we do the same project in Ecuador.

A year of communication passed between Llaven nü, CWB – USA and SJR. In December 2019, Amarú and Jember of SJR completed the logistics to make this dream come true. Four payas@s traveled to Quito, Ecuador: Josie Mae, Eric Rubin, Lars Uribe and me, Darina Robles, with my migrant chicken character. Our task? To work with refugees and migrants, mostly Colombians and Venezuelans, on the border between Ecuador and Colombia. We performed in the cities of Esmeraldas, San Lorenzo, Lago Agrio and Quito on this tour.

The Final Performance

We arrive at a house in Quito for our final performance of the tour. The families are very happy with the idea of ​​attending a show. One of my first phrases in the show goes like this: “I am a migrant chicken, and this is my story.” When I say this the audience laughs, and I know our performance will go well. Every joke from us payas@s is celebrated by the public with great laughs, so we pile on more jokes than we ever have. The audience sighs when they begin to recognize their own stories within the story of the migrant hen. It’s great to see our audience enjoying the performance as something by and for everyone—they begin to make jokes that make us laugh! A child takes a clown’s sack and successfully integrates himself into the show.

At the end of the performance, Ximena, the director of the house, asks the audience to reflect on the message of the show. We clowns listen to the audience and their opinions. They like that the chicken’s dream of flying can be achieved thanks to community and input of people from different countries. They love that we made each other laugh a lot. They’re moved by the chicken’s dream, because they also have dreams. For example, they tell us they wish to integrate into a society without violence; get a job that allows them to support their family; one day return to their homelands; and live in peace in a hospitable world.

A woman approaches two clowns and tells them that her son is blind and wants to touch the clowns to meet them. They approach him and he says that he enjoyed listening to the story and had laughed as well, even though he can’t see the show. As we say goodbye, a boy from El Salvador tells me he liked the chicken. He says he has a dream of flying. “I want to be a flying hero,” he says. I tell him, “Well, for me you are already a hero. Migrants are my heroes. I hope someday we can fly together, and save the world by filling it with laughter.” That’s how we say goodbye, dreaming of a world of laughter and community, thanks to the beauty of humanity.

Ecuador 2019

En español

Volando Juntos

Tengo algo importante que decirte -me dijo mi payasa la gallina migrante ¡Amo a los migrantes y los migrantes me aman! Me comentó esto al terminar nuestra última función del proyecto Ecuador 2019. La idea de este proyecto nació en noviembre de 2018, en el Foro Social Mundial de las Migraciones México, cuando después de presentar una charla acerca del programa Recorridos por la Hospitalidad dirigido a migrantes en el sur y centro de México; Fernando López, Director Nacional del Servicio Jesuita a Refugiados Ecuador, me sugirió que hiciéramos el mismo proyecto en Ecuador.

Un año de comunicación pasó entre Llaven nü – riendo juntes, Clowns Without Borders USA y el Servicio Jesuita a Refugiados Ecuador (SJR). En diciembre de 2019, Amarú y Jember del SJR tenían la gestión realizada y este sueño sería realidad. Viajamos a Quito, Ecuador cuatro payases: Josie Mae, Eric Rubin, Lars Uribe y yo, Darina Robles, con mi gallina migrante. El cometido: trabajar con refugiados y migrantes, en su mayoría colombianos y venezolanos, en la frontera de Ecuador con Colombia, en las poblaciones de: Esmeraldas, San Lorenzo, Lago Agrio y Quito.

La última función de este proyecto fue en Quito. Actuamos para familias refugiadas y migrantes de Centroamérica y Sudamérica, y fuimos una sola familia riendo juntes desde un sólo corazón. “Éramos EL mundo, el universo estaba ahí en ésa función con nosotros riendo también”-comentó Lars y coincido.

Fue así como sucedió este encuentro feliz: Llegamos les payases a una casa y ya las familias estaban muy contentas con la idea de asistir a la función. Una de mis primeras frases en el espectáculo decía así: Soy una gallina migrante y esta es mi historia. Cuando dije mi frase gané carcajadas del público y pensé: Será una maravillosa función de cierre. Cada broma de les payases era festejada por el público con grandes risas, entonces les payases hicimos más bromas que nunca y nos divertimos en grande. También nos acompañaron con emoción y suspiros cuando comenzaron a reconocer sus historias en la historia de la gallina migrante.

Fue estupendo ver que el público fue viviendo la función como una fiesta de y para todes, empezaron a hacer bromas que nos hicieron reír por igual al público y a les payases; incluso un niño tomó el saco de un payaso y se integró con gran éxito en una parte de la obra. Disfruté mucho las risas de todes, había una mujer de risa espectacular que bailó y cantó para nuestra celebración-función.

Llegó el fin y con esto otro regalo de los dioses de la hermosa humanidad. Ximena, directora de la casa, les pidió que hicieran la reflexión acerca de la función. “¿Cuál fue el mensaje?” -les preguntó. Entonces escuchamos sus opiniones. Les gustó que el sueño de la gallina de volar pudiera lograrse gracias a la unión y pensamiento en comunidad de personas de diferentes países. Les encantó que los hicimos reír mucho y que nos hicieron reír mucho. Les conmovió que la gallina tuviera un sueño, porque ellos también tienen sueños, por ejemplo, de integrarse a una sociedad sin violencia, de conseguir un trabajo que les permita sostener a su familia que viaja con ellos y la que dejan al migrar; de algún día regresar a su tierra y que haya paz, de un mundo hospitalario; entre otros sueños.

Terminando la reflexión, compartimos un postre y agua de sabor que habían preparado para la fiesta. Una señora y su hija nos prepararon como regalo una agua de sabor para les payases para el camino. Recordé cuando en otro proyecto con migrantes en México nos encontramos con el tren donde viajan, por un momento el tren se detuvo y bajaron rápidamente varios migrantes con la apremiante necesidad de conseguir agua potable.

Durante el convivio, la mamá de un joven que estaba entre el público se acercó a dos payasos y les dijo que su hijo era no vidente y que quería tocarlos para conocerlos. Se acercaron y Sergio les comentó que como él es no vidente no pudo ver el espectáculo pero había disfrutado mucho escuchando la historia y había reído también. Después, Sergio nos pidió a todes les payases una foto con él para que quedara en su corazón. La mamá nos contó que huyeron de Colombia para salvar sus vidas.

Nos despedimos, antes de salir de la casa Juan, un niño de El Salvador, se acercó a mi y me dijo: Te quiero decir que me gustó mucho su función, me reí mucho. Muchas gracias -le dije. Juan continuó: Yo también tengo el sueño de volar. ¿De verdad? ¡Qué genial! -le contesté. Si -agregó-, yo quiero ser un héroe, un héroe que vuele. Mientras me hablaba hacía volar y luchar unos heroes de juguete que tenía en las manos. Le comenté: Pues para mi tu ya eres un héroe. Los migrantes son mis héroes. Espero algún día volemos juntes, salvemos el mundo y lo llenemos de risa. ¿Qué te parece? -le pregunté. Si -contestó. Así nos despedimos y así me despido soñando el mundo que construimos ése día les migrantes y nosotres les payases con el SJR: Un mundo en risa, en comunidad amorosa; donde, gracias a la hermosa humanidad, desaparecen la mala distribución de la riqueza, la violencia, la exclusión y las fronteras.

The Bahamas

Clowning Even When The Show Is Cancelled

Sometimes travel problems or other extenuating circumstances force us to cancel a show. But that doesn’t mean the clowns take a day off! CWB artists are particularly adaptable, creating opportunities for clowning and community wherever they go. In this blog Leora writes about the myriad ways the clowns interact with families during a community event in The Bahamas. 

Our second show of the day is cancelled so we take fliers and head to Port Lucaya, mingling with locals during the tree lighting ceremony. 

People gather in bleacher seats in the outdoor square, waiting for the program to begin, while the three of us play with kids. Clay and Meredith juggle, and do lasso and hat tricks. I clap for kids trying to hula hoop, and make up games: “Look! It’s an elevator! Step inside and push the button!”

The event organizer says we can come onstage and make an announcement about tomorrow’s CWB show in the plaza. We head backstage with the groups of children and teenagers waiting to perform. They shuffle with nervous excitement, about to sing, dance, and be seen by their community, proud parents, and secret crushes in the crowd.

The ceremony stretches on, more performers, more music, a band coming on to play. We eat pizza on the edge of the square and play with the kids who come up to our table. Meredith makes his nose squeak for two little girls with big bows in their hair, who look at each other with open-mouthed surprise. Clay lassoes a woman who can’t stop laughing. I have a dance-off with the little boy at the table next to us. We go back and forth from the table to the Christmas tree to the square all night. 

I end up dancing in a circle of little children, all of us mirroring each other’s dance moves. As we  jump up and down I notice shy eye contact from some, while other kids impulsively reach out to hold my hand. Occasionally, older kids sneak up to act scared of the clown but I don’t mind so much because of the dancing, the dancing!

There’s a mother holding hands with her six-year-old daughter, and I feel so much love bouncing back and forth between them. They let me join in, the three of us holding hands, and the little girl stares up at me with a big jack-o-lantern smile—she’s missing a few of her teeth. We keep eye contact the entire time we’re dancing. 

Ecuador 2019

Who Else Has a Dream?

Large semi-trucks whoosh past as we sit roadside, chewing coca leaves to combat the altitude. Josie practices tossing her juggling clubs skyward while Washington Taco (AKA ‘Guacho’), our fearless local companion and driver, shakes his head and examines the smoking minivan engine.  Unseasonal rains have caused a series of landslides, converting the four-hour drive from rainforest town Lago Agrio to mountainous Tulcan into a 12-hour journey. Now it seems our chariot has collapsed under the added strain. “We’re going to need to stay the night in Quito,” Guacho informs us.

Awaiting the tow truck gives us time for a roadside version of our daily “check in,” an opportunity to reflect on our most recent whirlwind tour stop of six shows over two days in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

Quien más tiene un sueño?” (Who else has a dream?) Darina the Chicken asks the crowd of 150 children at a school in Lago Agrio, with large Venezuelan and Colombian immigrant and refugee populations. Hands shoot up in the air: “Princess!” “Policeman!” “My dream is to have MORE dreams,” a clever twist on asking a genie for more wishes. “Yo tambien tengo sueño,” the multitalented clown Lars informs the crowd, capitalizing on the double entendre of ‘sueño’: It can mean either goals or sleepiness. He then promptly falls asleep standing, inciting the delighted laughter of the crowd.

We learn early on that each show will have a life of its own. From sound quality and audience age to the general level of magic in the air, we can’t anticipate which factors will influence the outcome or feel of any particular show. What we can count on is the hope and joyful smiles and stares of the children who approach us post-show, seeking a close-up view and interaction with these crazy clowns:

“Can I touch your nose?”

“I want to be a clown too.”

“Are you coming back tomorrow?”

“When are you coming back?”

The socioeconomic situation in Venezuela has become so dire that families undertake the perilous 1,000+ mile journey to Ecuador—often on foot—for a chance at something better. Once they arrive, they encounter growing xenophobia and an impenetrable job market. Many take to the informal market, selling sandwiches or other items to get by.

Our hour-long show filled with music, juggling, storytelling, and magic did not change the formidable challenges these families face. But for a few minutes it was easy to believe chickens can fly and immigrants can overcome tough odds to build a life for themselves in Ecuador.

Ecuador 2019

Reaffirming Meaning

Clowns Without Borders USA is delighted to include Mexico-based clown Lars Uribe Rodriguez on our recent tour to Ecuador. He writes about how even a humble rehearsal on a volleyball court can create magic. Mira abajo para la versión en español.

We stay in Quito for two days to create and rehearse our “migrant chicken show” before heading to Esmereldas, our first tour destination. We arrive at a hotel by the sea, where we hold our final general rehearsal. Tomorrow, the tour officially begins.

We rehearse on a volleyball court. Just as we start, Darina approaches me, whispering, “We have an audience.” I look where she points and see a girl and a boy, very curious about what we’re doing. (It should be mentioned that we’re not costume, since it’s a rehearsal). Just after Darina points out the kids, we get to a part of the work where we need to plan something new. I take the moment to tell Josie and Eric what Darina told me, “We have an audience, do we do the rehearsal towards them?” Josie, Eric and Darina say, “Yes, yes, yes!”

We ask the kids if they want to see our rehearsal and they excitedly agree. We’re excited too, because it’s important for us to know the public’s reaction to our show. We put it together in two days, making up a story about a migrant chicken and its passage through the world as it chases it biggest dream, to fly.

It’s beautiful, because our audience of two reacts as we imagined it during the show’s creation. Within the show, there are moments of astonishment, moments of doubt, and moments of reflection, and we see that in the children. What’s happening to us is happening to them.

We approach them after finishing the rehearsal and listen to their opinions regarding what they’ve just seen. It turns out that these chicxs are Venezuelans, a 9-year-old girl and a 15-year-old teenager. They live with their father in the hotel we’re staying in, and have been there for a few months. Their father works in maintenance and their mother lives in Chile. The girl says that her mother will come for them soon, and take them to Chile.

It’s a true surprise to have our final rehearsal with a public audience, and a migrant one at that. The experience is magical, and as it gets dark, we invite the kids to walk down to the beach with us and watch the sunset. Josie brings a notebook and the boy makes a couple of drawings of what he saw in our rehearsal.

We return to the hotel and meet their father, alongside the owner of the hotel. We mention that we’re Clowns Without Borders and explain what we’re doing in Ecuador. The father looks at us with happiness and the hotel owner says she seeks to support people who are in a situation that affects their mobility.

Thus, the border of Ecuador and Colombia receives us with much hope and much love. There’s an air of community, a sense of breaking down borders and believing in the human being without social distinctions.


Ecuador 2019

Lars’ blog en español

Después de estar en Quito dos días creando y ensayando el show de la gallina migrante, nos dirigimos a nuestro primer destino para empezar las función, llegamos a esmeraldas arribamos a un hotel junto al mar, donde nos dispusimos a hacer nuestro último ensayo general ya que al día siguiente empezaba oficialmente la gira.

El ensayo lo hicimos en una cancha de voleibol, recién comenzado el ensayo, darina se acercó a mí y me dijo susurrando “tenemos público”, mire hacia donde me señaló y había una niña y un chico, estaba muy curiosos de lo que estábamos haciendo, (cabe mencionar que nosotrxs no estábamos caracterizados, ya que era un ensayo) justo después de que darina me comenta esto, venía una parte de la obra donde nos juntamos a planear algo, asi que aproveche este momento para decirles a Josie y a Eric lo que me había comentado Darina, “tenemos público, ¿les hacemos el ensayo a ellxs?”. Josie, Eric y Darina emocionadxs dijeron “Si, Si, Si!”.

Acto seguido fuimos hacia ellos y les preguntamos si quería ver el ensayo, los niñxs emocionados dijeron que sí y cambiaron de lugar, pero esta ver para el el show de frente, para nosotrxs era importante conocer la reacción del público ante la historia que montamos en 2 días, sobre la gallina migrante, y su paso por el mundo, en busca de su máximo sueño, VOLAR.

Fue hermoso ya que nuestro público estaba reaccionando tal y como lo imaginamos durante la creación, había momentos de asombro, había momentos de duda, momentos de reflexión, y veíamos en lxs niñxs que ocurría también en ellxs, terminando el ensayo nos acercamos nuevamente para charlar un poco y saber su opinión con respecto a lo que acababan de ver, y resultó que estxs chicxs eran venezolanxs, una niña de 9 años y un adolescente de 15, vivían con su padre ahí en el hotel desde hace unos meses, su padre trabajaba en mantenimiento, su madre vive en chile y la niña muy emocionada dijo que su madre vendría por ella en estos días para viajar a chile con ella.

Una sorpresa verdaderamente inesperada, nuestro ultimo ensayo con publico y ademas público migrante, fue un suceso realmente mágico, estaba atardeciendo cuando charlabamos con ellxs al final del ensayo, decidimos ir a la playa a contemplar el atardecer y les invitamos a venir con nosotrxs, estuvimos charlando más, josie traía una libreta y el chico hizo un par de dibujos de lo que había visto en el ensayo.

Regresamos al hotel y ahí estaba su papá junto con la dueña del hotel, mencionamos que somos payasos sin fronteras y que veníamos hacer en Ecuador, el papá nos miró con felicidad y la dueña del hotel mencionó que ella normalmente busca apoyar a personas con situación de movilidad.

Así nos recibe la frontera de Ecuador con Colombia, con mucha esperanza, con mucho amor, con un aire de comunidad, con un sentido de derribar fronteras, y creer en el ser humano, sin distinción social, de patria o raza.

Ecuador 2019

Migration Is a Human Right

As millions of people flee Venezuela, the UNHCR has categorized the situation as an emergency. CWB – USA worked with Venezuelan migrants and their host communities in Ecuador. Josie Mae writes about the multi-layered power of circus. 

The Storytelling Power of Circus

I arrive at our second show in Ecuador with an open heart and present mind. We’re in a Colombian neighborhood called Esmereldas, just outside of San Lorenzo. My goal for this show: to have no expectations and play in the moment.

As we leave the city center and approach the barrio, my fellow payas@s and I lean out the windows of the vehicle and shout to those in the streets, inviting everyone to come watch the show!

When we arrive, we’re met by an audience of 100 people. It’s mostly children seated on the cement bleachers of a small fútbol field, and much more intimate than our show the day before (500 school children in a enormous gymnasium). We warm up the crowd with some energizing games, magic tricks, blowing bubbles, smiling and giving high-5s. They’re apprehensive at first—one young boy is terrified, crying and screaming—but little by little they lean into our play. After an introduction from our partner organization, Servicio Jesuita a los Refugiados, we begin the show, The Story of the Migrant Hen!

We sing and dance and work together as a team, weaving our technical skills with with a potent message: migration is a human right. I’m reminded of clowning’s power as a storytelling vehicle.

The audience remains quiet during my juggling routine. I try to glance at their faces between tricks, but it’s hard to see. Insecurity kicks in: Am I boring them? Is my juggling good enough? Laughter isn’t the only emotion transmuted through circus. Awe, surprise, reflection, excitement, and inspiration are just as prevalent as joy and smiles.

Staying Grounded

Our music and noise draws in about 50 more people as we continue the show, and they crowd around the side of the fútbol field. I notice a middle-aged man in a white shirt who has just arrived, and he’s laughing from the tips of his toes to the top of his head. His smile remains even during the quieter moments of storytelling. It grounds me throughout the show. When I’m feeling lost and disconnected, I look to this man with his total presence in the spectacle, and I’m able to drop in deeper. Circus can transport someone from their reality into a world of levity, play, and imagination.

We finish up the show to much applause from the public and then take our places in the audience. A dozen local kids have prepared a dance to share. They stand in formation holding paper signs with words like “love,” “family,” “name,” “migration,” “home,” and “happiness.” They’re describing the rights of the child. They dance along to a song declaring their rights while I think about the vulnerability of the people we’re working with and the circumstances they’re in. I’m flooded with emotion while reflecting on the impact of clowning and my privilege to do this work.

The man in the white shirt approaches me after the show and introduces himself. His name is Stalin, and he thanks us over and over for coming. “It’s been a long time since we’ve laughed this hard,” he says. In turn, I thank him for being my beacon during the show.

Bahamas 2019

The Bahamas Tour Diary: Week 1

In September 2019, Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 hurricane, struck The Bahamas. The impact included massive power outages, infrastructure destruction and at least 70 deaths. Thousands of Bahamians and migrant Haitian workers continue to live in temporary housing. Meredith Gordon made his CWB – USA debut on this tour. He writes about the clowns’ first week of shows in Nassau. 


On Monday we head to the facility where we’ll do our shows and workshops. The staff greet us when we arrive and take us on a tour of the shelter. It’s in a basketball gymnasium next to a bigger athletic facility. The shelter residents stay in the basketball gym and in tents next to the gym. We clown for some of the kids while we’re shown around, and it turns into a “follow the clown” situation as kids play along with me, Leora and Clay.

Clay and I are wearing our clown noses and one of the kids asks to see Clay’s nose. Clay tells the child that he already has a clown nose, pointing out a bottle cap from a water bottle. Eventually, the boy finds a string and manages to tie the bottle cap onto his nose, matching our clown noses. The string is a little tight for his face, but he makes it work.

Later, we practice making juggling balls with balloons and sand. Tomorrow we’ll start our juggling and game workshops.


Today the three of us work on our show in the morning by putting pieces of our different acts into one cohesive structure. We still have some work to do to finish the final show order, but we make significant progress. In the afternoon, we head back to the shelter for a workshop with the kids. We make juggling balls using the sand and balloon method. The kids are enthusiastic, sometimes a little over-excited, and there are lots of smiles when they finish making their balls.

There’s a group of six or seven teenage boys in the workshop. They leave a unique impression on me as they’re mature and calm beyond their years. Even though there were some very enthusiastic young kids at the workshop, the teenagers waited patiently as we managed the younger kids.

In the afternoon, Leora starts some fun activities with the children while Clay and I work on the juggling balls. The sun is setting as Leora leads the kids in a circle for games and dancing. Tomorrow we’ll return for an adult workshop in the morning and another workshop in the afternoon with the kids. Our show is on Thursday.


We finish our week in Nassau Bahamas today. We taught several workshops over the course of the week and ended our time here with a show on Thursday evening.

It takes us a while to find the best show location at the shelter, because our original plan to do it outside the entrance is not going to work. Over the course of the week we were able to get used the shelter’s constant state of change. As we look around for a new spot, we juggle and do hat tricks to get the attention of adults in the area. I toss my juggling hat on my head and then announce that I will throw the hat on someone else’s head. Several of the adults see us and ask for their turn, either tossing the hat or receiving it. It’s so refreshing to see the expression on some of these men and women. Many of them are sitting around, looking bored. To see the smiles on their faces is priceless.

Shortly after that we’re told we can do our show in a tent near the shelter. We start the parade to the show, playing music through the gymnasium. The residents are loving it. I see lots of smiles as we make our way across the gym floor. We also go to several other tents so we can announce the show to as many shelter residents as possible.

The parade gets people’s attention. The more we march around, the more people follow us. One of the men watched us during our hat tricks helps us carry our performance bags. By the time we get to the tent, we have a large group of children with us. Many of these children are familiar because they were in our workshops earlier in the week. But there are many unfamiliar adults too—they also want to see the show.

Clay, Leora, and I do the show we rehearsed…or at least as much of the show as we can. The children are very enthusiastic. We saw this kind of enthusiasm earlier in the workshops, so we’re not surprised. We manage to do every act except the finale juggling act.

After the show is over, we go back into the gymnasium. While we’re there, some of the Americares staff asks us to play music for several of the elderly residents in the shelter. We start to play a song for a Haitian woman in her 80s. However, she quickly takes over and sings a song for us. Later I see Leora dancing with this woman. I start to sing “What a Wonderful World,” by Sam Cooke, and I’m surprised when a 10-year-old boy sings the lyrics with me.

One of the Americares workers says that she’s impressed because the adults got up and came to the show, and laughed along with the kids.

Tomorrow morning we fly to Freeport for a week of more shows!

Palestine 2019

The First Arab Bedouin Female Clown

CWB – USA embarks on a three-year partnership with Diyar Theatre, a Bethlehem-based dance company. One of the Palestinian clown students invites CWB artists Ania Upstill and Michael O’Neill to her village, where she and other local women are dedicated to providing arts education. 

Starting a Foundation

Manal, one of the students in Diyar Theatre’s clown program, describes herself as “the first Arab Bedouin female clown.” I was inspired by Manal in class, where her smile lights up the room, but even more so after we visit her Bedouin village to perform for the local school.

When we arrive at the village, we need to ask directions to the school since there aren’t any signs. This Bedouin community was displaced by a settlement, and it feels hastily re-built after the move. We’re directed up a dirt road and at the top, right next to the school, we see a blue container where Manal waves at us from the doorway. She welcomes us inside, and it’s surprisingly bright. The container walls are hung with fabric and we’re offered seats on a few plush sofas or at a table set with chairs.

Manal serves us coffee and we chat for a few minutes. We learn that this container was used by foreigners teaching art classes, before it was abandoned. Once Manal’s sister finished her university degree in social work, the two of them decided to rehabilitate the caravan and set up an arts education foundation for students in their village. They don’t have any money but they do have the help of a few other female Bedouin friends. Now, thanks to the resources they’ve gathered from the community and their own homes, they’re able to offer after-school classes to local children.

Infectious Laughter

We go next door to perform at the school after we finish our coffee. The children all clearly know and love Manal. She helps the teacher bring out the classes into the yard—lines of students following her like ducklings—before sitting them down in orderly rows. Manal helps them behave throughout the entire performance and volunteers for our magic trick, playing along perfectly while spreading joy through her infectious laugh.

After the performance, we return to the caravan and share lunch with the women of the foundation. Our conversation is translated and I’m increasingly impressed with what they’ve achieved, especially considering the conservative social expectations placed on Bedouin women. These women are building something out of nothing to serve the children of their community, and I find myself humbled and inspired by their work.

All the clowns say "Ta-Da!"

Unplanned Clowning

CWB – USA embarks on a three-year partnership with Diyar Theatre, a Bethlehem-based dance company. CWB performing and teaching artist Ania Upstill writes about the unexpected outcome of clowning in a bank, one of the most un-funny places to be…

Clowns Without Borders mostly performs for kids, but adults often come to watch too. Even more are drawn toward the noise we make while performing, and end up watching by accident. Adults deserve to laugh too, and sometimes you just have to take clowning to them.

Clowns At The Bank

Osama, our Palestinian colleague from Diyar Theatre, needs to go to the bank today, after we finish the show. Instead of waiting in the car, we decide to join him in the bank, dressed in full clown regalia. I take bubbles and Michael takes years of clowning experience. We enter the bank and Osama leaves to do his business. At first, we get a few curious looks and smiles, and the floor manager comes to ask us what we’re doing. We explain that we’re waiting. He gives us an odd look but leaves to attend to other business. We go up to where Osama is waiting at the counter, and suddenly the big manager appears. He sternly instructs us that we can’t be near the transactions, but softens when Osama explains that we’re with him. Still, we’re sent back toward and entrance where, naturally, we start clowning around. Michael investigates the water cooler, I blow bubbles outside the doors. 

As we attract more attention, the floor manager has to stop another customer from taking a video of us inside the bank (illegal in Palestine just like it’s illegal in the U.S.). We oblige with a selfie instead, and then we start getting more attention. Suddenly, the security guard wants some photos with us, and then the floor manager does too. The staff are getting into it, so Michael makes a fake appointment with a woman at a desk, and we go over to see her. She offers us a candy, and Michael takes the whole basket to offer candy to everyone waiting in the bank. I see the big manager approaching me again, but this time he has a smile on his face as he asks me to go into a fancy glass office and give the biggest manager a kiss on the cheek! I oblige, and there’s laughter from all the staff inside and outside the fancy glass office. They ask me to do it again so they can film it, so of course I do. 

Brightening People’s Day

You never know what can come from unplanned clowning! A man comes up to us and introduces himself as a doctor from Hebron who’s part of a group having a benefit for breast cancer. Would we be interested in performing? Michael and I connect him with Ahmad, one of our Palestinian clown colleagues, in the hopes that someone from Diyar Theatre can make it. 

By the time we’re leaving the bank, the floor manager thanks us for coming in and says that we can come back any time: “You just made this day so enjoyable for us all!”

Osama, a stranger, Ania and Michael pose at the bank
At the bank!
Clowns cluster together with their red noses on, to take a selfie

Caring For the Whole Community

CWB – USA embarks on a three-year partnership with Diyar Theatre, a Bethlehem-based dance company. During the first week, CWB clowns Michael O’Neill and Ania Upstill lead workshops for artists interested in developing their clowning skills. 

Ania writes about the incredible camaraderie they’ve witnessed among the Palestinian artists. 


We’ve already seen so much growth in our Palestinian students, after only four days of teaching. Some of it is due to their talent and some of it comes from experience they bring to the room. But I think a huge part of it is the incredibly supportive environment they’ve created for each other.

From the beginning, the students have been encouraging towards one another. For the first few days, a particular student was hesitant to show anything in front of the class. His fellow studentswould chant his name until he went up, and then clap wildly when he was done. By day four, he volunteered to go first to show what he had been working on—and we still all chanted his name.

That’s just one example, and there are too many instances to count. A real sense of support and camaraderie pervades the rehearsal room in a way that I’ve never witnessed before. There’s no sense of competition, or any sense that the more experienced students feel superior. Instead, everyone legitimately seems to want the group to succeed. It’s really amazing, and so generous of them. I can’t but help attribute it to Palestinian culture. I get the sense that here, you care for the whole community, not just for your own well-being.

Beyond the Rehearsal Room

This goes further than the rehearsal room. While some of the students did know each other before the course started, most of them were strangers—but you would never know it. They were all chatting happily together by lunchtime on the first day. Granted, I have absolutely no idea what they were saying, but it certainly sounded like they were enjoying one another’s company. Similarly, one of the clowns told me and Michael that there are no homeless people in Palestine. People here might not be rich, but they end up pitching in to make sure everyone has a place to live.

Whatever exactly has engendered it, I can’t imagine a more cohesive, positive environment to teach clown. I can only hope to somehow recreate what I’m experiencing in Palestine the next time I teach.