Leah holds a hoop in the air while standing on Naomi's back

Creating a Clown Show About Landmines

Leah Abel writes about working with the Mines Advisory Group in Myanmar to create a clown show with an educational component. 

Leah Abel

Staying Flexible

When working with clowns, it’s safe to assume they’ll run with punches, switch on a dime, and try new ideas. When working with Clowns Without Borders, these skills are essential. Plans are liable to change, whether it’s the daily schedule or in the middle of a show.

Our tour to Myanmar is no different. There are places we’re set to go, and then can’t. Often, there’s little information about why. The criteria for entry has simply changed, or permission is rescinded. Fortunately, there are plenty of other places where we can take our fun and engaging show…about landmine safety. Yep. A clown show about landmine safety.

Learning about Land Mines

We’re partnering with the Mines Advisory Group, affectionately known as MAG. We set out to create a show with four central messages geared toward communities MAG determines to be at risk, due to past incidents with landmines. MAG works to remove landmines in many countries, but in Myanmar the organization still lacks permission to remove or officially mark land mines and other unexploded devices.

In 2018 alone, between January and October, there have been 285 reported civilian incidents resulting in death or injury from landmines, or one every 26 hours. It takes a dedicated crew of clowns to make an entertaining and hilarious show about such a difficult topic. We all have a lot of our own learning to do, so we can understand the situation on the ground.

What The Show Looks Like

How do we do it? I thought you would never ask! We start off with a typical Clowns Without Borders show to get the attention of the crowd. We trip and bump into each other, and balance objects. After a few acts we “discover” two large banners with pictures of landmines and other unexploded objects (UXO). We bring up the local MAG staff, and they describe the banners, showing what potential landmines and other UXOs might look like.

The MAG staff explains that these explosives are often buried underground so they may be only partially visible, if at all. UXOs have been recently discovered in new areas. The MAG staff had previously shared their key safety messages with us, so we make them clown-y and fun for the show: Four gestures to remember mine safety, which the audience can practice and perform with us!

Safety Messages

Since our audience is primarily kids (usually very young) we need to focus on the essentials. Our key messages are:

  • If you see something, don’t touch it.
  • If you see something, tell an adult immediately.
  • ALWAYS stay on the safe, well traveled path.
  • If you see an “X” in your path (the unofficial way of marking potential danger), turn around and go back.

MAG helps us encourage the audience to perform these gestures at the beginning of the show, during the show when we, as clowns, encounter dilemmas related to mine safety, and then finally at the end of the show. Audience helpers join us at the end.

Measuring Impact

So how are we doing? MAG conducted interviews before we arrived, to document existing knowledge about mines, and then again after the show. The good news is, after the show people report understanding the messages. In six months, MAG will follow up. We hope that in six to nine months from now the reports show the communities we’re performing for not only remember our messages but also follow them.

I hope they remember the safety messages AND the clown moments, like Andres hitting himself in the butt with a Diablo. Even though I feel like I’ve learned more in the past two weeks than I have in the past four months, we’re only catching glimpses of all there is to know, learn and feel from being in Myanmar. I only wish our work was creating a show about mimes, not mines. Sorry! I can’t help myself.

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