Clowns shot from the back, facing an audience seated on a hillside

Eyes Rather Than Words

Robin Lara joins CWB – USA for her very first tour, Cali, Colombia. CWB – USA and CaliClown partnered to tour the Department of Cauca, focused on youth violence prevention. In this blog, she reflects on the unique challenges of performing for older folks. 

Robin Lara

Different Energies

Whenever I go on humanitarian clown tours, I learn so much about the world. I’m incredibly lucky to be welcomed into people’s spaces, to play with their children, and to meet their families. We’re usually greeted with open arms and treated like old friends. Often, we seek out people who are forgotten by the world at large, and it’s these people who teach me the most.

Today, we stop by a center for very old folks with Alzheimer’s. The day before, we had performed three shows for huge audiences full of boisterous kids, and I wasn’t quite energetically prepared myself for what I was walking into that morning. But the job of the clown is to find a way to match the energy of whatever situation they’re in. To find a connection point, no matter the circumstances. For this show, a bunch of people sit quietly in chairs, and they need us to meet them where they’re at. We start by walking around and hugging each person, spending a moment getting to know them.

The first woman to greet us is no more than five feet tall. She crosses herself, crosses us, and points up at the sky. Then she does it again, and again. I think I’m crossed about 100 times by this lovely woman. She follows these gestures by pointing us in the direction of someone she wants us to hug. Next up is a man who tells us he was an amazing guitar player. We excitedly hand him a ukulele and dance along while he strums and sings loudly, playing no chords whatsoever. He receives wild applause.

Robin and Erin with an Alzheimer's patient

Then come the three Marias. Three generations of women, all living at this center together. The youngest Maria is probably about my age. She’s very sweet, but she doesn’t make eye contact or speak. Her mom, Maria, smiles through our whole time at the center. We dance together and my heart spills over with joy. And the final Maria: Her sparse hair is pulled back into a tight bun and her face is painted on, as if from a different era. These women may not have much, but they have each other.

Lastly, I meet a frail woman with a loud mouth, who has her silver hair braided into two pigtails. It gives her the appearance of a young girl. She wants to tell us about her family in the United States, and plant huge wet kisses on our cheeks. It’s a puzzle to creatively dislodge her as we leave, because her arms are so interwoven through ours.

The world is not made for these people. We send away our old, our sick and anyone who can’t keep up with the rest of us—and literally forget about them. I wonder how many of these people had families who dropped them off and never came back. How many are full of adventurous stories that will never be heard by anyone, beyond the loving staff members. I gently and quietly read their body language, to see who wants an interaction. I use my eyes, rather than my words, to make an offer. I stand in front of them, one by one, hold their hands, look into their eyes, and as the clown is wont to do, I just am.

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