Clowns Without Borders-USA
St. PJ’s, San Antonio, Texas
Three clowns, Marisol Rosa-Shapiro, Luther Bangert and I are in residence at St. PJ’s Children Home in San Antonio, TX for two weeks. St. PJ’s mission is to “provide safe and loving refuge to (domestic and international) children in crisis and to accompany them on their journey to healing and wholeness, breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect one child at a time.” The international children have recently arrived from Central America and are in the process of awaiting court dates to reunite possibly with family members. At St. PJ’s children receive counseling to aid this transition, for in many cases the children/youth have not seen their parents in more than ten years.
In addition to performing our Clown show at St. PJ’s, we are doing introductory workshops with all the students housed here. The focus of our workshops is to PLAY, to engage them in ways that are fun, while at the same time build trust, ensemble and learn specific theatre, clown, and performance skills. The two weeks culminate in a presentation by the students.
Students at St. PJ’s are divided into two sections, domestic and international. Within those sections, they are divided by gender and age. In the domestic section, we have three groups: boys and girls, ages 3-6; boys, ages 12-18; girls, ages 10-16, equaling a total of 45 students. In the international section, we have four groups: one group of 30 girls and 50 boys split into 3 groups. In total, we are working with 125 kids.
We meet in their dorm lobby/living room. The staff is friendly, welcoming, and some of them participate in our workshop. Most of the students in our workshops saw our clown show on the first day when we arrived. At our first workshop with the little ones (3-6-year-olds) they greet us cheerfully, “Hi Clowns!!” They wave and scream, and in twos and threes run to each of us asking, “Do you remember when you were reading the newspaper with him (pointing at Luther), and when he was chasing you and then you shared!?” And…“can you sing that song again?” and “remember when she (pointing at Marisol) was trying to pick up the hat!?” And, “do you remember when you had the magic ball in the paper bag!?” Our first workshop began this way, with chaotic spillings-over of joy and enthusiasm.
We then went on to introduce ourselves with our name, a sound, and a movement. The children are full of energy, and Luther, Marisol and I hold it and work with it! We expand and contract our physical movements. I make sounds engaging my whole body and they copy me. To introduce tableaux, we play freeze dance, and they love this. We play duck, duck, goose—they know it well, and to keep everyone safe we change the rules and ask them to run in slow motion, and they do. Then Luther leads us in juggling 101 with one ball, 1,2, from right hand to left. We’ve spent an evening making juggling balls with rice and balloons, and we’ve created a small mountain of juggling balls in the process! In the workshop, they are fascinated with their texture and malleability. Then, they begin to experiment with all the different ways in which they can balance one juggling ball on their bodies. We finish with a song: Bella Mama, Bella Mama Ye.
Next, we meet the girls, and the boys, and spend one hour with each group. We work in their dorm living room as well. The age range amongst them is significant, 9-18 years olds. We said hello and introduced ourselves with name, and gesture. Then we played UPSET. UPSET is a simple way to break something and put it back together. In this case, we were in a circle when I called “UPSET!” The circle breaks by everyone changing places in the circle. We did it a few times, each time listening more with our whole body, listening to ourselves and the whole group, eventually re-shifting into a new circle more efficiently. Then Marisol led CHIEF. With this game, we continued to build trust, listening, and observation skills. With CHIEF, one person from the group leaves the room. While that person is gone the group assigns a Chief. The Chief makes a movement which the group copies; the Chief will continue to change the motion, and the group will continue to copy in such a way that no one should be able to tell who the Chief is. Then the person who left the room returns and tries to guess who the chief is.
Both the girls and the boys loved this game and were volunteering enthusiastically to be chief and observer. Then Luther led the juggling section of our workshop working with one ball. The boys were pessimistic at first, saying “it’s too hard,” or “nah, I can’t do that,” but gradually went from one ball to three. Luther’s contagious grace and calm must have gotten into them! Practicing our juggling I noticed that it is hard to let go of the balls, we’re afraid to drop them, to not catch them. We’re apprehensive to make mistakes. I found myself saying aloud, “Throw them away! After we throw them away, we’ll figure out a way to catch them, but first, we have to let them go.” By the end of the workshop, a few of them were juggling three balls. We finished today’s workshop with Bella Mama. I look forward to seeing the children’s progress this week.