ClownEncuentro participants gather for a family portrait, dressed in their outrageous costumes.

Hearts Wide Open

Hannah Gaff represented CWB – USA at the 2019 ClownEncuentro in Cali, Colombia. 

Prepping For The Show

Following the three-day workshop, we’re invited to perform our show at a home for girls in protective services. We created the show during our workshop, and it was a quick, CWB-style experience. Many of the clowns from my workshop are anxious—they’ve never performed in a social clowning context before. What does it mean to perform for someone in a vulnerable state? What is your responsibility as a clown entering this context? How can you do no harm? What are the boundaries?

I definitely don’t have answers to these complex questions, but I do know that the way in which you enter into someone’s space, the manner in which you engage with them, is key. I respond to my students’ fears with the intentions I set for myself on this trip: presence, listening, connection, and the ability to be flexible as things inevitably change.

Reflecting Back

Following the performance, we circle up to reflect back on our experience. Students are blown away by the simplicity of the exchange, and the depth of play and connection achieved in a mere 30 minutes. They’re amazed by the amount of energy and love the girls gave back to us. And, they’re also completely in love with each other. The space we created during our ClownEncuentro workshop prepared us for our intense connection with the girls. It left our hearts wide open and bonded together. I’m looking forward to seeing the ripples from this experience over the next several years, as collaborations and projects are born from this group. In fact, I’m on a WhatsApp group with all of my students, and they continue to message and share their clowning experiences from afar.

A Mini Tour

On Tuesday morning, the day after ClownEncuentro wrapped up and all the beautiful clowns traveled home to continue their work, we make another show. In just four hours, four clowns from Cali Clown join me to create a 45-minute performance. We plan to tour to marginalized communities in Cali, including Colombians who are internally displaced due to armed conflict, and Venezuelan refugees seeking safety in Colombia. That same afternoon, we set off into Cali to perform together for the first time.

On the way to the first show, the clowns explain that we’re headed to a library. This library is in the middle of gang-owned/run territory. Its boundaries are monitored by opposing gang members, and if you unknowingly cross the boundaries, your life is in danger. This library is a space where people can cross those invisible boundaries and gather safely in community. And wow, do they gather! We have a huge audience. The connection is evident as kids buzz around us, jumping, playing, and laughing after the show. Parents shyly hand us their kids for a photo, and thank us for the laughter. Groups of people stand chatting and laughing, and no one is in a hurry to leave.


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