Friday, December 30, 2011

Clowns Without Borders and War Child Canada, November 2011

For this project, Clowns Without Borders partnered with War Child Canada in Haiti where WCC has been working since February 2010, focusing on child protection and gender based violence. WCC doesn't work directly in the field but through local partners and community projects. Their staff is composed of technicians, trainers, and psychologists and everyone is Haitien except for one french employee and one employee from Sierra Léon.

There is not a strong hummanitarian culture of protection work in Haiti and few funds are alloted towards protection work.

In Port au Prince, WCC works in the neigborhood of Carrefour Feuille with 5 Youth Clubs (Cleaced, JEZI, Ajevich, GEM, and EKT) and with a local organization called APROSIFA which has 4 centers. In Jacmel, WCC works with 3 Child Safe Centers (in Cayes Jacmel, Marigo, and Coq Chanté) and with a local organization which focuses on sexual and gender based violence called Femmes Décidés.

We are four clowns: Béné (French), Jeff (American), Marykristn (Quebecquoise), and myself, Selena (American, living in france). We begin our collaboration with WCC by going to Jacmel to tour our show with just the four of us clowns as a way to introduce our work. We perform for children from the 3 centers and we do a performance for an adult audience of mostly women at a sensibilisation event organized by Femmes Décidés. Perhaps Clowns Without Borders will return to Jacmel for a residency another time.

We also perform our show upon our return to Port au Prince at the lunch break on our first day of trainings. It serves as an introduction in clown, both to the group of 24 activity leaders we are training and to the community where we are in residency for 7 days.

War Child Canada has invited Clowns Without Borders to Port of Prince to train members of the youth clubs who teach activities in their communities. WCC wants out training to give these activity leaders skills to have fun with the children they are teaching. These activity leaders are volunteers and will be intervening 1-2 hrs a week, or up to 4 hrs a week depending on their availability and commitement. WCC wants to bring something new, special, and different to the communities via their project with Clowns Without Borders. Their director tells us they are proud to be bringing something new.

Our training is over the course of 7 days with 24 activity leaders, 4 from each of the 5 youth clubs and 4 from APROSIFA. These activity leaders were chosen by their respective youth clubs after a big meeting explaining the project with photos and video of past Clowns Without Borders work in Haiti.

Parallel to this morning training we lead afternoon workshops with 20 children (4 from each of the youth clubs) assisted by 4 activity leaders (1 from each of the youth clubs). These 4 activity leaders are also part of our morning group. In addition to having an all day schedule like us, they are responsible for picking up the 4 kids from their center at lunchtime and bringing them home at the end of the day.

At the end of our residency we will create a show with these 20 children and 4 activity leadersand tour the show in the neighborhoods of the different youth clubs.

For more about Clowns Without Borders : and

Audiences (CWB and WCC, Haiti 2011)

I try to bring back a bit of our experiences in Haiti to share them. A whisper of the project.

For days after the trip I remain in suspension. Not yet arrived. I could open the door of my apartment and find myself in Port au Prince. I could wake up in the middle of the night, the sound of the fan in my ears. I wonder how they are the taking the end of the project, the trainers and the kids. This question floats around me like a light fog, but I don't try to answer it. I don't even try to imagine it. However the question stays there, ressonating.

The second of our final shows is in the community of a youth club called GEM We meet in the school which is dark like a dungeon and echoey. The kids from the neighborhood mix with our kids from the show, voices resonating off the walls all around us. The activity leaders from this center are in charge of setting up the performance space and we try our best to leave it up to them. Béné, Marykristn, and Jeff go to have a look but I stay behind. We get in line to start and warmup and ritualize putting on our noses. During the recent years of leading groups in mouvement work, clown, english class, even Qi Gong, I seem to gain more awareness each time I lead a warmup of getting a group to breath with me, and that I can balance or off-balance or re-balance a group. At this particular moment I feel like I'm trying so hard to get us all settled, but it is just ... too frantic. It feels like trying to balance an egg on a spoon held in ones mouth walking against the flow of pedestrian traffic in the middle of midtown new york rush hour.

So we start. When we arrive at our performace space we discover that there is too much space behind the stage area and not enough space for the audience to sit (we ourselves, 33 performers, take up much of it !). In the end a large part of the « real » audience ends up standing behind the stage area. We try to chase them into the space where we'd like them to sit but they don't want to move. It only occurs to me after the show that part of their unwillingness to move was probably the fact that watching the audience was just as fascinating as watching the show. Us 4 white foreign clowns mixed in with a big group of kids and neighborhood activity leaders and every one of us full of frenetic bubbling energy.

As we exit with our final chant « Et ils s'en vont au pas ! » everyone runs and the audience follows us. A wild mob energy.

For me this was our most difficult show of our final performances. Rather than directing the immediate preparation of the show, we were trying to let the activity leaders from GEM be as responsible as possible. It felt like we, the CWB team perhaps hadn't prepared for the show enough. However, when I talked to my fellow clowns, and when we all spoke with the trainers from GEM I was reminded that in this hecticness, there was extreme celebration. One activity leader told us how magnificent it was to perform in front of her community. And I was also reminded that this experience was entirely in keeping with our curriculum. In our workshops we put an emphasis on creating the space to let the person who is leading lead, and to let students learn through trial and error and trial again. We had done exactly what we wanted to do by letting the leaders from GEM manage the show setup.

The next day the 4 activity leaders from GEM surprised us by tagging along for our 2 shows in other communities. Our final show was at the entrance to two refugee camps and was organized by two youth clubs from those camps, Ajevich and JEZI. This was our last show of four. By now we were all more comfortable with the show structure as well as with performing in front of an audience. Also, we had all gotten to know each other a lot more. I spent a little more time planning out with the activity leaders how we'd do the entrance, exit, and transitions. Jeff, Béné, and I helped Farah a little more with the presentation. And we had quite a few numbers from the activity leaders from Ajevich and JEZI.

It was a fantastic final performance and especially great to have made the journey from a more hectic and frenetic show to a better organized yet equally enthusiastic final performance. It was especially important that the activity leaders from GEM were able to be a part of this evolution.

At this final show, at first the audience didn't want to approach us. In clown Béné and I tried to urge them to come closer, but Jethro whispered to me that it was their way in this community and not to push it. So we didn't. About midway through the show we realized that the audience had joined us and melded into our front rows of kids and activity leaders waiting to get up for their numbers.

During this trip we had a very interesting conversation with 2 trainers from the organization Terre des Hommes - TDH who have been part of past Clowns Without Borders trainings in Haiti and joined us for a few days of this one. They have been continuing to perform themselves and have been organizing performances with children at TDH. They are interested in continuing this work in many different ways, and one thing that they mentioned to us was how they would like to teach Haitian audiences how to watch a clown show. Because Haitian audiences are vocal, they comment on, and sometimes repeat what is happening on stage. Yet it is a gift to have the audience reaction be so visible and audible.

A few days after returning to Paris I went to see a physical theater show with a couple of friends, we arrived just a minute late and had to tiptoe in as the entire audience turned to look at us. Quiet and following the codes of a parisian audience, I viciously missed rambunctiously street performing in Haiti.

Témoignage (CWB and WCC, Haiti 2011)

J'essaye de ramener un bout de nos expériences en Haïti pour les partager. Un souffle du projet. Un peu tardif, mais voici :

Pendants des journées après mon retour je me sens toujours en suspension. Pas encore arrivée. Je pourrai ouvrir la porte de mon appartement et me retrouver à Porte au Prince, me réveiller au milieu de la nuit avec le ton du ventilateur dans mes oreilles.

Je me demande comment ils le sentent la fin du projet, les formateurs et les enfants. Cette question comme une brume qui flotte autour de moi mais je n'y réponds pas. Je n'essaie même pas vraiment d'y imaginer. Mais la question résonne.

Une des formatrice m'a dit avant qu'on parte : « vous n’êtes même pas partis et vous me manquez déjà. Ça va être bizarre lundi de ne plus avoir la formation. » Un projet si dense et pendant lequel je me dis assez souvent que j'adore trop ce travail. C'est addictif. Et ce projet ci, qui a eu un tel élément de formation, avec un groupe tellement investi, j'en sors fière d'avoir été témoin de voyages individuels à l’intérieur du voyage du groupe.

Fabrication de balles de jonglage

Fabrication de nez

Formation de formateurs

Une formatrice qui a eu du mal avec l'acrobatie. Elle était consciente de son corps plus grand que les autres dans le groupe. Mais c'était aussi un plus grand challenge pour elle. Et a la fin de la semaine on la croise dans le centre ou elle travail, elle nous dit, toute souriante et pétillante qu'elle organisera la partie acrobatie d'un spectacle avec les enfants de son centre.

Au début de la semaine un autre formateur parlait de sa peur face à des groupes d'enfants et il nous a demandé si notre formation allait lui libérer de sa peur. Au moment de sa question j'ai senti un vide s'ouvrir dans la conversation. Je me retrouvais face à un groupe qui avait confiance en moi, Formatrice de formateurs. Et j'adore laisser la place à des questions. Mais quoi répondre ? J'ai parlé du travail d'expression d’émotions du clown, et du fait qu'on joue de nos émotions. C'est le dernier jour de la formation, en faisant un numéro avec son groupe, que ce même formateur se lâche dans des énormes pleurs absurdes. La psychologue de War Child nous dit qu'elle est allée le voir sur son lieu de travail et que lui, qui était au par avant plutôt fermé dans son approche avec les enfants, était entrain d'enseigner toutes les activités qu'il apprenait avec nous les matins. Elle le voyait plus proche dans son rapport avec les enfants, son visage plus ouvert. C'est au moment de ce retour positif qu'on se souvient de son questionnement du début.

C'est le premier projet formation Clowns Without Borders auquel je participe dans lequel on arrive à aborder non seulement le jeu mais aussi le clown. On vise à rester claire entre les activités qui sont destinés au travail avec les enfants – des jeux qui privilégie le ludique, l'expression, et aussi la concentration, l'écoute de groupe – et les exercices de clown destinés à ce sacré groupe de formateurs dans lequel il y a des écrivains, des comédiens, des metteurs en scène, des sculpteurs, des musiciens, et des clowns avec une sacrée envie de jouer sur scène pour un public.

On incorpore les numéros des 24 formateurs dans les spectacles qu'on créé avec 20 enfants et 5 formateurs assistant/apprentis. Et tout le monde met le nez. Le moment que le publique apprécie le plus c'est quand on fait tous la poule, l'espace de scène est envahie par 33 poules !!! Et puis on se fait chassée par un coq ! Alors on devient des chats et on le pourchasse à son tour et le coq se réfugie dans le publique.

Le long de nos ateliers, on témoigne aussi des enfants timides qui s'ouvrent et s’expriment de plus en plus. Une fille qui au début a beaucoup de mal à se concentré et qui nous pince pour avoir notre attention. À la fin des ateliers, c'est elle qui est une des leaders de son groupe et qui aide les autres à rester concentrés sur leur numéro. Elle nous donne des bisous au lieu de nous pincer.

Dans chaque projet auquel je participe on chérit les retours de ce genre qui mettent en évidence la valeur de notre travail.

Mais cette année je me retrouve pleine de questionnement et discussion sur le terme de « thérapie » et sur l'utilité de « l'aide humanitaire ». Ces deux termes et domaines sont basé sur une hiérarchie de celui qui a des troubles et celui qui peut l'aider.

Je pense que la beauté de notre travail est que notre but n'est pas d'aider dans ce sens hiérarchique.

Notre but c'est de jouer, de se pencher sur le joyeux, l'absurde, le ludique (et des fois l'importance et le sérieux du jeu, car des fois jouer c'est important et sérieux...) Et de jouer avec tout le monde qu'on rencontre: du directeur d'une ONG au cireur de chaussures, ce qui « aident » et qui sont « aidés », ce qui soignent et sont soignés, et tout ce qu'il y a entre ces pôles extrêmes.

On fait ça parce qu'on est clown, et parce qu'on approche le monde avec cette naïveté face à l'hiérarchie, notre travail reste celui des clowns sans frontières même dans les moments qu'on n'est pas « en clown ».

Ubla Dubla Trubla at Out the Box Festival (Cape Town, South Africa, 2011)

This is my 3rd time going to South Africa. As the plane approaches Cape Town, I try to travel back in time. Visions of bus stations, airports, minibus taxi rides...always comings and goings...often my arriving before or after...on my own. But this time I am part of a family. (And a show, Ubla Dubla Trubla, which is a creation of our ensemble theater company Crache Larmes) My experience of South Africa sets me apart. But still I am within. 1 of 3. We are going there together, staying and working together, leaving together. 3. Variable, but such a solid number.

People are so welcoming and generous. We stay with a family in Muizenburg, by the beach, for a few days. A 9 year old german boy lends us his binoculars to look at 2 whales. We watch a seal surf. We follow it walking along the beach as it swims down the coast. Then it is time to rehearse. We rehearse on the beach facing the surf but we are so immersed in our own water world we don't even see the sun set over the sea. Stunning pink skies and we don't even see them. The timing takes all. We sharpen our slapstick. Our glass jar tower. The ending. I'm afraid of over rehearsing. The sand is so different than the ground we're used to performing on. I jump smack on to the tower that I'm supposed to jump over. Whoops.

We spend much of our preparation time negotiating the ground of our performance spaces. What were we thinking creating a show with glass jars anyway ?!?! I feel like an overly cautious American girl afraid of setting a dangerous bad example by playing with glass jars on a hard surface. But also it really is dangerous. We need to perform on soft surfaces and the glass jars are a good, if drastic, barometer. We can't get used to them or take them for granted. The lesson I learn over and over these days is to experience the show in the present. To not take anything for granted when I'm performing. To let each scripted moment live rather than rushing through to the next one. Everything is a discovery.

I am learning with this show that I have to be with my partners, with the objects on stage, with the audience, and with my character. And I have to be with all of them all the time. And in all that, I guess, my self can be in suspension between all those anchors.

Our first show opens the Out the Box festival; we perform our first show to about 200 people at the end of a giant puppet parade. We are part of the festival's community hub in Observatory; the only outdoor show in the festival; part of their effort to bring the festival to the community and to bring new community members to the festival. The next day we do a show for a small audience in a community playground and another on the town green across from the Sunday « holistic fair ». The day after several school classes come to see our show. We do a question and answer session, "What do Ubla, Dubla, Trubla mean ?" "Does Trubla mean spit ?" "How come Trubla is the coolest ?" (what?!?!?) "How do you do that spin on your hands ?" "Why is Ubla wearing makeup like a girl ?" "How come you guys are crazy ?" "How guys are funny." One fourteen year old fan tells us : "Your show is so dreamy and sureal. I loved the wave, I could just, like, see it. "

Simultaneously to our preparation for the Out the Box festival we have been in touch with an organization in Masiphumelele that Clowns Without Borders – South Africa spent a day with on a tour last year. Masiphumelele is a township with low crime rates and a beautiful library. Riding the train and minibus taxi the 1hr+ trip to get there, I feel the class distance from the downtown festival spaces, the nice house by the beach we are staying in, our paris neighborhoods. And yet compared to communities I had visited in on my last two trips to South Africa, this township feels middle class to me.

We organize a performance at a nursery school in Masiphumelele. We go there the next day and just as we arrive, it starts raining. What were we thinking creating a show where we spit and throw water on the ground and need to perform outdoors?!?! We postpone the show til after the festival finishes and plan on teaching workshops which we can do outside or inside.

The day that we teach the workshops is our first time team teaching together. It is really fluid and fun. We do silling warmup games and object manipulation, making found object puppets that kids manipulate together in small groups. Our central theme is underwater animals, which coincidently turns out to be the current theme in the kids' classroom. A few months ago they went on a class trip to the aquarium and in a few days they will be going to the natural history museum. These 4 to 6 year olds transform our every day objects into dolphins and octopus, proposing underwater animals we hadn't thought of. Their teachers translate and participate in the exercises.

(On my last 2 trips to South Africa in 2005 and 2006 I had performed in so many different schools, in different regions, in the city and countryside, and along different class and race lines. This one school that we taught at this time struck me as an interesting middleground amongst the extremes of South Africa... a public school in a township on the edge of Cape Town, but one where kids have access to museum and aquarium visits as well as visiting clown teaching artists).

After our morning of workshops we organized to return at the end of the week to perform our show in the park next to the community library....when the performance day came....wouldn't you know more rain. We were very dissapointed and felt completely beholden to the shifting Cape Town weather.

But it was so fun to see Tristan having fun leading the underwater animals. And to see Linda so confident teaching. And neat for me to feel relaxed and totally trusting these fellow teachers. I have done many trips with many awesome, talented people, yet this is the first time that the team really feels like a family. That we are Linda, Tristan, Selena, but we are also Ubla Dubla Trubla. We each have strikingly different personalities but we also can work as an organism or as a distinct species with a shared unique language. It is the magic of 3 entities adding up to more than just 3. On stage. But also when we cook or make planning decisions. When we find our way around town and entertain each other. When we analyze our performances and workshops. And when we make fun of each other there is lots of caring for each other under it all.

For more about Crache Larmes and for photos and video of Ubla Dubla Trubla:

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Debriefing, Feedback, Reflection

photos by Fanny Mraz and Anna Zastrow

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At the very end of the trip I start looking at some of the photos. It is a glimpse of the impact that our work has. Because, in fact, from the inside of the work, we don’t know our impact, just our experiences.

It is also through our small debrief conversations that we get a taste of the impact of our work. The kids lit up when we asked what it was like to perform outside of their community. Our film director told us about seeing parents transform when they saw their kids laughing at us in the hospital. In our debrief with the 18 Activity Leaders we trained the first week, I realized how much they had discovered about their own talents in that one week and how much they wanted us to come back to work with again them. In side conversations with the trainers, we heard about their inspiration for up and coming events. And from our primary contacts at TDH we heard that they have received feedback about people feeling proud of their work with us and validated by the audience response to their performance.

On our last night in Haiti we found ourselves stranded in the TDH office by a violent downpour. We were with one of the spectacular trainers that we worked with in Grand Goave, Morlon Lhe Bellerice. We played “You are my Sunshine” on the recorder, Jan practiced diabolo, and we drew pictures in silence. Morlon made us this drawing:

by Morlon Lhe Bellerice

Back in Paris now, I received an email from a trainer in Les Cayes saying that our work is bearing fruits and will continue to do so. And a great audio interview/debrief with four of the trainers.

This trip to Haiti has left me with more thoughts, opinions, and questions on international humanitarian aid than any trip before. It as stirred up my views on systematic inequality. It has whipped up my political convictions. It has also made me consistently question and re-evaluate our own work and our reasons for doing it.

Yet the structure of this project has and will provide us with the most feedback of any Clowns Without Borders project that I’ve been involved in. The more I hear back, the more I find myself convinced that this type of multi-faceted project - this type of relationship with a partner organization and the individuals and communities it works with - is one of the best ways for us to work.

Contribute to Clowns Without Borders’ future work in Haiti at:

Galooper, Galoper, Galooper, Woooo!!!! Wooooo!!!!

The community we have been working in all week feels completely different after nightfall. No electricity or hardly. Little gas lamps here of there. People standing on the street playing cards or dominoes. It has just gotten dark and we are told to get out of there quick. On our drive out I see one of the kids from our workshop sharing the rest of his meal (the hot meals we eat are always in big styrofoam take out containers that get added to the piles of garbage all over the place) with his dad, or maybe his grandpa?

The kids were so hyper on the bus ride home after our first show today. They sang the entire time. Over an hour of non-stop singing...."Pedaler Pedaaler Pedaler woo woo!! Galoper Galooper Galoper woo woo!" "Meli Melo! something something something Meli Melo! something something something..." "I said a Boom Chicka Boom!!" then "Okay Okay? Okay! Si....Lence!!!" we think for 2 seconds we will have a couple minutes of quiet, but, nope: "Un elephant...qui se balader...tout doucement...dans la forêt..."

It's great, the kids are flying. Having spent the afternoon as stars performing in another community - in the countryside - it was a trek to get to: we had to shuttle up to hill, piling everyone into our 2 4x4s for the 20 min ride up a super bumpy ravine like road. then we had to wait at the top for the second round.

This time we made a conscience effort to work the animateurs (workshop leaders we have been training) into the show. Not only did it give them the chance to shine on stage too, but we gave them more responsibility in the show creation. I think this group will come away from the experience better able to create shows than the last group.

This show was a much more integrated weave of kids, animateurs, trainers, and us 3 clowns all of us together on stage.

At the end of the long day, when we sat down to eat in the dusk lighting back in Cité Delma, one of the girls put my hand on her neck to feel how sweaty she was from dancing when we arrived back there. Still hyper, giggly, running around through dinner. I wonder now that it's dark where the kids will be able to wash and in what kind of water. It's only 7:30 but I myself am ready for bed, back at the hotel I take a shower and carefully set up my mosquito net.