Friday, December 30, 2011

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.

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