Circus News

Sad Faces: Clowns Who Perform in Conflict Zones Stuck at Home Amid Covid

Clowns Without Borders try to spread laughter in refugee camps and communities in crisis – but the past 12 months haven’t been fun

If it wasn’t for the pandemic, Naomi Shafer would be working in the West Bank now. She and her fellow clowns would wake up at 7am, eat breakfast, then crowd themselves into a car. During a two-hour drive into East Jerusalem, they might scramble into costumes and makeup.

By 10am the posse would perform the first of two shows for displaced Palestinian children, then have lunch with students or tea with the teachers. In the afternoon, another school, another show, another visit.

Back at their home base in Bethlehem they would play soccer with neighborhood kids. After dinner, they’d rinse costumes, mend props and debrief. Then pack it up for the next day.

But last March, coronavirus grounded Clowns Without Borders.

For the 15 CWB chapters around the world who dispatch laughter into trauma, this should have been their Olympics. They are psychological first responders – professional clowns, jugglers, mimes and circus artists who perform in refugee camps, conflict zones and communities in crisis. Yet, the cruelty of an airborne virus means they cannot send in the clowns.

At the start of 2020, Shafer had organized six trips – to Colombia, Lebanon, Palestine, Russia, Brazil and Spain. The day before their flight to Bogotá last March, they made the heartbreaking decision to cancel the mission to bring fun to Venezuelan refugees. They’ve been stuck at home since.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I was like, it’s impossible. We can’t clown online. Then I thought about it. We’ve performed in fields, we’ve performed under a tree, we’ve performed in parking spaces, we’ve made rubber rafts on the beaches of Lesbos into a stage. Why can’t we do it on Zoom? For us, the show is always in an improbable space,” Shafer, the 31-year old executive director of Clowns Without Borders USA who is herself a clown, told the Guardian.

Shafer has since relocated from New York City to Bozeman, Montana, and, as much as she can, adapted operations online, holding clowning workshops over Zoom.

There was some upside. Artists from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria could train in the same room online, a gathering that geopolitical tensions and travel restrictions would never allow.

“Zoom has no checkpoints, no visas, no border crossings,” Shafer wrote in a blogpost.

In March, this year’s annual benefit took place online instead of a theater in Portland, Oregon.

A performer wriggled out of a full body balloon against a Starlight Express-esque background. A red-nosed mime tried to fold a fitted sheet. In his Brooklyn apartment, Omari Soulfinger danced to James Brown slipping on a floor strewn with banana peels.

Shafer has updated her clown database, organizing more than 100 artists by skill, language ability and geography. They’re working on a digital mine education campaign with Mines Advisory Group in Somalia, Vietnam, Lebanon and Iraq…

Read the Full Article at The Guardian