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Interview with Clowns Without Borders

The Dulwich Festival is pleased to welcome the charity Clowns Without Borders to share for the first time, the performance they have been touring to refugee camps in Europe. We spoke to the founder of the UK chapter, Samantha Holdsworth about the important work the charity is doing and what the audiences can expect from the interactive and highly silly performance on Saturday 13th May.

Can you tell us a bit about the work that Clowns Without Borders does and why it is so important?

Clown Without Borders shares joyful performances with children living in some of the most hostile circumstance in the world including conflict zones, refugee camps and areas of natural disaster. This is because we believe every child has the right to a childhood full of laughter and play, regardless of their circumstances. Through our clown-based activities we create unique opportunities for children to engage in imaginative play, self-expression and most importantly, laughter.

We use laughter as a tool for recovery and as a way to provide emotional release and respite from the challenges of daily life. Experts in Development Aid describe this work as “psychosocial first-aid” we call it “Laughter Aid”!

What is your role and how did you get involved in the charity?

I set up Clowns Without Borders UK in 2014 and have been running the organisation alongside my day job as a theatre practitioner. I have been on five Clowns Without Borders tour as a clown since then. I trained in clowning with Philippe Gaulier for a year when he was in London in the early 2000’s. The focus of his teaching is ‘le jeu’ and brining pleasure to whatever role you play. I’ve tried to take that approach to life in general, ever since.

Why are clowns so powerful?

There’s a glorious defiance and playfulness to our work, and to clowning in general that does not accept crisis or conflict is more powerful than children having the chance to laugh and to experience what it is to be a child free from concern. Our professional clowns are interested in human connection and interaction. This requires sensitivity and awareness. We need to be able to ‘read’ and gain the trust of the children we work for, letting them know it’s safe to laugh; to imagine. Through our clowning we are saying to the children we are here for and we care about you. It’s only through this approach, which really comes from the heart, that the children can trust us and therefore let go. When that happens, anything is possible, like pretending we are all chickens and laughing together.

One of the most powerful aspects of our work is the sense of community it creates. Children stand side-by-side parents and aid-workers, connected through laughter. It’s an incredibly humbling and moving experience to arrive at a camp and notice the children are dispersed, not really doing anything and to leave with them playing and sharing recreated scenes from our show with anyone who will watch. The ‘slow-motion’ race is a definite favourite, followed closely by the ‘Dancing Banana’.

What do you hope children coming to your event at the Dulwich Festival will experience from your performance?

Children are children wherever they are in the world so I hope our show creates many opportunities for laughter and a chance to engage in some down-right silliness!

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