The four of us clowns are Greek language free zones. A smattering of words might emerge with the prominence of blocks of ancient hewn stone that were once part of some grand building. The grand sentences we might say could be constructed, but it is not as if we have the rest of the city context… Translate that to an environment where there are a myriad of ancient languages spoken and our smatterings are a token, an offering, but like museum visitors, the interaction requires a guide.
Now here is where I should be saying that the Clown is our guide, and it is true, clown is a universal language and silly is silly, is asparagus with chocolate. But we also have a local, Greek driver, and very grateful we are for her. Doukeni has made all the arrangements for the visits, and smooths our way into the camps, because, frankly, these entities are no longer free-for-alls, volunteering is now more formalised. Everything requires a piece of paper with the right names and stamps and that isn’t a scribble on the back of a soggy cornered ex bag of fruit.
And what that means for us is that we have a fairly strictly timed itinerary. Two camps per day for seven days. Several hours drive between camps, leave the house early, return to it late. The occasional glimpse of a monument from a steamy window. A filter on a photograph may be romantic, and a filter on life, a balm for the soul, but a filter on the view of the temple of Poseidon is less impressive – and apart from the filter of my own experiences, there is no filter on the view of a camp of people displaced by war.
We arrive without costumes on, yet are no more surreptitious for it. The four of us are a fairly diverse bunch.
We are led by Jo (Clown name: Dezjazja), a sign language interpreter by trade, trained by Lecoq in Paris, and so an expert in the physical, be it theatre or concept expression. This is her third tour, so she has seen a lot of change in the situation. Many of the camps Jo saw before have now shut down and the people dispersed, and some were simply huge.
One camp, Idomeni, which received a certain amount of media coverage when it closed, was simply an informal gathering place next to the border with Macedonia, 8000 people waiting to cross. 8000 people needing food, needing shelter. 8000 people with no piped running water, so babies being washed communally in tupperware, limited lavatories, and queues for everything that mattered. 8000 people with the most minimal of medical access, or activities or teaching for their children. What can a clown do there?
It turns out that the worse the situation, the more some form of respite, particularly for the children – and no matter how minor the offering – can make an impact; it has been gratifying to hear people continue to comment at the appreciation of the continual stream of performers – because from my own perspective, I certainly had feelings of impotence regarding my own contribution.
Jo keeps us on track, fed, enthused and energised. And fed. Good nibbles. And provided with coffee. The children love her to win and her falling out of the taxi is probably my own favourite moment in our show.
Inda is a professional clown from Barcelona (Clown name: Popov). Like most of us, he more normally performs and creates for adults, and his infectious smile is regularly punctuated by laughter of pure joy. There really is nothing happier than the philosophy of the clown. As you look at this screen, there may be nothing to laugh at, and yet, anything might be silly. Ridiculous, literally. And instantaneous of this moment, don’t try to explain it to me because “you had to be there”. So right now I have joy at the touch of my fingers on the keyboard. Have you understood? If yes, I’m thrilled. If no, find out when Inda is performing and go to his show!
Inda, as Jo, has been out here three times before; with Clowns Without Borders twice, and once with Emergency Circus. Spanish clowns appear to have more of the acrobatic skills. Inda is amazing at finger ventriloquism. Ah, but the children love this inexplicably simple game!
Amy (Clown name: Kazoo), a gentle, delicate and beautiful clown who all the children immediately gravitate to, went to Kosovo with the Spanish branch of CWB, again, another experience of deprivation, and a little further along the trail of humanity that is man escaping man. At home, she runs many theatrical projects, including a satirical film she is creating. Our art is ideally suited to poking more fun than many other forms of comedy, simply for its innocence. Its freedom from judgement allows people to see a truth that they might otherwise rather not see. We clowns don’t judge and we are too “simple” to be judged for imitating these things; we leave the judgement and analysis to our audience. The clown is beautiful because the clown is pure and innocent, and is specifically right her and in the moment as a child. The clown always dances as if no one is watching.
And then there is me (Clown name: A Hat)…