Sustainability of laughter

It is almost 2 years since I worked with 18 Artists at the Arts Centre in Nieu Bethesda in the middle of the bush of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. The artists came from the nearby township. On my previous visit I was deeply touched by the joy, the openness and gratefulness of the people I worked with. In spite of their difficult lifes surrounded by poverty, alcoholism, abuse and violence they were able to work artistically on their own clown characters, leaving everything behind them and living from one moment to the next.

Rarely have I laughed so much from the bottom of my heart as in that time. For Jeni Couzyn, the director of the Arts Centre, the Artists and me it was obvious that we wanted to continue our cooperation.

Thanks to the support of the Bethesda Foundation, RED NOSES International and RED NOSES Germany I went on my 30-hour journey on the 17th of September. This time we wanted to stage a story from the Bushmen mythology.

Jeni who is a poet and writer made a play out of one of the stories. We had just 3 days! Luckily the group had done a little bit of work before our arrival. In the rehearsals we worked with 3 different puppets, which had to be moved with 3 and 5 puppeteers. We also had to deal with acting and bringing together the puppets and the actors. Not an easy task! But after intensive rehearsal work they were able to improve their technique a lot. The Story is about the abuse of power and the refusal to take responsibility of ones own life. Although these are serious issues we were able to include humour and laughter through clown work.

After four days we had our premiere at the amphitheatre of the Arts Centre in Nieu Bethesda. Among the audience there was Prof. Pippa Skotnes from Cape Town, who wrote important books about the San Bushmen. After the performance Prof. Skotnes gave a lecture for the official opening of the Quilt gallery, an installation of Quilts made at the Arts Centre depicting San mythology. She emphasised how much she was touched that the old stories were being performed by the descendants of the Bushman. The culture and language of the /Xam Bushmen became extinct in the 19th century. But the beautiful Quilts and our little play brought them back to life.

The next day we gave another performance for the whole village. Again I was very impressed at the standard achieved by the artists, who had never had acting training before. They were able to perform, what we had learned during the rehearsals.

On Monday Jeni asked me to work with 6 artists, who couldn’t yet bring their talents fully to the surface. We worked on story telling, invented stories and played with different possibilities for performing them. In the afternoon we gave a little performance for the rest of the group. The audience was thrilled. Qualities of the performers came to the surface, that their colleagues had never seen in them in all these years. Of course Filou the Clown had to give a performance again. Especially because a lot of children recognised me on the street and waved their hands excited at me. Again I feel that the country and particularly the people were a special gift to me. Through connecting the old stories of the Bushmen with our methods of clown work and theatre play I have the impression that two worlds have come together in a very useful way.

And I am more and more convinced that there is a sustainability of laughter.


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