10 days in South Africa

A report by Reinhard Horstkotte
Artistic Director, RED NOSES Germany

 


With butterflies in my stomach, I ventured out on my trip to Nieu Bethesda, a destination right in the middle of the Karoo Desert, Western Cape.

A clown workshop for people who live in townships - what an idea! Township here means draughty huts, no running water, poverty, alcoholism and abuse. It also means white South Africans, who officially still own the land, discriminating against the local township inhabitants. Does this make sense?

In spite of all these questions running wild in my mind, I was still excited and full of curiosity as to what to expect. Finally I had arrived in Africa - at long last!

The Art Centre

This wonderful place is characterized by the creativity of the artists, especially the founder and poet, Jeni Couzyn. All 14 artists who work in the Centre are themselves fighting with the issues of poverty, alcoholism and abuse. Here they can develop their talents and take resposibility for their own work.

The beautiful quilts they make are regularly exhibited and sold in Cape Town, Johannesburg and other cities. Besides the Art Centre, this interesting project also runs guest rooms for tourists and a restaurant. The ultimate aim is for the artists to eventually run the Centre by themselves.

The workshop

A daily meeting every morning has now become routine in the Art Centre. This enables the artists to interact on a platform exchanging special experiences, disappointments, alcoholic backslides, successes and new ideas.

This ritual actually turned out to be a great forum for working on the figure of the clown as there was always complete openness and honesty in the discussions. The topics of failure, the ability to make a fool of oneself and to have the courage to start afresh, all have an explosive effect, particularly in this environment.

During the workshops the participants laughed a lot and were also full of enthusiasm. Due to their musical abilities and their power of expression and creativity, we were able to achieve a great deal in a short span of time. After only 5 days of learning them, the artists were able to teach their juggling tricks to school children!

We also worked on short clown acts. On the last day, the 14 artists presented their work in the amphitheatre of the Art Centre. The entire village was present at the performance. The atmosphere was absolutely wonderful, warm and of course filled with laughter. Even the village police took part in the occasion and assisted by serving tea. Such a thing had never ever happened there before, Jeni Couzyn explained.

The presentation

Filou naturally also gave an appearance. About 200 school children and their teachers attended. Bursting with curiosity they sat glued to their chairs. Filou came on to the stage ... and tripped! This caused the first questions to appear on the children's faces. A white man behavong in such a stupid manner? Filou can just about make it on to the stage - then he sits down - missing the chair by inches. The children become uneasy. What a strange white man. Then the first real eye contact is made.

Suddenly the children realize it's only a game. They burst out laughing which relaxes the atmosphere. After the performance, the workshop participants showed the children how to do the juggling tricks. Another wonderful day!

On the way back I paid my respects to the lions in the safari park. What an impressive sight to experience the animals up close in their own habitat. The whole trip, the work with the people in Nieu Bethesda and the encounters and experiences I made have all enriched my life tremendously.

I'm grateful to all generous supporters who enabled the realization of this project with minimal bureaucracy.

Many thanks to RED NOSES Clowndoctors International, Bethesda Foundation, Eckart von Hirschhausen, ROTE NASEN Deutschland, Henrys Online, der Kleine Zirkusladen.

Forecast

Our biggest wish is to continue our joint efforts here and be able to produce a little tour travelling around the townships in South Africa.

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