Once a year, something special happens in the Clowns Without Borders (CWB) community. Clowns and administrators from each of CWB’s fifteen chapters gather for several days to share, listen, discuss, dream and question. Together, they form CWBI, an umbrella organisation created for better communication and coordination amongst the chapters. This year the meeting was hosted by Payasos Sin Fronteiras (PSF), and took place outside Barcelona in Spain.
To our delight, the meeting was opened by Tortell Poltrona, the founder of CWB, who told the remarkable story of how it all began. In 1993, a group of school children in Barcelona were in contact with refugee children in Croatia through a volunteer programme. These refugee children told the Catalan children, “You know what we miss most? We miss laughter, to have fun, to enjoy ourselves”. So the Spanish children asked their local clown, Tortell Poltrona, if he would go there and make these children laugh again. They raised the money to send him and a troupe of artists and it was such a success that, within a year, they had organised 12 expeditions to the Balkans. And so CWB was born – from the compassionate hearts of children!
Who better then to be the person to meet and greet us all than the 12-year-old daughter of PSF’s main administrator? With astonishing efficiency and care, she took us to our wooden cabins and made us feel at home. Hosting over thirty clowns from all over the world is a logistical and financial feat. With great resourcefulness, PSF made an agreement with the city council to use the civic hall for the meetings, in exchange for a press conference and free public show in the town square. Which meant on top of all the serious discussions to be had, there was also a show to create! Every evening after dinner, a group of clowns gathered with instruments, solo material and open minds to weave together a variety show.
The days were long, hot and rich. Discussions ranged from how to increase diversity within CWB teams and within CWBI, a new sustainable model for CWBI and how to move forward with our global partnership with Plan International. Every moment was precious. During all the in-between moments, like lunch and the bus ride between the cabins and the meeting hall, important conversations were had, connections made and seeds for future collaborations between chapters planted. They were some of the fullest (or foolish) days of my life!
Even clowns need reminders to not take themselves too seriously and there were a few – ‘Keep It Brief’ underpants, which were waved in moments when someone needed to be ‘brief’, and the “Let’s Play’ underpants for those moments when a game or energizer was needed. This year, we even had a unicorn crown for the person taking the minutes and bunny ears for our sweet coordinator when she needed complete attention, for example, during the voting of the budget.
To top it all off, there was the show in the town square (photo by Marta Lopez) on the penultimate evening – over an hour of professional, hilarious and poignant moments. As someone who is usually on the other side, wearing the red nose and performing, it was such an honour to be in the audience and experience the magic of a CWB show. I cried happy tears throughout and it brought me straight to the heart and essence of this wonderful community.