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Embracing Fears – Reflections from Toni Thord-Gray on the North West LOTTO Tour

I have never worked on a project where a single, repeated show evolves constantly over its two week run. Nor have I ever had to be funny. Each performance holds an energy and becomes humorous for different reasons: the pupils laughter ringing in my ears, the reactions they have to each scenario that myself and my fellow clowns create, the rhythm of the story that speeds up and slows down or a single movement that becomes a dance.

Children are the harshest audience yet they are incredibly forgiving. As a clown their mockery can be motivating, they find humour in our mistakes. Can a clown even make mistakes? Or is a ‘mistake’ the creation of a new joke or a constantly changing story?

I was very nervous (and still am) about performing for high school students, partly because it has not been long since I too was was one. Our second high school show had me on edge. There was a brief moment where I desperately wanted the pupils to think I was cool, I became self conscious in my pink sequined skirt, colourful frills and big red nose. I felt like a teenager again, with an intense pressure hanging over me, watching pointed fingers and waiting for rude comments. It took a few deep breaths before I remembered: they did not need to think that I was cool, I was a part of a show that would teach them and raise awareness about situations that may happen daily yet are not normal. A show that would make them laugh and forget about reality for a short time.

The students surprised me, they howled, sung and danced with us. They made so much noise, we softened our own voices to focus their attention and draw them closer.

With a hula hoop in my hand the insecurities disappeared, I watched mouths drop open in awe. I became a child; free and happy. There were hundreds of children watching, their expressions mirroring my own feelings.

My challenges are becoming easier to deal with: I am slowly recognising Tswane words, my clumsy dancing does not embarress me anymore (I own it!) and I am learning how to play in front of hundreds of people. It has been an amazing learning experience so far and a priviledge to work with Clowns Without Borders. I am excited for our next week performing in Mafikeng.