Day 2: Anti-Racism & Decolonisation
by Jon Davison
On the second day we explored clowning from an anti-racist perspective and how to decolonise our artform.
Session 1 - Halima Habil – Clowns Without Borders Anti-Racist Training
Halima Habil shared the anti-racist training she has been developing for the last 2-3 years at Clowns Without Borders. As a response to the dangers of white saviourism in the charity sector (including clowns), Halima is part of an advisory board that produced an inclusion, diversity and decoloniality policy. They provide advice to CWB chapters on challenges, best practices and accountability.
The session guided us through exercises in self-reflection on:
Me and White Supremacy https://g.co/kgs/Q8WPCD
Cohesion Collective Www.cohesioncollective.com
Session 2 - Fatina Cummings and Jon Davison - ‘Contested Workshop’
We decided to ‘play ourselves’, which meant:
Jon: white cis male, older than many present, author of books, clown teacher internationally – gets to speak and tell others what to do
Fatina: black cis woman, ‘new’ to performing, challenged by her white and black peers, often excluded by programmers, teachers, etc.
We had agreed on jointly presenting one of Jon’s exercises
After an introduction, Jon explained the phases of the exercise, where you can only perform your script when the audience are laughing. Shortly into this process, a participant challenged the fact that this seemed like just Jon giving a workshop. My (Jon) response was, and is, to note that this is ‘us playing our roles’.
Fatina then took the lead by describing some of the challenges she faces as a black performer and how she has sought to meet those challenges.
We then jointly presented the main phase, asking participants to take a recent news story relating to colonialism and to stage it. They then performed according to: only perform the script when we laugh.
Some performances revealed quite a lot of discomfort, about: refugees and racism (Ukraine and black refuges).
My own big learning point was around the group of 5 white participants who I and Fatina both coached during the process, who expressed firstly that they felt no connection to the news story (about a young black man killed during the previous weekend’s Notting Hill Carnival), but who felt so much (discomfort) when having to perform that they refused to perform (the only group who refused). Fatina’s reflections on this were very clear, about the privilege white people have to not feel discomfort. So, although black and white clowns have different discomforts, we can all play and clown those discomforts.
‘Colonialism is our script’
Session 3 - Open Space – discussing issues relating to decolonising clown and anti-racism
Groups formed to discuss some of the issues raised earlier, such as:
How do CWB behave when they travel to a different country/culture?
Racism in the clown workshop
What is the lineage of racist clown exercises?
There’s a reason we feel discomfort
Online Panel Discussion – Clowning, Equity and Social Justice
This online panel discussion was be moderated by Amrita Dhaliwal from the Idiot Workshop in Los Angeles. She posed some of the Clown Congress’s key questions to clown artists who are actively working on issues of social justice.
Panel guests: Jacqueline Russell, Barry Bilinsky
20 people attended online
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Creative research into the meeting point of clowning and activism
Robyn is a Bristol-based director, teacher and performer. With over 20 years experience she is a passionate practitioner of clowning, physical theatre, circus and street arts. She has a MA in Circus Directing, a Diploma of Physical Theatre Practice and trained with a long line of inspiring teachers including Holly Stoppit, Peta Lily, Giovanni Fusetti, Jon Davison, Zuma Puma and Deanna Fleysha.
Robyn has collaborated with companies including Let’s Circus, The Sexual Health Circus and Whispering Wood Folk and performed with acclaimed physical theatre companies including, Derevo, Akhe, Oceanallover, and Gappad as well as her own award-winning company, Fun in the Oven Theatre.
During the pandemic in 2020, Robyn set up The Online Clown Academy with Holly Stoppit and developed a series of Zoom Clown Courses. Robyn’s research, started during her Masters, has been exploring the meeting point of clowning and activism, online, in the real world and with international collaborators. With this drive to explore political edges of her work she has also dived back into the world of the Bouffon; training with Jaime Mears, Bim Mason, Nathaniel Justiniano, Eric Davis, Tim Licata, Al Seed and the grand master Bouffon-himself; Philippe Gaulier. She has also set up the Laboratory of the Un-beautiful; a collaboration with Deborah Antoinette Bard, exploring the bouffon & grotesque with womxn theatre makers.