Magenta’s office manager Marion Duggan talks about her work as a part-time clown and why Magenta has chosen Clowns Without Borders UK, (CWB UK) as its corporate charity.
At Christmas, my family would always play lots of games, charades always being my favorite. As a young child I would always pull Charlie Chaplin out of the hat and would enjoy watching all my family laughing at my wobbly walk. This clip of Charlie beautifully demonstrates the skill of one of Britain’s finest clowns. In the audience of charades I would watch with glee as my ordinarily very serious, Victorian-esque grandfather would pull something out of the hat and let go, becoming someone else, with a bright sparkle in his eye, entertaining his children and grandchildren.
As young people we are taught not to get things wrong or make mistakes and never to be vulnerable. Clown school teaches the opposite. On stage you are looking for opportunities to be in a state of bafflement and confusion, so that your audience is in the position of knowledge and power.
I met Sam, the director of CWB UK, on a clown-training course with Angela De Castro, a wonderful Brazilian clown. De Castro created an atmosphere in her class that allowed participants to feel supported and be vulnerable in a safe space – coming on stage and being asked to make an audience laugh is utterly terrifying! We learnt some of the tools of the clown -misunderstanding, the double take, indecision, making a plan, eye contact with the audience and learning to love and accept being in a difficult situation.
After clown school Sam and I spent many evenings discussing our passion for making theatre in communities and laughter as a tool for change and emotional wellbeing. Clowns Without Borders is an international umbrella organisation, bringing clown shows to areas of crisis believing that the power of laughter can help young people process some of the trauma they have been through and continue to cope with. In 2013 I went on my first CWB UK tour to Zimbabwe where we performed to over 13,500 children in schools in the suburbs of Harare. Our host in Harare has a two-year-old daughter, Natty, who provided us with hours of entertainment and our practise audience for our show. Natty had one plastic toy in the house, for her the whole house and its contents became her playground. She would spend hours playing with bottles tops or a reflection in a spoon, reminding me that in our performances you can make something from nothing.
In many of the schools we visited the class sizes numbered over 60. Children were taught in big dusty fields. The teachers managed this challenging environment with authoritarian rule. The moments in our show that would raise the loudest laughs were when we took some of the teachers on stage and played a little with them. The children seeing the teachers in a new light. The teachers allowing themselves to play. Often our performances would end with the whole school, teachers, staff and children dancing.
At the end of one of our performances the teachers spoke of Christmas coming early and life’s stresses disappearing, I returned to the UK with a hunger to keep putting myself in silly situations with the pay off of sharing happiness. Something I bring to the Magenta office…on occasion! CWB UK clowns have just got back from Nepal and we are planning a tour to women and children’s refuges in India this November and ‘The jungle’ refugee camp in Calais in the New Year.
Sam and I recently spent an afternoon with Magenta’s MD Cathy discussing our PR approach, finishing off with Sam handing us a bag of red noses, which we use in the office to great effect, Cathy makes a wonderful boss clown! Cathy agreed to support Clowns Without Borders UK as Magenta’s corporate charity. The company now gives a small percentage of its profits to keep people laughing, wherever they are in the world.