The Clown Effect: It’s Universal!
And so it was the first day on our planned schedule of visiting various orphanages in the North of Vietnam. First stop on our route: Peace Village.
Located within the country’s capital Hanoi, Peace Village was a large, well developed centre with a spacious playground and well constructed classrooms and teaching facilities. It provided a home to many orphans from the city, and school facilities for a number of children who have been lucky enough to have been raised by their own families.
Founded in the 1920’s, the centre catered for children with learning difficulties, and provided access to therapies designed to benefit the children’s development (such as hydro & electro therapies). The organisation is lead by Miss Phong, who has a number of teachers, assistant teachers and grounds staff, who work together to make Peace Village a success, benefitting the children.
Sox’s and myself were instantly greeted with open arms when we arrived, and made to feel very welcome (showing us why Vietnamese hospitality is rated so highly!). Greeted at the gate, we were then introduced to Miss Phong, who took us to her office, where she offered us some refreshments and provided some background on the centre.
During the refreshments, we introduced ourselves and explained what we were there to do. Miss Phong spoke some English, but luckily she had one of her fellow teachers with her, who was almost fluent to aid with the translation. (As you can imagine, mine and Sox’s Vietnamese wasn’t exactly fluent!)
As the conversation continued, we realised explaining what clowning is, when you don’t speak the same language, isn’t exactly easy!
Rapidly we looked through the phrase book picking out various words, and using different props (eg. clown noses etc), we tried to explain what we were there to do- entertain and make the children laugh!
Once introductions were complete, we were given a tour of the facility, and then it was showtime! Time to make the children laugh, and spread a little fun and joy!
But some of the unanticipated difficulties in explaining who we were and what we were doing at the orphanage, made me slightly concerned. Would the jokes and tricks work with such a language barrier, if the children didn’t understand us? Would it work with such differences in culture?
The children sat patiently waiting in the classroom. I don’t think they really knew what to expect… (I wasn’t 100% sure either to be honest, as it was my first clown experience too!)…
…And then Sox’s appeared! Dressed in a multicolored hat, massive red clown shoes and a spotty t-shirt. A smile spread across the children’s faces, and then as Sox spoke in his high-pitched ‘clown nosies’ and started falling all over the place, and bumping into things, the smiles turned into laughter.
Next came the various tricks: Balloons, juggling, spinning plates and the Diablo.
Then the children’s laughter turned to silence for a second, as Sox’s got some of the children involved; spinning the plates for themselves, and getting them in on the act. There was even more laughter with audience participation, as well as a very happy teacher, to see her class having such a good time.
Seeing Sox’s in action, I then realized that speaking the same language as the children really didn’t matter. And it wasn’t just because Sox’s used ‘clown noises’ as opposed to words, that the performance worked.
A clown’s act will often be combination of tricks and routines. But the most important element is the clown themselves epitomizes happiness, and through their act, is able to spread that happiness to audience (a bit like how infectious a smile is……when you smile at someone, it’s hard for them not to smile back…..definitely worth a try sometime!).
Happiness is universal to us all, and that’s what a clown is able to tap into, using their happiness, which goes beyond any difference in language and culture. That’s why clowning is so powerful, and can work across different cultures. That’s what I didn’t realise until then, my first clown experience.
And that’s why our first day was such a success. Because Andy became Sox’s, and was able to spread Sox’s happiness to the children, irrespective of the language barrier we shared. Through his act, he bought some happiness to these children.
It was all down to…….the Clown Effect.