Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Pie Eating Prize Winning Circus...for Social Change

As 2011 comes to a close, I wanted to share a story about one of my favorite days this year. On December 17, a group of artists descended on Occupy DC to present Occupy DC Circus. It was a smashing success. The day started as a group of artists met up on McPherson Square filling up balloons, putting up signs, and cutting pie. We had a brief planning meeting but already Occupiers were curious and coming to join the show. JP Worthington, our banker clown, followed by his two cop clown lackeys invited the Occupy town to a day at the circus.

The music began and the circus was off. Our acroyogis put on a beautiful show, as Lizzy lifted Miss Butterfly up in the air.

Philip the tight rope walker extroidannaire set up his line and danced across it, teaching folks how to walk across it as well.

Alexis and Felix rocked the crowd with their juggling duo act.

The Occupiers and passers-by were loving it and the crowds were growing by the minute.

Amy, Brian, and Anthony hugged the hell outta passers-by at our Hug-a-palooza.

We even invited the police for a hug but they politely declined looking on in confusion and curiosity.

Alex and Chantal ran the OccuWHY booth helping Occupiers write about their experience at Occupy. A square wooden structure with poster board and markers asked: When do you know you're done? (An answer: never) How do you stay warm? (An answer: burn money) How do you keep your shit from getting stolen? (An answer: duct tape) and What does this movement mean to you? (An answer: a community).

Erin painted faces and Liz and Dan helped keep the show running smoothly. Bobby took amazing pictures (that I'm using here).

After about a half hour of festivities, our esteemed banker clown JP Worthington invited the crowd to a competition of gladiator games where the winner would be awarded pie.

Never in my twenty odd years as a performer have I been involved in a bigger game of Zip Zap Zop. The cop clowns explained the game and more than thirty of us gathered in a circle to play. The competition was fierce.

The winner, with a face painted like a kitten, was paraded through a line of clowns and out to the pie.

There sat JP Worthington guarding the pie and busy counting his money. The pie, he said, would have to be given out another day. For now, another game.

Elves, Wizards, Giants was our next game. We played a few rounds, growling, zapping, and grumbling as teams descended on each other in chase.

Half way through the game, the crowd mutinied and descended upon Worthington demanding pie. Worthington was on to us and had taped up the pie and paid off the clown cops to silly string anyone who dared go for the pie. We should have known better than to invite a banker clown to our circus.

After some very clever chanting instigated by the Occupiers and the wave game, our cop clowns defected and JP was left all by himself. Pretty soon he saw that we were having way too much fun and joined as well, offering us permission to have the pie. Our stilt walking treasure Janelle shouted back to him, "I don't think we're asking permission, it is after all our pie."

The crowd cheered and pie was had by all.

The circus ended that day with dancing, laughing, more acrobatics, pies in faces, and general cheer. The Occupy folks thanked us all for being there and said it was a much needed break, and the pie tasted real good (thanks Dangerously Delicious Pies for your dangerously delicious and generous donation).

For me and my fellow circus friends, what excited us is the way so many talented people could come together to explore and play in a way that not only brought laughter and community, but also showed the potential for creativity and even circus to transform protest. Protest is so often thought of as an angry action, however what sort of changes would creativity and laughter bring to this element? It is not only a question worth asking, it is an action worth exploring. Many of the Occupiers that day were at the Bradley Manning hearing and we are sorry we missed their presence. However, our goals for next year are to make it out to these actions, bringing our creativity and see what comes of it. As Occupy moves forward this year, I invite and encourage all interested artists and activists to continue to get together and explore how creativity can provide innovation to non-violent activism for social change.

Long live Occupy. Long live pie.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Occupy DC Circus

So for the past month I've been organizing an event down at Occupy DC. A circus really. I've been gathering friends and artists around DC sympathetic to the cause and wanting to contribute. It's been a wonderful journey of organizing and watching as so many talented people sign on to contribute. Very eager to see how it turns out with the understanding that these actions I have begun to do more and more frequently never turn out quite how I plan them. We've got an exciting plan though. Side shows like debating puppet politicians where the Democrat and Republican are fighting over the best possible way to get the money to the bankers, a hug off run by a clown, a slack line, jugglers, a unicyclist, an OccuWHY booth that my dear friend Nate built with markers and poster boards with questions to fill in like: How Not to Get Your Shit Stolen and When Do You Know Your Done. We're also having a participatory piece of theater using playground games and pie to have a mini clown sit-in, a rehearsal for a revolution as Boal would say. If we can pull it off, it will be epic. Don't worry, we'll take pictures.

As I send out the announcement to friends and co-workers, a few people have paused and scratched their heads, maybe even a few have chuckled under their breath, "Who would want to have anything to do with that mess." seems to be the sentiment. And I have to sit with that for a moment and reflect. The Occupy movement has so many many many faults. So disorganized, such a lack of clear direction, and don't even get me started on the internal politics of the camp, ouf. But, for me, that is SO not the point.

I firmly believe that taking civic action, no matter how difficult it may be to measure policy change correlation or number of mouths fed, engaging in a civic action with the intention to make your own community a better place is HUGE. It is EPIC. It is the only thing we can do to change the world. In our own community, for the things we care about.

I think what I would ask each and every one to do, whether you're supporting the cause or not, is to find one single thing that you do agree with in the Occupy movement, and lord knows there are so many causes you're bound to find one you agree with. Find that one thing and ask yourself what can you DO to change this? Take your reflective intelligent analytical critical thinking skills you typically use to blame and brush off others actions and creatively brainstorm what you can do to influence this issue...and then go and fucking do it.

Happy clowning.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Clowns Without Borders Takes on DC!

I've been working hard the past four months with Clowns Without Borders to get a DC branch up and running. We've been rehearsing pretty regularly and are just now getting a fundraiser off the ground. Details below. Very exciting!

On Wednesday October 12th from 6-8pm at the Science Club in Washington DC (two blocks from Dupont Circle), please join myself and fellow clowns to raise money for an upcoming Clowns Without Borders trip to Haiti. The money will also go to developing a Clowns Without Borders DC branch. Woolly Mammoth Theater has graciously donated their space for a monthly rehearsal and we hope to be in DC public schools a year from now working with kids. A $10 donation gets you a free drink and a raffle ticket to win some amazing tickets to DC and Baltimore theater, free trapeze lessons, as well as other fun stuff. We also plan to have a clown stare off and if you are one of the first 20 to arrive you'll get your very own free clown nose. Help us bring laughter to children in zones of crisis both internationally and locally.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Peacebuilding and Arts: A Political Agenda

Part IV: Sectors within the Peacebuilding Community

With a strong collective of peace activists and artists organized, lobbying for change to the DC congress may be a worthwhile endeavor. While congress and the American people rush to put out the immediate fires caused by costly wars and an economic depression, thoughts around long term sustainability gain ever more importance. It is the peacebuilding communities' chance and responsiblity to gather the wide network of activists around common goals and to share our vision for a more peaceful world.

If we assume that a) all foreign policy decisions to engage the international community in violence come from our government institutions of Congress and the Executive branch, and b) are largely based off of public needs for a strong economy and a secure nation, we as peacebuilders must understand these tenants as well and find the truth and value in them. Just as the idealist expectation that everyone will one day become socially responsible engaged citizens is false, it is also unrealistic to assume that we as a nation do not require fundamental needs of economic stability and physical safety. The peacebuilding sector must honor both of these facts.

When I speak about the peacebuilding community,I am referring to a massive array of organizations and areas of focus. Many people who work within this sphere may not even realize it. I believe peacebuilding is a proactive nonviolent approach to developing and empowering society, both socially and economically, to sustainably exist by using creative means to counter and/or resolve conflict. When we draw the definition out to this level, the number of peacebuilders expands dramatically. While the sector really is limitless and reconstructed to include new areas of focus every day, the ten central areas of interest for me include: environment, technology, education, gender, communication, poverty and hunger, youth, democracy and governance, microcredit, and veteran's affairs. Although this list is not exhaustive, it speaks to me to be the central areas that contain the most powerful advances in the creation of a more peaceful world.

Environment: As America works to find alternatives to oil and gas, which has driven so much of our interest in the politics of the Middle East, alternative forms of energy stand to play a leading role in peacebuilding.

Technology: Innovations in technology offer humanity the chance to develop and connect in ways never before imagined. These tools can be used to strengthen and build our economy in a multitude of ways. A number of innovations in transportation and communication through technology have been discovered in the research and development of defense. Where can the engineers and technology community engage as peacebuilders?

Education: Peace education was pioneered by Betty Reardon in the late 70's and continues to grow exponentially. While education is not often viewed as a direct capital gain, it may be worthwhile to explore both private and public school systems that teach peace education and the level of demand from parents for students to attend these schools.

Gender: The connection between women with both economic strength and peace has been a central arguments for much of the development world's focus on gender development. Pray the Devil Back to Hell is just one example of the power of women in conflict resolution.

Communication: Responsible media coverage of war and politics is in high demand. Media outlets are known to use violent messaging and irresponsible tactics to make profits. As access to Internet increases and information abounds, power plays are shifting and there is great opportunity here to create and aggregate communities of peace online that teach media literacy in a conflict resolution context.

Democracy and Governance: As we work to forge partnerships and compromises across political party lines, the art of dialogue can be an incredibly huge asset. If the 112th congress had been able to effectively communicate, be heard and be listened to in a safe non threatening environment, the recent debt ceiling crisis may have been avoided.

Microcredit: Many people do not realize that the microcredit initiative began and continues to thrive as a profit based model. Offering a larger market with more funds to entrepreneurs embarking on socially responsible initiatives would incentivize people to initiate business models that are sustainable, environmentally sensitive, or peacebuilding focused.

Poverty and Hunger: Discovering and implementing effective socially responsible ways to feed the entire planet may alleviate many instigating factors for conflicts exacerbated due to a lack of resources.

Youth: Investing in peacebuilding activities for youth is literally investing in our future. With an eye to long term peacebuilding in youth education, youth sports, youth arts and all other youth sectors, we are building a new future where alternatives to violence come second nature.

Veteran's affairs: Veterans have sacrificed much for America. Politics aside, we owe each and every veteran the time and energy needed to make sure they are healed and ready to reintegrate into society. As James Hilman states in his book A Terrible love of War, "The veteran needs a rite de sortie that belongs to every initiation as its normal conclusion, making possible an intact return. This procedure of detoxificiation, that gives meaning to the absurd and imagination to the oppressive facts, should take as long and be as thorough as the rite d'entree of boot-camp basic training." The military community should collaborate with the peacebuilding community to develop a three month program mandatory for all soldiers who were in combat to process their time at war.

These sectors lay the foundation for a normalization of a peacebuilding society that understands the danger behind making hasty decisions to resort to violence. This society does not avoid violence but has developed a palette of alternatives to explore before making that choice. We understand that economic security and safety are important and make conscious decisions to achieve them without becoming violent.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Peacebuilding and Arts: A Political Agenda

Part III: The Weakness of Reactionary Peacebuilding

For over five years now, I've attended peace demonstrations and war protests in D.C. seeing the crowd shrink and grow in direct reaction to the message shaped by politicians and conveyed through the media. I have noticed these events have become more protest and less demonstrations. The real power of these rallies is the moment for like-minded people to gather and celebrate the collective creative energy that is so essential to sustainable change and peace. Instead, I have seen less and less of this, and more and more of anger and egoism. Politicians and activists shout angrily through loud speakers as the words become dulled by repetition. Friends tell me they don't go because they leave feeling worse than when they came and it feels like a waste of time. I don't blame them.

I wonder, what our rallies would look like if rather than shaping them as reactions, we organized them as celebrations; celebrations of peacebuilding and the amazing places and people in our great nation that work everyday to create a thriving sustainable economy and society using creativity and innovation to cultivate peace.

Rallies for peace do not have to be in direct relation to the wars at hand. Rallies for peace can be celebrations of the pro active choices that we make every day to treat the environment with respect, to buy locally, to forgive, to engage in civil society, to vote for socially responsible bills and politicians. Peace is not a protest. Peace is the creation of a society that can live within its means. Peace is the balance between prosperity and sustainability. If we accept the premise that much of America's wars are motivated by greed, then peace is a simple pursuit to lessen the need for more. Rallies for such a cause do not have to be in defense. After all, the reactive, immediate need for defense is the very thing we are working to transform.

What is the intersection between artists and activists when we look at it in this context? In Part I. I spoke about the precarious dance between arts and peacebuilding. It is not easily achieved. I think however, that given the right framing, the artist and activist can work together incredibly well.

How many driven activist organizations spend too much time on their work and lack a a strong marketing campaign. And the marketing campaigns that are out there, are too often motivated by the need for money. Understandably so. A volunteer-led community of artists donating their time to craft messages of activism through mediums of art has the potential to bring a new wave of peace rallies to D.C . Artists, when motivated by something of meaning and personally inspired, can communicate the essence of peacebuilding to the greater community in such a powerful way that an "ask" for funding will not even need to be woven into the message. Painters, poets, dancers, thespians, puppet makers, singers, musicians and acrobats can collaborate with socially engaged activists to understand their mission and shape a piece of art to reflect this. The collection of these pieces of art, the celebration of this work is what a peace rally must look like. The connection of artists and activists to merge mission with craft can open up doors of creativity and power on a scale that would bring people out of their house to see and participate. Imagine a mall full of artists and activists that have worked together to create expressions of peace. A true rally for peace, motivated proactively by the pursuit for peace.

Part II. The Politics of Peacebuilding
Part I. Art and Peacebuilding

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Peacebuilding and Arts: A Political Agenda

Part II. The Politics of Peacebuilding

"Deep in the heart of natural inclusional principles is an acknowledgement of needfulness, but not neediness as a fundamental condition of life. Needfulness is associated with spatial receptivity, and is a natural source of deep compassion for self and other through acknowledging that every bodily form has an intangible core towards and around which energy gravitates and circulates. The receptive influence of this core extends continuously throughout and beyond its energetic boundaries, always thirsting for more energy, more life. Neediness, by contrast, is a rationalistic notion of unilateral dependence upon others, interpreted as a ‘deficit’ or ‘negativity’." --Alan Rayner (Image and quote taken from Needfulness article)

Living in Washington DC over the past five years has offered me a unique perspective into the way peace and war are really created. While each individual must look to their own heart to find peace, the macro level of policy making must never be underestimated. Much of the US foreign policy that exists, does so based on the nationally-perceived neediness. In a country founded on economic liberalism, politicians and lobbyists eat and breathe based on financing and needing more. Financing the next election often drives the interest in particular issues and bills and laws that ultimately become monetized as well through appropriations committees on the hill. And each campaign needs to be bigger and better than before. Each new bill needs to increase the economy in robust ways.

And rather than spend my lifetime criticizing the flaws of the system, it is rather interesting to notice how an artist and peacemaker can coexist in a system that seems to, by definition, have no place for them. Neither art nor peace have much of a precedent for money making as a central motivational force.

While the economy drives our policies domestically, most people do not get into politics for the money. Money may ultimately motivate much of their work, but it does not trump all. Values of social justice, equal opportunity and other moral issues also motivate much of what goes on in DC. As Alan Rayner outlines in his article "Needfulness" quoted above, the differentiation between needfulness and neediness must remain an ever present struggle for humanity in our efforts to create a more peaceful world. Politicians in DC struggle with this on a daily basis, as do their constituents.

And with this understanding, I look to our nation's capital as an artist and peace activist.

The economics of art and peacebuilding are important areas of exploration, with the caveat that profit is not always the central motivating factor in political decision making. As American politics continue to learn from past mistakes, and make ever more room for "needfulness", the hope lies in the middle ground between profit and responsible decision making; in the understanding that while we may have human needs of security and prosperity, they may not need to come at the expense of others.

Part one: Art and Peacebuilding

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Common Enemy: Racism and the Military

In context: The following blog is not intended to disrespect or dishonor Memorial Day. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I believe that as a nation we must honor those who have died by questioning systems of violence and working to create a more peaceful society and military, where less people have to die to defend our nation from the perceived and very real threats that we face.

On this Memorial Day, I was listening on NPR to a story of the first black woman to fly fighter helicopters. You can listen to the story here. It is a cool story in the sense of equality within the United States military. During the most previous military peacebuilding dialogue that I facilitated, this issue of racism in the military came up. One of the vets in the group said he felt really frustrated by society's stereotype of the military being racist. He said that the amount of friendships between black and white soliders was incredibly high and that a lot of guys (and gals) going into the military with racist tendencies were transformed because of their service. He said that when people are placed in such close surroundings and forced to defend each other at all odds, the sense of brotherhood (no mention of sisterhood?) and friendship is immeasurable.

A peacebuilding member in the dialogue, after listening carefully and affirming the story, explained their concern surrounding racial issues in the military. They explained their concern pertains to the "othering" when talking about the "enemy."

I agreed with this concern. I remember guys in my brother's unit used to call Jason the "haji lover". "Haji" is of course the term used for a Muslim taking the pilgrimage to Mecca. It has also been used as a discriminatory word for the indigenous peoples of the Arabic countries the US military occupies during times of war. Jason's fellow soldiers called him "haji lover" because he was always giving candy to kids and trying to engage in conversation with Afghan citizens. This "othering" of the enemy is nothing new within US military. We can trace it all the way back to the massacre of the Native Americans with such terms as: injun and redskin.

I do not believe that the military as an institution necessarily promotes this behavior. I imagine all soldiers going into a combat zone such as Iraq and Afghanistan receive some cultural sensitivity training. My hope is that as the military realizes the power behind counter violence tactics, they will spend more time training their soldiers on conflict resolution tactics. While "othering" the enemy may be a powerful combat tactic, it cripples our ability to effectively promote a non violent and peaceful society.

Happy Memorial's to a world where security and safety can coexist with compassion and tolerance.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

30: The perfect place to be

Just got an email from a co worker about turning thirty. I loved it. So here's to being thirty and all the magic that comes along with it. Not sure who wrote this but it's lovely.

"Perhaps no single number more fully embodies the essence of the rhythmic fluctuations which characterize human affairs than that of the number 30. Its significance to the realms of finance, economics, physics, mathematics, astronomy, and religion is integral to a full comprehension of each field, and almost mystical in its import.

While the number 30 has many significations, its most fundamental significance is the fact that it is the number of the circle, or cycle. The circle, it will be noted, is the geometric expression of absolute completion and infinity. It symbolizes the continuous, yet fixed, nature of life, energy and matter along the timeline. It is the shape of every planet in the solar system and the fittest representation of all time cycles as the clock itself (being in the shape of a circle) testifies.

The clock also provides a fitting analogy to our examination of the number 30. Besides being the ultimate embodiment of the cycle (which governs the affairs of every life-form on earth), the clock is divided into 12 sections, or hours, upon a circular face. The circle itself is 360 degrees (a completed cycle in geometry), and 360 divided by 12 yields 30. Therefore, 30 has a special significance in the cycle of time.

Thirty is also half of 60, the number of seconds in a minute and the number of minutes in an hour. It forms an integral part of the measure of time itself. Thirty is the number of days in a month, and three times 30 is equal to one quarter of the calendar year. In the realm of finance, the quarter has a very important meaning in the analysis of corporate earnings. As such, it forms the backbone to financial cycle analysis since identifiable cycles of stock price fluctuations tend to occur in quarterly increments.

Thirty days times 3 is also the division of the calendar itself into four (the number 4 representing temporal completion) equal sections. It also forms the basis of the four seasons of the year and therefore is important to the agrarian economy (without which life could not exist). The farmer must plan his tilling, planting, fertilizing, and harvesting activities along these four quarters (30 x 3), with each quarter representing a timeframe integral to the success of his crop. Therefore, the number 30 also forms the backbone to understanding the commodities market as well, and is a central component in the analysis of supply and demand.

Since the cycle (of which the number 30 is an essential feature) cannot be expressed as a complete circle along the timeline, it takes instead the form of an S-shaped curve, or sine wave. This is nothing more than a bisected circle, or cycloid, with both halves connecting to form the completed circle in price and time (though not in actual form). Using this as a foundation for the understanding and interpretation of the cycle, we will proceed along this channel.

The number 30 can also be expressed as 10 x 3 (10 being the number of ordinal perfection and 3 the number of divine completeness). This mathematical structure further underlines the special importance of this number. Thirty is also the number of probation and preparation. A man, before he is fit for success, very often must toil at his trade until he reaches the age of 30 before he is ready to advance and apply all his wisdom and experience with great success. Thirty also has a theological significance since we read in Scripture that Christ was 30 when he began his public ministry on earth. In biblical numerology, the number 30 is also representative of blood (the essence of all life) and the price of blood. For example, Christ was sold by Judas Iscariot for 30 pieces of silver."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Peacebuilding and Arts: A Political Agenda

I plan to write a series of blog posts over the next few months that will serve to explain a larger goal I have in mind of connecting the peacebuilding innovators and artists to communicate, express and lobby the US government and people for systems of peace and economic sustainability. The series of blog posts are meant to explain this thesis in further detail. I reserve the right to make amendments as I write. This is a work in progress. This is something that has been forming for years. I am eager to get it out into words.

Part 1: Art and Peacebuilding

Art and peacebuilding are odd bed fellows. Peacebuilding requires political will, it requires lobbying, it requires an understanding of the politics behind war and the economic systems America thrives on. It requires time and patience. It takes flexibility and planning.

Art on the other hand thrives in the present moment. In the insanity, in the blink of an eye, in the spontaneity of restlessness, in the space where honesty and abstract collide. It emerges only on its own accord and cannot be harnessed or calculated. It cannot be systematized and institutionalized. Art does not angle or lobby. Art does not care about politics.

In the the world of peacebuilding, true art is rarely achieved. Too often strong agendas overshadow the subtlety and magic that makes something art.

And in the world of art, real peacebuilding is rarely achieved. Artists recognize the dead weight political agendas can have on their work and often avoid them completely.

And yet, in this space where art and peacebuilding coexist, the power for social change is great. Finding the right balance between the two will forever remain a passion of mine. It is not an easy thing to do.

Part Two: The Politics of Peacebuilding

Friday, April 29, 2011

Top five reasons I know Im back in the (former) USSR

I am on my first ever true blue business trip with Chemonics. Feeling very grown up. Destination: Astana, Kazakhstan. What an interesting place. I basically have the view of that picture out of my hotel window. In all fairness, I haven't been out of the hotel for more than an hour. I've only been here two days and have been busy. Hoping to get a tour of the city on Sunday. But from the moment stepping off the plane, I knew...I'm back. And so, beat from working 12 hour days with jet lag to boot, here is the best top five reasons I've got:

5 Exiting from the plane, a woman was crying hysterically in a wheelchair in the runway, I mean this woman was straight up screaming, and all the passengers just walked passed her without flinching.
4. The "non smoking" aiport had cigarette butts floating in the toilet and there was beer stashed behind the toilet as well. The cleaning ladies know how to party.
3. The city is lit up in every shad of colored lights imaginable. Classy.
2. All clothing however only comes in varied shades of black.
1. Я понимаю, мой русский еще хуже, чем я обычно считаю когда я в Америке
(I realize, my Russian is worse than I think it is when I'm in America)

Can't wait to get out and see this city. What a crazy looking place...more on that later.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Creative Activism at Play

On March 19, I set out with two new friends, Oda and Nehemiah, on a clowning expedition to explore the intersection between art and social justice. We were organized around a project I like to call Clown Forum, based on clowning tenants of Jacques LeCoq and participatory theater tenants of Augusto Boal. It was a sunny day as we walked through Lafayette Park to the annual peace rally organized this year by Vets for Peace. A small crowd had gathered around a stage.

The week before, we had devised a short piece with the aim of playing with rally goers around images of peace. Often times, the spirit of anger can take over at peace rallies, quickly turning the day into a rejection of what is rather than a celebration of what can be. We wanted to see what clowns could bring. We were not only out for a good time, but also equipped with some intention. For two hours we prowled the crowd, enticing people away from listening to speakers and to engage with us. The drone of angry voices rang in my ears, echoing in sharp contrast to our squeals of laughter and applause. Honk me! a large sign said, draped around Oda’s neck. A clown horn hung precariously from a string on the sign. As soon as a rally goer would reach out and honk the horn, they found themselves smack dab in front of a pad of paper with a palette of crayons.

After reading a card inviting them to draw an image of concrete actions towards peace, the rally goer was transported into a clown world where they reigned as supreme master of peace. A short color session ensued, peppered with occasional clown heckles. Immediately, what was expected to be a day of listening to a roster of esteemed speakers, turned into a day of teaching lessons of peace –so what if it was to a buncha clowns. Some people drew anarchy symbols and others smiley faces. There were images of public transportation, solar panels and sunshine, books and food, peace signs and even a Buddha. Two young vets simply wrote, “Fuck the Police” in big letters. At times the pictures were hard to decipher and other images made absolutely no sense at all. But no matter what, staying true to form, we clapped and cheered as if they had just come up with the most profound idea ever.

With our spinning Easter egg clown-phone, we asked them to tell us more. The once reflective silent rally goers, now empowered artist activists, shared a wide range of opinions ranging from a call for total anarchy to complete socialism. One woman spoke of meditation and ultimate enlightenment as the key to peace while another woman simply said that sunshine was all we really needed. After each person finished, we clapped and hollered some more. You can imagine we created quite a little scene.

In retrospect, our clown experiment accomplished a few simple but meaningful goals. First, it was a chance to get peaceful protestors laughing, talking and interacting. Others standing around the artist couldn’t help but watch and listen, as they crayola crayoned out their ideas and dreams. In the future, it may be worth engaging curious onlookers as well by asking them what the pictures mean to them.

Our clown experiment was also a chance for people to be heard rather than preached at. Rallies in DC have gotten a bad reputation over the years as a place full of angry bitter people. As clowns, we thought it might be nice to create more of a celebration of sorts. What better way to further the cause for peace, than to celebrate creativity and alternatives to violence. A format such as this has the potential to inspire and connect, rather than blame and disconnect. One can’t help but imagine what an entire park of clowns and poets, jugglers and dancers, painters and singers would look like engaging in artistic participatory models to elicit creative nonviolence.

Two years ago, I lost my brother in Afghanistan. He was a soldier and he fought bravely for what he believed in. His loss propelled a drive in me to deal with the anger and blame I have held for the military ever since we invaded Iraq. After losing Jason, I realized that the military was not my enemy, the military as an enemy was a story I had prescribed to in order to avoid engaging as an active citizen. I realized my biggest enemy was my sense of self righteousness and unwillingness to embrace the creative problem solving skills that live within me. I am still working every day to replace the anger and blame to openness and receptivity. I believe that the vast majority of the people who work within the systems that have propelled us deep into a war state are not evil people. They are human beings with human needs who need to be understood and listened to by people who can offer new solutions.

The same year my brother was killed, I attended the annual peace rally in DC dressed as a clown for the first time. I was tired of feeling angry and helpless at rallies and wanted to try something new. For me, clowning is a chance to celebrate the imperfections that make us human. It allows me to engage with people in a playful format where fun trumps all. Clowning creates inclusivity and space. It embraces art and creativity to an extreme, laying waste to status quo and allowing for new discoveries. While at the rally, I met a little boy carrying around a sign that said, “War is a lack of imagination.”

As I looked around the peace rally this last weekend, I realized the irony that our peace advocacy community may have fallen victim to that very same fate of a lack of imagination. Until we embrace the power of our imagination and creative conflict resolution skills as the central assets we have within our community, and set aside our need to be right, how can we expect anyone to listen to us?

Although the rally last weekend was small, it was chalk full of compassionate, committed, hard working people that will never give up their dreams to create a more equitable peaceful world. My plan is to continue working to ensure that not only do the solutions that emerged on our pad of paper of public transportation, solar panels, books, food and sunshine, get 'drawn out' further, but also that the process in which we do so is full of creativity, openness, and fun.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An experiment in street theater for social change

This initiative is inspired by the prospect of using comedy/clowning as a tool to explore oppression and injustice. It is also inspired by the interest to bring a creative alternative to war protests in DC that are so often filled with anger.

Who: DC artists and/or activists, passionate about social change and interested in using clowning as a format to provoke meaningful physical dialogue on the street. Free and open to all regardless of past theater experience.

What: A funny yet thought-provoking devised clown piece that reflects the performers' personal experiences around relevant areas of oppression or injustice. This is the culmination of many different areas of study such as: Theater of the Oppressed, clowning, street theater, improvisation, physical comedy, buffooning, participatory theater, dialogue, cirque, and yoga.

Where: On the streets of DC at the Answer Coalition’s March to Resist the War Machine on March 19.

When: 4 hour workshop March 12 to devise the piece, 2 hour street performance March 19.

Why: A chance to create art for a good cause. A chance to be a part of something experimental and innovative.

This experiment in theater for social change is being organized by arts activist Micael Bogar who has been clowning at protests for over two years and has been studying and facilitating Theater of the Oppressed workshops in the US and the FSU since 2007. Email interest to

*I blogged in detail about this last week but now I am shamelessly using my blog as a promotional platform as well.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

100th Monkey: An Experiment in Theater for Social Change

For the past few weeks, I have been on the hunt, the hunt for a few good clowns. Literally. On March 19, Answer Coalition will organize another march to resist war.

The idea in and of itself never sits well with me. Marching to resist war. It seems ludicrous in so many ways. War is a natural part of humanity: in some way, resistance just creates more war. And if we can somehow resist it, what good will marching do? Besides those marches are just full of angry people anyway.

And yet I have to be there.

I have to be there because it is one of the only times every year that I am pushed up against so many strong-spirited, hopeful, well-intentioned activists. Sure, not everyone who attends has their heart in the right place. But for the most part they do.

I have to be there because I want the world to know that I too do not believe that war is the best answer and certainly not the default, that it has become.

I have to be there in honor of Jason, in hopes that walking with others will contribute to the larger collective unconscious the message that we must explore other ways to resolve conflict. 100th monkey syndrome.

And if I have to be there, why not dress as a clown?

Well, I don't suppose it's that simple, but I must say I have found in my experience that going to rallies dressed as a clown really does transform the space and contribute to creativity within the context of conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

For the past two years I have attended this rally as a clown. See here. The experience is always rewarding and such a blast.

The impetus behind clowning for peace is in essence celebration. Protests in DC are rare moments in this city when people join together and express their commitment to create a more peaceful world. The energy is palpable. Often people’s need to make their voices heard can get bogged down in anger and pain. This is completely understandable. Unfortunately, it creates a sense of panic and confusion for me and others I know. We begin to wonder what the point of a rally/protest really is. Clowning for me has been a way to address that issue. The mere presence of a clown, I have noticed, transforms the space for people into one of celebration, curiousity, innocence and joy.

At the most recent rally, hosted by Jon Stewart, I organized fifteen clowns to march to the mall. In the spirit of Jon Stewart’s rally, we held true to form and remained comedic. For the Answer Coalition rally, I was thinking I could experiment by adding another layer to the circus. What would it look like if a handful of us volunteered to give up the Saturday before the rally to create a piece of devised theater to bring along?

The idea is this: based on the theories and practices of Augusto Boal, we spend an afternoon exploring personal stories that connect us to this march for peace. Using these stories, we create a piece of theater that will move as we move, as clowns. I don't know that it will be linear, we may just work on characters and repitive moments/images that we perform throughout the day.

Above all, the final product should be fun for us and those that see it –in addition, engaging, thought-provoking, beautiful, and motivated by the personal experiences that we, the clowns, bring to the story.

So, as of late February and several hundred email and forum postings, I have around five expressions of interest and I am continuing to put my feelers out there. You can see the promotion I'm using below. I'm passing it around the theater and peacebuilding communities of DC.

It will take more than just me to pull this off though...feeling vulnerable. Are there any other arts activists out there that are willing to take this on? It's a big ask. First of all, clowning in public is pretty intense. Secondly, to try to create something with substance? And then add a layer of humor to it? I am so utterly eager to see what will come out of the other end of this one.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Sector Project: a paradoxical curiosity

In late February, my colleague and I are embarking on our first ever military civilian dialogue that will take place out of the comfort of American University. We are eager, excited, full of great ideas and frankly scared as hell. That's our cool logo that someone created pro bono for us!!

Yesterday , we took a personal day from work to sit in on a similarly minded (or so we thought) conference. For the sake of confidentiality I won't mention where it took place or who organized it, but I will say that I walked away reeling with surprise at just how far, we in this cross sector field, have to go. The event was organized mainly by military personnel, so the agenda ran sharply, the room was full of impressive high ranking folks and the conversation revolved around the way in which logistically military and civilian NGO's can most effectively collaborate on a certain very specific issue: humanitarian natural disaster relief. This was not what was advertised. Looking back over the description of the event we found the following message: The conference will bring together representatives from the defense, development and diplomacy communities for discussions on how we can better work together to accomplish development goals. This dialogue will inform our collective efforts as we seek to mitigate human suffering both in a deliberate proactive fashion, and in response to crisis, to best help those in need.

Instead, the day basically consisted of a purely logistical tactical discussion on how best to integrate navy medical ships in and around humanitarian crises.

But the real hard questions, the real fundamental issues at hand were completely and totally ignored. My colleague and I were expecting to talk about issues like ethics, political agendas, financing rules and laws, public affairs/relations, the complications of chain of command (something they glossed over but never discussed), the handling of violence if/when a situation turns from humanitarian to armed conflict or policing, inter- and intra-agency competition and more.

I found myself at lunch huddled in a corner with the few NGO peeps that were in the room commiserating about the lack of any really true exchange taking place. I wondered if it was a similar feeling a military vet may experience when coming to a conflict resolution related conference? Or the upcoming dialogue that my colleague and I are working so hard to make inclusive to all.

One other development person in the room related a story about a large river with a high waterfall. At the bottom of this waterfall hundreds of people are working frantically trying to save those who have fallen into the river and have fallen down the waterfall, many of them drowning. As the people along the shore are trying to rescue as many as possible one individual looks up and sees a seemingly never-ending stream of people falling down the waterfall and begins to run upstream. One of other rescuers hollers "where are you going? There are so many people that need help here." To which the man replied, "I'm going upstream to find out why so many people are falling into the river. (I copied this version of the story from Prevention Connection)

I guess the way that story applies is that, in my opinion, the conference felt very much like we were all standing at the bottom of the river talking about how best to pull people out, when the major major issues at play between the defense and development communities were completely ignored/avoided or not considered important at all...

Towards the end of the day, a few NGO directors on projects that have successfully collaborated with the military gave presentations on their work with the military and it was nice to hear their stories. But both were health related NGO's and spoke largely of humanitarian operations.

What about Iraq and Afghanistan, where the vast majority of development/defense collaborations take place everyday? Is that conversation happening anywhere? If it is, it wasn't at this conference, and I am not sure why. If humanitarian operations for immediate disaster response is the only place the military sees room for the NGO community, what hope is there for cross sector multi track peacebuilding?

Conflict resolution practitioner, John Paul Lederach says in The Moral Imagination that in order to create true space for growth we must practice paradoxical curiosity, where two seemingly contradictory worlds can coexist. Beyond Intractability wrote a great summary of The Moral Imagination and paraphrases the idea here: The Practice of Paradoxical Curiosity: Cycles of violence are often driven by polarities. Choices about to respond to conflict are forced into either-or categories: you are either with us or against us. Moral imagination involves the capacity to rise above these divisions and reach beyond accepted meanings. Paradoxical curiosity is a matter of respecting complexity, seeking something beyond what is visible, and discovering what it is that holds apparently opposed social energies together. It involves accepting people at face value, and yet looking beyond appearances and suspending judgment in order to discover untold new angles, opportunities, and unexpected potentialities.

So maybe the lesson here for me, is how can I look beyond the appearances of the conference yesterday? What can I learn from the military community and how can I use that to learn and create more space for inclusivity? I shall ponder that.

I am eager to begin our dialogue, but the amount of outreach we have done in the military community, compared to the number of applications we have received has been disheartening. Our outreach has revolved around addressing:

• Career path motivations
• Power structures to implement change
• Peace-building: the various paths to peace
• Heroism: purpose, effect and your relation to the hero model
• Realism: the inevitability of violent conflict
• Protest: protesting war vs. protesting military
• Security: securing a sovereign nation

These are but a few of the major issues that I believe we must work through in a safe dialogical environment if the development and defense community are going to find room to coexist and collaborate. But that's just me. Maybe others believe we have to figure out a common language of operation before we can ever talk about any ethical/political kinds of things. My fear is that the defense community, in general, never wants to have these conversations.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pushing on four walls

I just had an amazing weekend full of challenges and groans. Groans of pain, pleasure, delight, anger, disgust, anguish and love. I took a buffooning class at The Center for Movement Theatre with Dody Disanto. Dody brought a special guest from New York, Eric Davis, aka The Red Bastard. Eric came down to stuffy DC to teach part of our class, but more importantly to share his show with the DC community. His show on Thursday was something I had never seen before. It was grotesque and wonderful. I was floored.

In a nutshell, and said in the most crude sense, buffooning is clowning on crack. We spent the weekend in incredibly uncomfortable costumes we had created that illustrated the buffoon that lives within us. My head was encased in a helmet, wrapped in a scarf, branches grew from my fingers and I had a nub of a tail pushing through my pants. Dody encouraged us to do what brings us joy. And when we loved it, to do it again. We were birthed into the existence of buffoon. I crawled and screamed through the weekend with other buffoons, creating a clan and exploring the vertical plane where buffoons exist.

And just as we reached a place of insanity, she encouraged us to shift, to find a place of stillness. Eric noted that buffooning is a constant cycle through 1. jubilee, 2. mysticism/love and 3. trickery/insanity. Each of the three require a different energy.

The magic of the buffoon is their free reign to outstay their welcome. To mock the audience. The perfect liar.

Now, as I sit in a coffee shop on this day off, a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. I look at the world around me from a new lens. The animals that we are.

And so, here's to the buffoons. It has expanded my understanding of the world of clown. It has created a new found passion (as if I needed one more.) It makes me hungry to learn more.

I find myself going deeper into this rabbit hole of four walls: theater/arts for social change/conflict resolution/international development? I often wonder if it is a rabbit hole or just a series of random interests that I toggle between, that will never merge into one clear form. Will I never come out the other end?

I continue to search for the place where Boal and clown coexist. The world where the aesthetic brilliance meets the amateur raw truth. Where these two worlds merge and collide in a way that the witness cannot help but be drawn in, the way humans want to say hello to a sweet little kitten; where the innocence draws you in and the insanity keeps you there. But a place where, as Brecht says, catharsis eludes the spectator. Where, as Boal says, the onlooker becomes the spect-actor. And through this, society engages and finds a reason to create more space for compassion and listening in their lives. Where education meets beauty. And the educators are learning as they teach. The participants, through their performance, discover a new paradigm for creative problem solving. A new approach to the resolution of conflict. Am I simply describing really good theater, or does the theater community have something to take from the conflict resolution community? Can Bohm's theories, Boal's techniques and Lecoq's aesthetic coexist in one space? What the fuck does that look like?