Clowning Around

We are well underway in the process of ‘Becoming Fools’!

Clowning is a performance art. It’s experiential. It’s theatre. And … it’s cathartic. Clowning can help these kids process their tragic stories and better understand their wounds. Clowning can also empower these kids to begin to communicate their stories non-verbally – in a way that crosses culture and language – so that we the audience can begin to understand their needs and respond. Both the clown and the audience have the opportunity to heal.

Classes are now in full swing every Tuesday and Thursday.  In these training sessions, kids are learning and perfecting a variety of skills included in clowning and in theatrical performance.  After each class the kids are tasked with specific skills and exercises to continue practicing at home.  How fun it has been to watch the kids being creative, being silly, expressing themselves, and improving their skills!!

At times, it may seem that a theatrical performance at such a big scale may be a goal that is unachievable.  But the kids involved in this project are extremely talented.  And these kids are passionate about influencing people around them in a similar way that Italo inspired them.

“My dream is leaving the streets for good and being able to have myself  a small business to have a training shop – workshops with makeup and stuff like that. And help people that are in need like I am need right now,” Byron says.

“That is part of my dream, to become an artist, a great artist like himself.  I like to bring joy to people’s lives, and I like to see people laughing. My purpose is to bring joy and happiness to people, to bring a moment of joy to others, a moment of entertainment, a moment in which they can clear their minds,” Mefi shares.

The kids have been practicing skills like improvisation, vocal coordination and projection, facial expressions and exaggeration, stage directions, dramatization, the art of applying make-up and everything in between.  All the while embracing a stronger understanding of self-confidence.

Throughout the process of preparing for the Becoming Fools Live Event, these kids are given a goal to work towards, something to practice and thus a very tangible way to see their skills and themselves grow.

We have a long road ahead of us, but the kids are enjoying the ride and so are we!!

Qué mundo tan pequeño!

Today was a busy day! I visited the street kids of El Tanque with At Risk No More, and then we drove two blocks down the street to spend some time with María the Doll Lady, who everyone has grown to love from the movie Reparando.

We greeted her in the street, and she immediately invited us into her house.  We brought María a scarf made by someone in Tita’s workshop.  After presenting the scarf and taking a photo we began to talk. María detailed several ways in which Reparando has blessed her.  We were humbled by her immense gratitude.  She mentioned that her life is simple. She works, but only has one obligation, and that is to follow God.  Over and over she shared with us how God has provided everything she needs personally and for her business.  She is very grateful for the work that she has and the blessings that Reparando has brought her.  She even mentioned that she feels a little like a ‘celebrity’ because of the film.  People that have seen Reparando have recognized her within the community and around the Potter’s House.  Her grandchildren also find it amusing when they see their grandmother appear in a movie!

María invited us to the back room of her house where she used to work and store all of her dolls.  However, the room is now less full than it has been in the past, because with so much work she had to find another location down the street to work and keep the dolls.  This room had several finished dolls lying on a bed, but its walls were lined with bags of baby clothing that has since been donated to her through different organizations.  Organizations have donated both money and clothing to María upon seeing the Reparando and being touch by her story, and inspired to respond.

María also shared with us that she has been so blessed that her work has now extended beyond working with the dolls.  She has started working with paper recycling to keep her even busier.  Her kids often urge her to stop working, or at least cut back. But she says her body is used to it and she does not want to stop.  God has blessed her with health and with work that she loves, and therefore she will continue to do it.

Throughout our conversation, she told us about her family, about her work and about her neighborhood.  She told us of kids who sleep in the street outside her house, who never caused trouble or violence, but could always be found sniffing solvent.  She talked with Gary and Rachel of At Risk No More about their work with the kids of the streets, and mentioned El Tanque, a central location where At Risk No More and Athentikos are pursuing change for the kids in the street.  She mentioned Marvin, a young man of El Tanque, whose family lives just across the street from her.  We told her that we knew him and she laughed a little saying that he was like family to her, explaining that her nephew lives with Marvin’s sister.

I guess I shouldn’t be shocked that character from Reparando knows and shares family with a character of Becoming Fools.  Qué mundo tan pequeño!

-Ericha Penzien

Renewing the Heart of a Child

One of the greatest blessings of producing documentary film is the opportunity to learn from interviews. It begins as a conversation that in itself is enlightening, but ultimately the wisdom of an interview is revealed at a much more profound level during the editing process. A much clearer picture presents itself when interviews are listened to over and over again in the context of other interviews which make the collective story. Sometimes people say things that seem so simple, yet change my life. Last week I tripped over a statement from an interview that will not let me go.

Fergie is a professional clown in Guatemala City who worked with Italo to develop the idea of a clown school for street children. After Italo’s death last year, Fergie continued this vision with passion and perseverance. We interviewed Fergie in November 2011 as part of our first production trip to Guatemala. He explained how he personally began clowning, and how he hopes to use clowning to help heal street children. I remember being inspired by his noble initiative during the interview and thinking it was a “neat idea”, but I didn’t realize just how profound his vision really is.

… Fast forward …

I have spent the last three months reviewing and evaluating footage and interviews from our November trip. I have read and listened to these stories over and over again. I have read books about street youth and I have listened to lectures about the issue. By no means do I consider myself an expert on the subject, but I do have a greater understanding now than I did 3 months ago. One thing that is unfortunately common in many stories of street youth is abuse. Some family member abused them – often repeatedly. Ironically, these children fled the danger of home to live in the safety of the streets. The memory of this pain often drives them to self medicate and becomes a dangerous cycle of drug abuse.

In a sense, their childhood has been stolen from them. It is this idea which is contrasted by profound wisdom from a clown. Fergie says,

“In the Bible there is a verse that says you must be like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven. And children have a forgiving heart. I´ve seen them fighting with a friend, and half hour later they are playing together again. That (forgiveness) is something that we all should have.”

He goes on to say,

“And a clown has to be like a child as well. A clown is really a child – a silly child. In the same way a clown has to learn to forgive.”

Through the art of clowning, these children have the opportunity to learn forgiveness. This simple yet profound thought deepened my understanding of the Becoming Fools story. In the context of this issue, forgiveness is the first step towards rehabilitation. Anger and resentment drive these children into cycles of addiction. And … Anger and resentment keep these children in cycles of addiction. They will never leave the streets unless they can forgive the people who hurt them the most. Forgiveness is one of the most important parts of the healing process … letting go of the hurt that stings, letting go of the anger that overwhelms, and letting go of the obsession that controls … So that they may find the true peace that they have longed for.

Fergie is living out his faith by reaching out to children who have been abused by family and ignored by society. He isn’t simply teaching them to be silly. He isn’t just giving them vocational training. He is consistently investing in their lives and becoming a father figure they never had. He is teaching them to trust again and let go of their pain. He is igniting dreams and passion in their lives and as result renewing the hearts of children that were once stolen.

And THAT is authentically inspiring.