Clowns without Borders in New Orleans


all my talk of  travel and performances are trivialized, as they well should be, by great actions going on down in New Orleans right now. after reading through and posting journals on the CWB website from Mindy and Deven, who were down there in late June, and Selena, who is there right now, with Alice Nelson, i feel the need to write this post and urge you to take a read of what they are experiencing.



Speaking of Sacred Mischief. The Rebel Army @g8

Walked out to the market this morning, here in Amsterdam, and a big color photo on the frontpage of the NRC Handelsblad,

surprised me, then filled me with a big smile.

Talk about sacred mischief. Here is what i am guessing is the rebel clown army in action at the G8 protests. You can have all the security you want, but heck got to love it, the headline says ” Who is stealing the show” which i imagine is referring to the level of protest going on right now at the talks….

a bit of mischief. los angeles may 19-20

(photos by peter cunningham)

Even though one might not get a clue from previous posts, this blog is called Sacred Mischief for a reason.

Wondering just what is Sacred Mischief?
One might consider it an act (or action) of sacred clowning.
Just what is sacred clowning?
I like Egyoku’s observation about the Hoxua when she saw a video of these sacred clowns of the Kraho of the Amazon basin:” they’re ‘just human’…but ‘JUST human’…. Hence one might conjecture sacred mischief to be humor that reaches our very essence. Well that is a lofty goal. Perhaps we just shouldn’t give it such deep consideration.

Hence straight to the matter at hand, the 40th anniversary of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, ZCLA. In the spirit of Sacred Mischief. I am invited by the abott Egyoku to Clown ZCLA’s Anniversary Celebration. She says “bring Yoowho”- in other words: come and ‘clown’ the event , bring levity into the environment.

I have been teaching workshopa at ZCLA for a number of years now. the last two years have seen different incarnations of a clowning institute there, currently called i.smacc, the institute of sacred mischief and contemplative clowning. Hence the invitation for
the 40th anniversary of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, and the White Plum Assanga (Maesumi Roshi’s lineage) Teacher’s meeting rolled into one. Lots of Zen Masters and teachers visiting Los Angeles for three days. Some rituals, ceremonies, bell ringings and robes swirling. Lot’s of laughter and earnest conversations.
There is also a contingent of the Order of Disorder, OD, present. What is OD? hard to say in a few words. There is an entire web page:
Here is a photo of FoundOD and ElderOD touching noses, an OD ritual.


To get an better idea of an OD action, you might take a look at a little photo-montage of the OD action at Buddha’s birthday celebration this past April.

So once more, back to the subject at hand:

As the elder of the Order of Disorder, OD, I have convoqued an OD action for the second morning, Saturday, of the 40th to do . Egyoku and I have agreed that the inteverntion should be at the end of the panel discussion, which is about ‘Zen in America.’
Taking on the ‘fool’s’ hat to contemplate OD possibilties: an image of multiple laptops bubbles right up. Every Zen master I know carries one around it seems.
At 9 am I put out a call for OD participants. My request: 7 people and 7 laptops.
At 10:30 , we are 13 with 8 laptops and 1 yellow cardboard folder.
I supply the rest with a variety of bells-Tibetan, Swiss, Austrian.
In a 20 minute brainstorming creation, we create a lttle ritual around puntuated bell ringing and various images of laptops stuck together.


We process in hiding behind the laptops shaped like an arrow pointing backwards. The bells stop, we stop. We peer over the laptops. The bells ring, the laptops become a circle. Pause…Bells ring laptops are slowly moved through space into an absurdist shape. Bells ring, laptops recreate the arrow, pointing the other way, we process out in the opposite direction. Short sweet and hopefully to some point.

There are other smaller actions until the Sunday morning brunch.


Accompanying people to the evening awards ceremony with different sized umbrellas.


Early in the ceremony, when Roshi Bernie gets called up for an award, I accompany him by holding a paper cocktail umbrella over his head. He immediately goes into a clown walk and plays the moment.

At the tribute to ZCLA on Sunday morning, I attempt a short speech. I am led ontstage by a large orange sunflower. When I can’t get a word out of my mouth, the flower takes over and makes the speech, then drags me off stage, all at lightening speed.




does it look like Stockholm? If you have ever been there you would probably say no. Does it matter, not to me. This spot is a good 30 minutes outside that amazing archipelago gathering of islands they call Stockholm. This spot is an outskirt, there are project highrises visible from where I am staying, a little apartment that is part of a tower at the end of one building that comprises the circus complex housing the national circus school as well as the modern circus ‘Cirkus Cirkor.’ There should be photos, but I deleted a whole slew by mistake. I am here with 19 other clowns without borders people, from 9 different countries, for our 3rd annual summit. Slowly the group moves from a meeting of rather separate organizations in 6 countries, to one where we are discussing projects in common, and looking to officialize a Clowns Without Borders International. Yours truly is the international ambassador, and fascilitator and moderator for the meeting. Three days in the circus environment, our meeting room right above my little apartment, a tower at one end of the building.


The meeting room is full of light, windows on all sides, and the discussions are full of light as well.


that’s Jonathan Gunning of the new Clowns without Borders Ireland making a point, with humor. the plastic hammer in the foreground is our talking stick and moderation tool-if anyone gets out of hand, the hammer bomps with a loud obnoxious squeek, everyone laughs and we move on. The hammer barely gets any use all weekend. This is to say that there are lot’s of positive discussions about how to cooperate more, and get more laughter into places where it is needed.


the circus school is quite a story in itself, a few trailers are parked in the lot outside the building, with some students living in them. The school is very active, offering professional training as well as an alternative high school path. Sorry no photos. but here is a link to their site:

Behind the school are the woods,


and a few minutes away is a small lake, a complex of small apartments, all painted in yellow, and community gardens.


I get caught up in taking a photo of blue chairs in front of one of the yellow apartments


In the middle of my artistic deliberations, I am interupted by a voice from the balcony. There is a man who wishes to know just what I am doing. A long discussion about just why I am taking the photos ensues. He doesn’t like my answer that I am taking the photos because I like the blue chairs. He doesn’t laugh when I put on the clown nose, however it does disarm him a bit; enough to ask if I am taking pictures because i am interested in buying the place (whether he likes it or not). Evidently the clown nose is not enough on it’s own, but my words of reassurance allows the conversation to end on a pleasant note.

There is this beautiful old mansion, also yellow, with a clock tower, and baroque fringes that is very intriguing.img_1207.jpg

I pass by it everytime I go to the big yellow house, another one, not as fancy, next door, where everyone in the clown world is staying and eating . It has some kind of official purpose, and some mystery associated with it as well.


I am told that this is a work place of sorts for people who have to do community service. Well dang, Sweden has something going on here that is looking good, at least from the outside.img_1217.jpg

There is also a broken down boat in their gardens. who knows.


I am told that they are working on it a lot, but it sure doesn’t look like it. Then I spot another boat, upright in good shape it would appear, covered by a tarp. Perhaps that one looked like this a year ago. Who nose?


F-X from Canada, and Heiko, from Germany.

Countries at the Clowns Without Borders meeting: Spain, France, Sweden, Canada, USA, Belgium, along with new members: Ireland, Germany and South Africa.

Sevilla to Salzburg

I ask him if he was born in La Algaba. Yes Yes. And how was it different back then?
Everything was orange groves he tells me as we drive the 6 kilometers into Sevila. He gestures across fields to a myriad of housing projects and suburban developments, and the occasional holdout orange field.
It used to rain he says. It wasn’t this hot. When I was a kid people slept outside, where ever they felt like it, no one locked doors.
When I discussed the rain with a few locals as we assessed the evening sky, and I asked if they thought it would rain. “Va venir el agua” he tells me, the water is coming.


Unexpected sight as the hotel van crosses the bridge towards town, the vibrant elder driver points out this strange metal grey dome. ‘Christopher Cololumbus’ he tells me, as the active churning of wastewater treatement plant directly below the bridge attracts my attention. The only holdoever from the world’s fair, the driver tells me and as we pass by, from another angle, there is a huge statue of the man. I have the hotel ‘Torre de los Gussman’ 11 am 2 euro shuttle into town to myself.


Ah the beauty of Sevilla. After three days in La Algaba, I am swept up by the colors of the town, plunging immediately into the small side streets. I come across a house with straw shade shutters, seemingly old traditional style. My camera claims my attention.



i am drawn into this walkway near the Bullfighting ring, a must see i am told. I am not too enthused by the whole drama and gore of the bullfighting world, and a sudden swarm of tourists as i round the corner to the entrance, and the 7.5 euro entrance fee has me back exploring the sidestreets.


the esthetic of the arches calls me in closer


my eyes brighten at discovery
circus in other contexts.

images of beauty of Sevilla…





what’s inside these archways?



Well in Salzburg they do not call the rain the water, however after a very dry spring, they are not complaining about the heavy soaking rains that graced most of my time there. Two fun shows for the thirtieth anniversary of the ST Virgil Bildingshaus (Learning Center) and then a two day workshop with 16 motivated participants seeking to ‘humor their human’.
From the dryness of Sevilla to the green wonder of the nearby alps.



Wet Wet Wet, no photos of the Salzburg beauty, the huge castle on the hill and more green onioned churches…ah but the main shopping street…

a ittle bit of sacred mischief?





Next up, the meeting of Clowns without Borders, International, in Stockholm. 20 clowns and administrators from 9 countries….

from Aatnang to La Algaba.

hello world,

bringing humor to the people, in the land of onion shaped church steeples, Austria.
right near the beauty of the low mountain lake at Gemung
teaching a workshop in the basement of the Aatnang church
we go to eat in the local Italian restaurant, a converted traditional restaurant
The second day of the workshop is May 1st, which in most parts of the world is labor day, hence a holiday. Why is it that the US chooses a different day to celebrate as labor day? A question that has crossed my mind a few times. Meanwhile, it turns out that May 1st is also the day for pilgrimages to the Aatnang church. I am surprised by this procession of men, only men, walking down the main stream, an audible sound of prayer in the air. One hundred or so men, many chanting along, some holding their hands in specific pose. One holds a mast up high. I figure some type of icon, but it turns out to be two little speakers and a wireless antenna. Evidently modern technology is in action too, broadcasting the priest’s prayer to the faithful as they walk along.
I decide to start the afternoon in the beautiful garden full of little flowers, trees, smells and a pleasant breeze.
A perfect atmosphere to look for the lighter poetic side of clown. Everyone is having a marvelous time, until the priest in black robes and white pompom accoutrements passes by above. One glance at us, and he demands we cease and desist. No room for play here today, at least not in the sweet spring garden. We create one inside instead.
A few plane flights the next day and i find myself in a quite different environment. La Algaba, Spain.
The poorest town neighboring Sevilla, some 6 kilometers away from the splendour and touristed city. I think it would be safe to say that no tourist has strayed into this little town. The town though had the great idea three years ago to start a music and theater festival, hence my presence here. In town the day before I play, I go into the little town to enjoy the evenings offerings. Los Gingers, a great comedy circus show is performing.
They mix high level acrobatics, juggling, teeter totter and other circus skills with a great sense of humor. There is extensive slapstick as Ramiro,
oh the posed macho, continually runs into poles, slips and falls that has the audience falling out of their seats laughing.
Their show is in a public housing complex where it would seem not much else takes place.
I am told that it is not the best of neighborhoods, some 160 forced detentions (arrests) the past two years. Considering that the project is home to around 500 people, this is quite high for Spain. There are bars on second and third floor windows
There are also a lot of green flags hanging out windows, draped off of balconies everywhere. No not nationalism, or election time. Football (soccer) fans, or perhaps fanatics. There are two teams in Sevilla, one has green flags, the other green and white striped. They are arch rivals i am told, although some balconies have both flags hanging side by side. A few buildings have exclusively one flag or the other. No doubt there are some good stories to be told. Today the focus is on Los Gingers, whose techinical virtuosity and great humor is delighting this jaded I’ve seen everything clown.
needless to say, I am not the only one.

Onwards into the evening, and to another neighborhood of La Algaba, a relatively normal neighborhood, where a small park has been transformed into a performance space for Portugal’s Circolanda, which offers a nighttime show around a circle of prepared earth. The neighborhood is out and waiting, and finally as darkness unfolds the show begins, a group of men on bicycles playing brass instruments arrive on the scene after a video projection of them exploring the countryside ends. they have somewhat dirty faces, and frumpy clothes. The music sounds rather slavic, and is something of a conversation between them. the show is quite visual with beautiful images but the clown in me is wishing for more interaction between them and humor.

May 3rd. the organization of the festival brings me to the spot where i am going to play, a small square in yet another part of town. There has never been a show in this spot, and as I am taking a look around the several of the neighbors come out. I am going to block a garage door in a corner, and a person appears at the doorway, so i go to introduce myself. i explain that his door will be blocked off during the show. He is fine with that, and invites me in to visit his workshop behind the door.
That would be the man in the middle of the photo. He works with metal he tells me, silver and gold. I ask him how long he has been there-18 years. Earlier I had asked his neighbor the same question, 35 years he answered, and explained that he had built the house himself, with his own hands, as if he were being paid to do it he adds.
I am surprised by what I find behind the metal garage door. the walls are full of dusty posters, and designs for various items he has built.
It would seem that most of what he makes are religious icons for the semana santa-easter-processions.
Later on during the show, I have a great time starting from behind the narrow door that is part of the garage door, banging into it ‘by mistake’ numerous times. The audience loves it, and it becomes a theme of the show everytime i need to go back inside to get a few more props running into the door and slapping my flat hand hard against the side of the opening as i jerk my head back as if i had hit it. The metallurgist’s father shows up wanting to get inside but has to walk right through my stage to get to the door, so of course I play with him. We have a good moment, and so does the audience.
next up. Sevilla to Salzburg

A day @ Circ-Cric

St Esteve de Palautordera, some 50 kilmeters north of Barcelona.

The capital of circus in Cataluna?? It is the town where Tortell Poltrona, founder of Clowns Without Borders, great clown and director of Circ Cric lives at the foot of the mountain and national park Montseny. A small town where one can still buy fresh mediteranean fishimg_0807.jpg

Every spring, the circus hosts field trips, some 600 children three days a week come in buses for the day (10-3pm) to experience the circus and enjoy the natural surroundings. Each visiting classroom are greeted where the buses let them off by several of the 20 plus artists and animators. They are given an animal name for the group and paly at learning a few characteristics of the animal. For example the frog group hops and croak.

The kids seem to have good fun with it, and then follow the red clown shoe footprints stenciled on the pavement that lead them to the circus.

The road leads down into a little forest, across a creek and up to the circus.


A good number of the children come from urban environments and have had very little time, if any, in natural environments. I can hear from the circus excitement and squeels of delight as they travel the path.

The pathway leads up to a giant meadow where Tortell and his wife Montse have established the circus’s permanent home, right at the foot of the mountain.
img_0874.jpg There are two big tops mounted, and three other tents.  I watch the kids turn the corner and get their first glimpse of the circus.  One sweet little boy, upon seeing the tents exclaims, oh this is where the clown (pallasou) lives.  Other kids in his group excitedly talk about the clown. Tortell is famous in Cataluna, and I guess that the kids all know that they are coming to see Tortell.

Everything is extremely well organized, there are little tents set up with little animal signs which act as gathering places for the groups.

The program of the day starts with  big circle warm-ups with Claret Clown, who acts as ringmaster for the entire day.

Claret leads a spirited game of Simon Says, only the  game is called “pallasou ” instead of Simon.  Claret continually fools a good portion of the kids and laughter abounds.

The program of the day includes a puppet show about circus, then Claret’s big book show about the history of circus,
img_0920.jpgfollowed by a trapeze show under the second big top, which is set up without the walls or seating, the kids sitting on the ground looking up amazed at the performance. Then there is lunch, which they bring, and the there is a little cafe set up where the teachers can go take a break and have a coffee.  Finally the circus show with Tortell under the big top fully set up with lights, sound, seating.   img_0933.jpg

Quite a full day for all.

Positive Humor Helps !