Sabine Choucair will assure any skeptics out there that clowning is no laughing matter.
As the co-founder of Clown Me In, a group of humanitarian clowns who bring physical theater to marginal communities, she knows what she’s talking about.
This September, Clown Me In will launch the International Institute for Very Very Serious Studies, a performance training program seeking to hone the skills of experienced artists and send them out to engage with communities.
“The school offers an exciting intensive art and therapy program that is not offered in many art schools around Lebanon,” Choucair told The Daily Star. “Usually people who are interested in this kind of work travel abroad to study.
“The school is inviting amazing artists from Italy, U.K., France, the U.S., and Lebanon to give the courses,” she added, “digging deep into the world of clowning and buffooning, exploring physical theater, masks, puppets and storytelling, in a social therapy and participatory art aspect.”
The school’s first year is free of charge. That’s no joke. Selected students will be put through a seven-month program split into two parts: a crash course in clowning and physical theater, followed by a field project in which graduands use their skills to create a street performance within a marginal community.
“Our purpose is not only to have artists with better knowledge. We also want them to try these courses with communities and come up with an act of change,” Choucair said. “We want them to translate these practical and theoretical studies into social actions because we believe in the power of these artistic tools, the power of youth and the power of the streets.
“The school is for artists who have experience and are interested in digging more into these art forms and finding the connection between social therapy and participatory art,” she added. “We also want artists/students who care about the world we live in, want to do something toward social justice and definitely are interested in working with youth and believe in their power to lead our future.”
Twelve students will be accepted for the first year’s classes, with nine staying on to work in the field. Six four-month-long courses are on offer, each meeting for four hours a night.
Social Therapy and Participatory Community Art will serve as an introduction to social therapy, a grassroots psychosocial support process focusing on positive engagement with communities. Storytelling, Movement, and Masks looks at Lecoq storytelling techniques, inspired by traditional Korean and Japanese theater that fuses music, movement, and narration.
Giant Puppets will teach marionette manipulation. Clowning and Satire/Buffoon will look at the two typical comic techniques that provoke laughter in two fundamentally different ways.
The final two courses will prepare the students for their final project, coaching them on setting up teams, creating a directional plan and approaching fieldwork.
“Twice a week over three months, three groups of three student artists each will host 24 sessions with youth groups located in three different regions/cities in Lebanon,” Choucair said. “The details of the groups and locations will be decided by the students themselves as part of their training.
“They will also manage the technicalities and all related needs to find the youth interested in art and social justice,” she added. “Together with the youth, they will come up with a final street performance to be performed three times in April 2020. The performance will tackle issues and problems the youth think are important to tackle in their area.”