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The healing effects of clowning around

Date Released: Fri, 18 March 2011 09:00 +0200

The Rhodes drama department has hosted Mr Jamie McLaren, director of Clowns without Borders South Africa, this week in a bid to spread the effects of the healing power of physical theatre. 

Mr McLaren, who has a background in physical theatre and clowning, having studied at Dell‘Arte School of Physical Theatre, established the South African branch of Clowns without Borders in 2002 to work with communities affected by HIV/Aids. “We use laughter and play to engage with people who are affected by HIV/Aids, and work with them to create better relationships with their families and caregivers. Although we’re talking about something intangible you can see the shifts happening between people and subtle changes in their relationships after they’ve done some of the workshops,” he said.

He was born in South Africa but has spent most of his life in New England, America, returned to South Africa in 2002 to pursue a career in physical theatre after having “an epiphany” while travelling through South Africa. “This is my home and I realised I had to come back and give back to the community what I had to offer. At that stage it was the art of clowning and creating theatre and engaging communities,” he said.

While in Grahamstown Mr McLaren has worked with drama students teaching his approach to clowning, physical theatre and storytelling and showing how these techniques can be used in developmental contexts. “I’m interested in the power of play that connects and heals in amazing ways. I believe dynamic play is alive with a sense of joyful exuberance through the audience and it’s about engaging everyone,” he said.

He was drawn to clowning because of how the art facilitates a sense of connection with awareness and being in the present moment. “It’s hard to define exactly what clowning is, but it has elements of playing the failure, the notion of the mistake and ideas of problems and solutions. I always hated the circus except for the clowns. There’s something of the very heart of human existence in a clown,” he said.

Mr McLaren said he has thoroughly enjoyed his first visit to Grahamstown and has found the work incredibly rewarding. “Rhodes is lucky to have the expertise of Andrew Buckland who embodies so many creative aspects. I have learnt from him during this week although I did throw a shoe at him during one of the workshops,” he said.

He will lead a workshop on Saturday 19 March aimed at sharing facilitation approaches for using clowning and play with groups. “I am hoping to give participants something they can take away and use for themselves in specific community contexts,” he said. All performing artists working in community contexts are welcome. The workshop is free and is hosted by the drama department. To reserve your place, contact Alex Sutherland on 084 966 3798. Please note: the workshop is for anyone aged 16 and over.

By Sarah-Jane Bradfield

Photo: Jamie McLaren.