I have interviewed all of them. Super stars, cinema legends, best-selling authors and politicians, but it never occurred to me that a clown with a tomato-red nose would have that much to say. Clowns are funny, they can turn upside down to make children laugh, but at the end of the day, after the re, tomato shaped nose is detached, things get pretty serious. We spoke with clowns from ‘Red Tomato’, an interactive theatre project that presents social awareness through clown performances on the streets and villages of Egypt, reaching marginalized audiences who can’t go to private theatres.
The group consists of 5 clowns: Aly Sobhy, Hany Taher, Ahmed Mustafa, Jakob Lindfors and Diana Calvo, “Creativity is a human right”, Jakob tells us, “everybody should experience their own creativity and potential to create something”.
“everybody should experience their own creativity and potential to create something.”
Sure, creativity is a weapon of resistance. Nothing is as powerful as fresh new ideas built up together to stroke your heart and generate your mind, “creativity is the starting point and it’s very connected to the critical circle as well. So it means you get to build and create the personality that questions the given truth and looks for new ways of doing things. This is true resistance, to not just accept anything but to question it and to provide new ideas”.
There are various creative weapons which we could use as a form of resistance. “Generally speaking, on global scale and what we have seen very clearly in Egypt and other areas in the region, is that society has become very critical and people aren’t only questioning, they are analyzing and organizing and doing something about it. The challenge is to provide new alternatives and this is what the next step has to be. It’s a very interesting time in Egypt, many things are happening and new initiatives are taking place”, Jakob comments.
“This is true resistance, to not just accept anything but to question it and to provide new ideas.”
Red Tomato targets the underprivileged segments of society. The group is interested in all kinds of places where there is a need for events as they don’t have cultural activities or centers. They organize and manage their work through NGOs like Nahdet El Mahrousa and other initiatives that help them get in touch with neighborhoods and help them perform legally, “the selection of neighborhoods isn’t the problem, the trick is to have a connection there like if you know someone or the most popular person in the area. It would be weird to see five clowns invading their neighborhood out of the blue”, he laughs, “and we noticed that people are really open and ready to have fun. We’ve had a performance on Suhag’s Corniche with an all adult audience and there was lots of laughing and participating”.
Liberation is a major pillar and goal when it comes to art and for the clowns, they can’t totally relate. “I’m part of a workshop or an experience that destroys some fears and taboos. All of us get educated through our lives to behave in a certain way. The advantage of theatre that you destroy these taboos as you can act as someone else. It’s very interesting because you come to know your own capacity and learn that you can be more than you actually thought you can be”, Jakob explains.
“The advantage of theatre that you destroy these taboos as you can act as someone else.”
The group also provides workshop trainings for social workers who work with street children to give people an opportunity for expressing creativity, “all members work as a team, we don’t have a director or a trainer so we train other people to understand group dynamics and build positive relationships with the whole team to become more confident and free”, he tells, “it’s a process of having things done in a democratic way. When you work as a group, everyone has a voice and all ideas are accepted. So it’s all about personal and group liberation until it reaches the audience. It’s very important for the audience to know that those street children also have something to say. We’ve done it also with deaf children. That was a very interesting experience. We performed this show in different venues and my experience was seeing the audience attracted to the show one clear realization that they were great actors”.
“When you work as a group, everyone has a voice and all ideas are accepted. So it’s all about personal and group liberation until it reaches the audience.”
With Red Tomato, clowning delves deep into sensitive topics, raising awareness in a brilliant way. They did another show called ‘Rayeh Beit El Geran’ and this was about the refugees in Egypt. Real refugees along with Egyptian actors joined forces to perform. From Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Eretria and Ethiopia. It’s a great form of awareness. A random meeting on Egyptian Easter Holiday, when a group of Egyptians meet a group of refugees. “It’s a multiple mirror of creating solidarity”, Jakob comments.
Red Tomato worked on a project with ‘Clowns without Borders’ from France. It’s an international organization of which clowns and circus artists from France, Spain, South Africa, Uruguay and other countries, collaborate on different performances on voluntarily basis take time and energy to perform. The first project was done in refugee camps in Bosnia. During the Bosnian war, a clown in Spain watching all the military occupation in Bosnia asked himself if these children in camps could still laugh and if a clown is relevant in this terrible situation. He decided to visit the Bosnian camps along with a group of clowns and try to make the children laugh. They succeeded! “Laughing is a therapeutic method. It wasn’t just possible for children at refugee camps to laugh but it was also necessary”, he claims.
“With Red Tomato, clowning delves deep into sensitive topics, raising awareness in a brilliant way.”
Some say that funny clowns the saddest ones, so we asked our clown if this information is correct. “If you’re able to tackle sad situations through humor it can be very funny in an intelligent way. A good clown has to have real depth. Good clowning is serious in a way; there is always something behind it, but circus clowning like throwing a cake in someone else’s face is funny but doesn’t say anything. One of the most amazing clown shows I’ve seen was in Cairo when two Iraqi clowns showed a normal day of Iraq after U.S occupation. It was hilarious, very funny they’ll make you laugh crazily but at the end of every laugh you can feel your own fears. I think its is more that you feel the deep sadness, realizing the underlying oppression in the absurd situation” He says. These Iraqis managed to talk about oppression of war but through clowning”, he wraps up.