It’s so heartwarming to see someone trying to put a smile on one’s face and spreading good vibes around. However, the stories behind the vibes and humor are more powerful and heartwarming. Sabine Choukair succeeded in sending messages and spreading awareness through clowning.
Sabine fell in love with clowning when she was studying Physical Theatre in London. Upon her return to Lebanon in 2008, she started working as a clown. People around her didn’t understand her intentions and kept insisting that she performs in children’s birthday parties.
“We didn’t grow up with clowns. It is not in our culture,” Sabine told Al-Monitor. “It is a form [of entertainment] people know, but in Lebanon when you say ‘clowns,’ they think of birthdays. They don’t think of it in any other way.”
Passionate Sabine traveled to Mexico where she launched with Gabriela Munoz Clown Me In, a theatre company that uses clowning to spread laughter and provide relief to disadvantaged communities. Through interactive workshops and performances, Clown Me In explores human vulnerabilities and helps individuals to accept them.
After touring Mexico, India, and Brazil, Sabine returned to Lebanon where she launched Clown Me In locally. She began giving clowning workshops, teaching others how to use humor to convey a message. In 2011, the group decided to take their work to the streets for the first time.
“It was super fun. People laughed so much, they loved it,” Choucair told The National. “We weren’t nasty because we’re gentle clowns and we do everything with laughter, but we were very straight to the point when we saw people throwing things, and they took it in a very positive way. This is when I started being like, ‘OK, maybe we should do more of this on the streets.’”
Sabine was among the 40 cultural leaders chosen to share their work at the World Economic Forum at Davos in January 2017. She is also a member of Clowns Without Borders USA, spreading joy and laughter among disadvantaged communities and in refugee camps. In 2015, she spent three months in Syrian refugee settlements across Lebanon, recording the stories of refugees and people from the Lebanese host community, resulting in The Caravan project.
Sabine is the artistic director of The Caravan project, a street theatre project in its 4th edition that takes real-life stories to more than 150 communities in Lebanon, Tunisia, and Sweden. Included in The Caravan is Van 12, a project that puts children’s voices at the heart of a street theatre performance through the use of recorded storytelling audio.
Stories are gathered through workshops and discussions with Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian children who have had their rights neglected or violated. Children anonymously share their experiences about how they are coping with violence, bullying, poverty, forced labor, and other violations of their legal rights.
“Some of the stories are sad, but the style is always using clowning and physical theatre, so it’s fun,” Choucair told The National. “People don’t come and get depressed. They laugh, but then they listen to some really hard stories.”
In 2018, Sabine gave workshops to 35 therapists and theatre practitioners in the tenth Performing the World Festival in New York, addressing how to use different forms of art and theatre as therapeutic tools and forms of activism.
In addition to that, she gave workshops to 20 clowns from 150 healthcare clown organizations that gathered in Vienna from 50 different countries for the very first Healthcare Clowning International Meeting hosted by Red Noses.
Furthermore, Sabine and her team reached 6000 spectators during 30 free clown shows that took place in different marginalized rural areas as well as schools, camps, and public spaces around Lebanon.
The next step for Clown Me In is to perform in a way that encourages the public to recycle, reuse, and reduce their waste with campaigns targeting policymakers.
The next plan is the Trashion Show; the clowns will collaborate with designers to create dresses and suits out of rubbish. They will wear these outfits and perform in front of government buildings and the headquarters of companies with poor environmental records.
Clown Me In‘s latest project is The International Institute for Very Very Serious Studies, the IIVVSS, a performance training program in Beirut, Lebanon, to develop the talents of experienced artists and send them out to use their skills to engage with communities. The Middle East’s first school for street theater opened its doors on September 1, and it is free of charge for those accepted.