Cardboard Castles and Other Amenities...

I am really interested in using different forms of cultural action to help build better communities. Communities are a vital social model, allowing us to tackle problems beyond the ability of individuals with the focus of a defined (usually relatively small) group of people. How do the arts and cultural work in general help communities grow more sustainable futures? If you have a cool website or project or your own ideas on these subjects please let me know.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Manifesto: Playing with Magic for You and Us

Me and some friends are planning on doing a traveling Circus over Spring Break in order to explore public performance, carnival, and the "United States." Were hope to gain some insite about this land that we live and work in, and what it means to travel this vast country making political and social commentary.

Below is the first draft of our manifesto. Check it out and let me know what you think. If there is someone or something we should check out drop me a line.

Manifesto: The Public Circus


We play because we must. As artists living in a time of great fear, uncertainty, and despair we seek the space of Teminos, the space of hope. Teminos is a place where everything is believable. It is the space of “yes and...” where our dreams and creative impulses are accepted and built upon. It is steeped in the understanding that “no” is anti-creative. That is to say, there is a difference between creativity (yes) and editing (no.) In Teminos it is possible to image a world of equality, of peace, of sustainability, and of hope. We wish to be mirrors not only of how the world is, but of how the world might be. In order to build a better future we must be able to envision it.


We are three friends, comrades, and collaborators who believe there is something of deep value in the theater. There is a need in this society to see our world in all is divine multiplicities laid bare to us. This is the key stone on which the theater is built and the purpose for which we have trained. To show ridicule to those who claim to rule such a ridiculous world. For nothing undermines authority like a boisterous mocking laugh. In a society which has been turned upside down, we choose to stand on our heads to see what is possible. We honor the lessons of those that came before us. Since the beginning of time tricksters have embraced life's contradictions, creating coherence through confusion and irony. Fools have ever been both fearsome and innocent, wise and stupid, entertainers and dissenters, healers and destroyers, scapegoats and subversives. Buffoons always say yes, always hope and always feel things deeply. Dancers tie their communities together with there infectious beats. Singers use cords of steal and velvet to remember and assert their people’s freedom. Actors live the lives that could have been, that are, and that are still possible. Rock stars employ tools of our children to teach the wisdom of our parents. Clowns can survive everything and get away with anything. We are clowns and tricksters, dancers and singers, actors and rock stars, fools and buffoons.


We are rebellious magicians seeking to dismantle the machine of abstraction with means that are indistinguishable from ends. Working in the spaces people live, we use all the tools of magic, illusion, and juju in order to reveal what is. As the mythic activist Caroline Casey says, “We no longer have the luxury of realism.” With uproarious laughter, a wink, and a wave of our beings we transform everything - the way we live, create, love, eat, laugh, play, learn, trade, listen, think and most of all the way we rebel. Ours is an insurrection of the imagination propelled by brilliant improvisation, not perfect blueprints. We create our dreams with solidarity, discipline and commitment. We give so that we may receive. Hospitality is our way of life. We search for the divine incarnation so that we can make manifest the infinite incandescence that has cast our brilliant image. We work to show people when they are lonely or darkness the astonishing light of their own beings. “Each generation,” writes Franz Fanon, “must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” To this aim we call upon all the spirits, lessons, dreams, and gods of our people, whoever they may be, so that we may usher our world into a time of joy, peace, and equality... or live and die trying.


Like the sheiks and dervishes before us, we whirl between the roles of teacher and student, seeking a place of understanding. We hold with the old African adage, “If you can walk you can dance, if you can talk you can sing.” We believe in populace theater, where you are welcome to the circle to tell of your lives, experiences, and values. We have been trained as artists so that we may help you artistically engage with our world, not so that we can hold ourselves above you. When you join us in singing, dancing, and playing we join you in joining, in creating together with our divergent experiences, beliefs, and visions for the future.

Clowning and the Search for the Transformative Laugh

I suggest that the basic form of our “Show” be based on Clown Theater. This will give us the greatest level of Flexibility and Coherency at the same time. I suggest that we spend some time developing a simple clown trio, based on status interactions which can stand on it’s own and that we have set “numbers” with that trio. In addition, the clowns should have the ability to play with different modes or groups of people, i.e. that we could all become a Military Outfit, a Trio of Salesmen, Migrant Workers, Refugees, Explorers, Gypsies, A Rock Band, A News Team, Whatever. This will give us a great deal of range. In addition, this structure allows for pieces of Many Different Styles based on our different passions, not dependent on, but framed by the Clown structure. The Clowns could simultaneously provide a “safety net” and a context. I would personally encourage us to seek ways into counterpoint and the Grotesque. What is counterpoint to the Clown Structure? What is counterpoint within the clown structure?

Clowning is by nature counterhegimonic, as is Festival. The two are very close friends, they have spawned each other. They both disrupt the pedestrian expectation, show the loopholes and inconsistencies in society, and suggest a richer, more vibrant way of life. If we work from, and draw from both of these traditions, shaping them to our environment, to our instruments, and to our friends for whom we perform, we are bound to at least have a really good time. What is the hegemony which we are subverting? Do we pick now, or decide in the moment?

The Show should be only a part of our performative experience. Let us see what spaces are performable, let us be generous and perform in the spirit of Festival and the Positivly Metamorphic Nature of the Universe. And above all, let us allow ourselves to fail if we can learn from it. “I make a flop.” Let us create “bits” and try them in different contexts and see what we can learn.

Let us explore the relationship between spectator and performer. Let us take for our premise Augusto Boal’s statement that “The spectator is less than a man and it is necessary to humanize him, to restore to him his capacity of action in all its fullness. He too must be a subject, an actor on an equal plane with those generally accepted as actors, who must also be spectators.” (Boal: Theater of the Opressed. 155) Let us from this seek to re-humanize our spectators.

The Public Circus Revealed

The Public Circus is a small collective made up of two clowns and one academic. Our purpose is to bring laughter, social support, and physical help to those whose need is greatest.

We will to go to the profoundly underserved city of New Orleans for 10 days this Spring Break (2007) to help recovering communities there on three relating levels. We believe that artistic endeavors are more successful when they are supported by practical and tangible offerings. For this reason, our trip has three major components:

1. Performance

We are in the midst of creating a compact two-man performance, based on clowning, circus acrobatics, music, Theater of the Oppressed, and performance theory. We will give this performance to the groups whom we meet and work with. Our purpose is to bring hope to and lighten the hearts of what is still a community in great need. We intend to perform for both children and adults, in schools, hospitals, community centers, on the streets and in parks.

One of the greatest damages done by the Katrina disaster, in all of it’s natural and human manifestations, has been the psychological damage of a group of people who have been ignored by their government on many levels for a long time now. We are aware of a long history of using the arts, and specifically performance to create community, mirth, and simply a safe place to feel, in post disaster situations. We are in communication with Clowns Without Borders, an international group which has done similar work all around the world, in a dialog about this type of work. The benefits of laughter are powerful. We feel that this is one of the greatest things we can offer.

2. Workshops

As the proverb goes, “Give a kid a clown and you’ll make him laugh for a day, show a kid how to wear a red rubber nose, and you’ll make him laugh for the rest of his life.” We will be giving workshops in clowning and circus performance, both in after school programs for children and for a more general audience. We hope to empower individuals with a new tool for coping with the disaster and to aid in the formation of stable social groups which we hope will remain behind and offer support and safety after we are gone.

We have a secondary hope that the connections we are making right now with communities in New Orleans may remain and be strengthened by current and future Sarah Lawrence students. It is our hope that this trip will strengthen a continuing relationship between Sarah Lawrence and the City of New Orleans.

3. Physical Labor

We are currently in communication with some of the groups who are helping in the rebuilding effort which has been taking place in New Orleans for the past year and a half. There is still much work to be done; many houses are structurally sound but need to be completely stripped and renovated before they are livable once more. We will be working closely with one of these organizations while in New Orleans.

In these three distinct ways, we will engage with the great social need left in the wake of the Katrina Disaster.

This is a chance to make face to face contacts with other socially engaged artists who have chosen to engage with the same needs that we have. These contacts could form a mutually enriching web between artists/social organizers in our two communities.

About The Public Circus:

Eli Steffen and Omen Sade have been working together now for three and a half years. We both came to Sarah Lawrence to study politics and social action, and were both surprised when life led us more and more into theater. At some point, we each made the decision to pursue social change through the arts, and specifically through theater.

Both our theoretical ideas and our practical understandings of The Public Circus have been developed though collaboration. Many of our ideas are problems that we have been addressing for many years now, both together and independently. For example, how does one create politically affective performance? This final project in our shared senior year is really the culmination of three and a half years of research, experimentation, and a fair number of genuine discoveries amongst the general fumbling around. We play from our strengths, and the project has at every point been strengthened by our different approaches based in our different areas of expertise.

This project has come together formally under our academic work with Dean Hubbard. This project is making up our conference work for the classes we are taking with Dean. In that way the project is based in an academic and theoretical foundation as we experiment with the effective use of practical application under the advisement of SLC faculty. We also are tackling this project with the support of our Dons: Joseph Forte, and Joshua Muldavin.

Our theoretical work is supported by the work of theater practitioners Augusto Boal, Dario Fo, Keith Johnstone, Clowns Without Boarders, CIRCA, Moshe Cohan, and Bertolt Brecht, as well as academics such as Mikhail Bahktin, Peggy Orenstein, and Franz Fanon.

We are supported by the academic and organizational efforts of Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, another senior, who has studied urban development, and specifically the social and political nuances of the Katrina Disaster. Andrea is helping us research the complexities of the situation in New Orleans so that our work can be as specific, and efficient as possible. Her background in social science and her experience working with community organizations both in New York and internationally have given her the skills needed to help us form effective relationships with organizations and people in New Orleans. She is working establish and solidify relationships with non-profits in New Orleans, not only for the performances/ workshops the Public Circus wants to facilitate in March, but in the interest of sustaining a working relationship between organizations/ academic institutions in New Orleans and Sarah Lawrence.

E. Steffen

O. Sade

A. Marpillero-Colomina

Monday, October 30, 2006

Circa 2007

The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA) is a positively metamorphic carnival operation out of the UK. They are well worth the look. Especially look at their manifesto and their videos, they are hilarious and inspiring, what a combination.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Microcredit Wins the Nobel Prize

I saw today in the New York Times Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist and founder of the microcredit movement won the Nobel Prize. Grameen Bank, with Yunus founded in 1983 claims to have distributed $5.72 billion in microcredit to more than 6 million Bangladeshis.

Redesigning Social Services and Green Tiling

A couple of interesting posts. First off one from, Red, Active Mobs and Redesigning Public Services. It is a great article about RED, which is a part of the Design Council, the UK’s official design agency. RED has been giving the job to use new design principles revamp social services. Instead of simply making social services more efficient, RED is trying to considered how the can be redesigned to be more effective.
The second is Elegant Embellishments new urban tile that can reduce car pollution. Both (Urban Grids / Respiratory Oases) and have articles on it (Elegant Embellishments).

Labels: ,