Image shows the word "Between clowning + activism: a trickster laboratory 6-12 september" on the left hand side; an image of CIRCA in action on the right. The image shows a group of clowns standing next to a troupe of armed police.

Send in the Clowns: rediscovering the clown army ahead of COP26

Police at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in 2005 were prepared for protesters. What they got was 200 clowns. 

The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA), and the disruption, humour and creativity it brought to Gleneagles, has since gone down in the annals of both protest and performance. 

Now, 15 years after CIRCA faded as an active protest group, Bristol-based activist, performer and director Robyn Hambrook has teamed up with original CIRCA co-founders Jay Jordan and Hilary Ramsden to bring to Bristol “Between Clowning + Activism: a trickster laboratory” – a week of workshops exploring the legacy of CIRCA and what clowning has to offer today.

CIRCA Reborn?

CIRCA was born in 2003 from the work of Jordan and Ramsden, who, under the umbrella of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination, toured workshops across the country resulting in a methodology of clowning and activism that could be replicated and adopted by others.

Robyn, who earlier this year ran two four-part masterclass series The Activist Clown Toolkit, which connected clowns and activists from across the world, has hinted previously at a desire to return to the ideas of CIRCA.

Four clowns kneel and stand on the street at a protest
CIRCA in action at a protest in Germany. Photo: creative commons

However, when speaking to TBA Robyn is quick to clarify that Between Clowning + Activism, which will run between September 6-12, is not about simply resuscitating an old idea: ‘I think it’s clear that Hilary [Ramsden] and Jay [Jordan] don’t want to bring back the Army as such.’

Instead, explains Robyn, the workshops – hosted by Ashton Court Arts Mansion, courtesy of Artspace Lifespace – will be a retrospective of what CIRCA was, and an opportunity to ‘really dig into, as well as it’s successes, what was good and then what didn’t work and how to address that in what we create going forward.’

Musing on the role of the clown in activism, Robyn notes that CIRCA was born in the context of anti-war protests in the early 2000s, whereas climate justice and social justice have become the clarion calls of today’s popular activist movements, begging the question: ‘What are the clowns being called for at this time?’

In Jordan’s original concept, one of CIRCA’s goals was to ‘to bring back feeling to [activist] spaces.’ This has a renewed relevance today as many activists find themselves, as Robyn puts it, ‘dealing with grief and panic and anxiety and actually we’re in a really anxious space right now with climate change.’

Taking Clowning to COP26

The workshops will also open space for conversations about the form of clowning itself, its relevance and its accessibility. Robyn says that the Bristol workshops will address ‘issues of decolonising the form,’ and ask ‘who do you speak for, or when you centre yourself who are you speaking louder than?’

‘We want to just make sure that we are accessible, and maybe we also admit that we are not going to appeal to everyone.’ Robyn admits that the clown, ‘in its current form, maybe doesn’t appeal or connect with everyone of all colours and creeds. But we’ve also still got to get up there and say something and do something.’

a week of workshops will be held in Glasgow prior to COP26

Ultimately, says Robyn, the aim of Between Clowning + Activism is to develop a new methodology ahead of another defining summit of world leaders: COP26, which is to be held in Glasgow in November. 

For this reason, a second week of workshops will be held in Glasgow immediately prior to COP26, with the support of Surge. Whilst the Bristol workshops are intended to be more reflective and aim at designing the methodology, the Glasgow workshops will aim to create a performance to be taken onto the streets of Glasgow. 

’The first week of COP there may be some outings,’ teases Robyn, before quickly adding with a laugh, ‘non-arrestable.’

Creating New Forms

There are 23 spaces available on the Bristol workshops and applications close on Friday (August 13). Robyn emphasises that the workshops are not only for expert clowns or expert activists: ‘All the skills of whoever’s there in the room,’ will be welcomed, says Robyn, adding ‘it’ll be a very collaborative, creative space’. 

‘If you want to make a difference in the world and take your art to the street, be part of creating something exciting and new, really made for this time and era, come and join us, we would love to have you on the journey, to help us create the new form.’

Feature image courtesy of Robyn Hambrook.

Find out more about Between Clowning + Activism: a trickster laboratory via the Facebook event.

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