Beirut-based theater company brings joy and laughter to Syrian refugees’ lives

Clown Me In has performed worldwide. (Supplied photo)
Updated 23 June 2019

Beirut-based theater company brings joy and laughter to Syrian refugees’ lives

  • Sabine Choucair and Gabriela Munoz founded Clown Me In in 2008, which performs and organizes workshops for vulnerable people
  • Initially people wanted Choucair to do clowning for children's birthdays while she wanted to use it for a social cause

BEIRUT: Sabine Choucair, a professional clown, is on a mission to spread light relief to Syrian refugees and vulnerable people worldwide. She discovered her true calling when she learned the art of clowning while studying theater in the UK.

“I found it (clowning) magical. I found the answer to why I really wanted to do theater and how to use it with people,” she said.

Soon enough, Choucair and her friend Gabriela Munoz founded Clown Me In in 2008, a Beirut-based theater company that performs and organizes workshops for refugees and other disadvantaged communities worldwide.

More than 5.6 million Syrians have fled their war-torn country as refugees, according to the UN.

Half of them are children, many of whom now live in Lebanon and other neighboring countries, where temporary settlements have become home to tens of thousands of refugees who have stayed for years. Having experienced civil war as a child, Choucair understands the hardships that these children face every day.

“I know exactly how these kids feel and what they’ve gone through. Going to a refugee camp is very special for me,” she said.




Professional clown Sabine Choucair. (Supplied PHOTO)

But it was not easy introducing clowning in Lebanon. People wanted her to do clowning for children’s birthdays, while she wanted to use it for a social cause. She decided to invest her time and money into growing her company and making clowning a known art. “I sent proposals to 70 different organizations to tell them about the importance of clowning,” she said.

Her hard work paid off. Today, Clown Me In is one of Lebanon’s largest clowning groups, bringing performances to people who need it the most. The group has performed around the world for Mexican, Lebanese, Palestinian, Indian, Moroccan, Jordanian, Brazilian, Greek and British communities.

In November 2015, Choucair travelled to Lesbos, Greece, to perform with the non-profit group Clowns Without Borders for the influx of refugees arriving at the island. “I broke. It was so sad. People weren’t finding their relatives. We’re also human beings, but it didn’t stop us from performing,” she said. “On the contrary, it was important for us to be there, to bring joy to the people and children who really need it.”

There is usually a common feeling of hopelessness and despair in most refugee camps, but when the clowns begin their performance there is an instant change in energy, from stillness to joy, said Choucair, adding: “It’s magical despite the misery.” Clown Me In also uses clowning to raise awareness of social issues such as children’s rights, education, early marriage and the environment.

Now they are working on organizing a “trashion” show to talk about garbage, which is not only a problem in Lebanon, but also in the Middle East and across the world. The audience tends to be receptive to the ideas and messages being conveyed during these performances, said Choucair.

“People listen more and pay attention when they’re not being attacked. They also accept things better when they’re happy. Play and laughter can do wonders,” she added. Choucair was recently invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos, where she organized a workshop on dealing with loss and talked about the importance of play at work.

“It was an amazing experience. It’s not only important to be there, but it’s also important to be active and get the message out about the importance of clowning,” she said.

With the global refugee crisis not going away anytime soon, Choucair believes that we need clowning today more than ever.

“We need more of this in the region and in the world, because we don’t have enough of it. We all need more joy,” she said.

 

This report is part of a series being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.

 


Lebanese-Brazilian label presents new UAE-inspired collection at Arab Fashion Week

Updated 53 min 49 sec ago

Lebanese-Brazilian label presents new UAE-inspired collection at Arab Fashion Week

DUBAI: Dubai-based label AAVVA on Thursday presented its fall-winter 2020 collection, Mother of Pearl, during Arab Fashion Week (AFW), which runs virtually until Saturday.

AAVVA was founded by Lebanese and Brazilian design duo Ahmad Ammar and Vincenzo Visciglia. The ready-to-wear label has been on the market since 2011, continuously creating stylish and avant-garde silhouettes.

The brand showcased its new pieces as part of Brazil Noble, the first ever virtual fashion event that aims to bring Brazilian fashion to the world through AFW.

The brand showcased its new pieces as part of Brazil Noble, the first ever virtual fashion event that aims to bring Brazilian fashion to the world through AFW. (Supplied)

For their latest collection, the pair were inspired by the UAE’s history and success.

“We wanted to pay tribute to the country that inspired us to start and grow to where we are today, and also mix the free-spiritedness, art, and vibe of the Brazilian design,” they told Arab News.

The new creations feature black and white looks embroidered with angelic white pearls.

“We wanted to be chic, but also since our previous collection was full of color, we were in the mood for something more muted yet extremely lavish. The pearl embroidery is not like something we’ve done before, intricate, full, and yet simplistic in essence,” they said.

For their latest collection, the pair were inspired by the UAE’s history and success. (Supplied)

The designers said the collection was “empowering and unique” because they “placed importance on volume and movement to enhance the female silhouette, a signature of our design element.”

Has the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic affected AAVVA’s design process? Yes, is the answer.

“We think the pandemic has affected everyone and all walks of life,” they said. “We were blessed to be in the UAE – a country that is so involved in the welfare of its people. The country took amazing measures to protect its people. While the world around us shut down, we were still able to work slowly but surely amidst the lockdown.

“The measures held us back from sourcing fabrics internationally, or getting the work done on the pieces as we usually do – but we still created a collection that we are proud of and that definitely brought a smile to many faces,” they added.

They noted that since the virus outbreak, businesses and the fashion industry had become more digitalized.

“Fashion has been shot into digital space and it is proving a fascinating journey. While people in fashion are aware of what they are missing – the emotional and storytelling impact of real fashion shows – we have to adjust to the new alternatives. As they say, ‘the show must go on.’”