The month of May was the busiest month we’ve had all year. I performed for groups as small as 15 and as large as 1,800! The performance troupe had their debut weekend of shows that went fabulously and we were on national TV 3 times! The kids and I had a blast at the local amusement park with Andrew and Nana White! This months blog is filled with lots of pictures cause our photographer, Rangga Rinjani, takes such great shots!
The Hidung Merah Circus Performance troupe, which is composed of the Cilincing kids and the Yayasan KDM kids have been working hard every Sunday for the past 4 months. When we first came together, our focus was to begin building an ensemble with children from different backgrounds and different experiences. Then, we began building skills. After all the kids had the beginning foundations, the kids all chose one area of skill that they wanted to focus on for 4 weeks and create an act. Many of the acts were directed by the older kids and simply polished by me. And of course, we couldn’t call ourselves the Red Nose Circus, without lots of clowns. All the kids were in at least one clown act. The kids worked hard and some got frustrated along the way, but none of them gave up. I was so proud to watch them perform that during their first show in Bekasi, I was honestly fighting back tears for the first 15 minutes. What a group of kids!
We are so lucky to have the support of my former high school, Jakarta International School. The JIS shop teacher and aide built a circus ring for us to use as a stage for the show and the fine arts aide made us a beautiful red backdrop. The athletics department loaned us a few gymnastic mats for safety and that’s all we needed to have an amazing performance space that simply enhanced the amazing work the kids had created.
Our show weekend started with a jigsaw puzzle of loading vehicles. Two SUV’s, a truck, a few students who’d come to help load everything, a few spectators that didn’t want to miss out on the kids’ big debut, me and ‘Pak Maman (HMC’s new driver!) We hoped on the Toll road and headed out to Bekasi, West Java, home of the Yayasan KDM street children. The yayasan’s pavilion was decorated with streamers and balloons. The KDM kids had already begun setting up chairs when the Cilincing kids arrived. They were very excited to see where their friends lived and some were a little nervous about the big show they had coming up. The kids all helped unload the vehicles and began setting everything up.
Luckily, Pak Maman and I had set everything up the day before as a test run to make sure we knew the fastest and easiest way to do it. I told the kids that Pak Maman was in charge of setting up the stage and if he asked them to do anything, they should listen. It was great to see his sense of empowerment and then immediately start delegating jobs and tasks for the kids to do. It’s great to have Pak Maman around, especially on days like this.
As soon as the stage was set up, the props were laid out in an organized manner and the music was cued to the right spot, we all gathered around for one of, what I hope will be the first of many, pre-show ring curb chats. I went over how the rest of the afternoon was going to go with the kids, answered questions about the show and tried to calm any nerves and reassure them all that they would be amazing. I told the kids what one of my favorite college professors used to tell us before we started a new show. “You have worked hard and created a piece of art. A piece of yourself. It’s a good show. You’ve all prepared as much as you needed to prepare for this show. And now it’s a gift. And our job as performers is to give this gift to the audience. To give them the gift of amazement, awe and laughter. If we do that alone, we’ve all succeeded.” And they did!
Mba Renie invited several of the local elementary schools to join us in our celebrations and the younger kids from KDM all gathered to watch the show. A handful of my friends and HMC supporters showed up to enjoy the show. It was a special treat when the orphans (now high school and college age) from the One More Chance house (students of mine from 2008) were able to hop on a JIS bus and make it to watch the show. It was especially cool watching the OMC kids and the HMC performance troupe kids interact after the show. They had never met before, but they had a common thread. They were all circus students.
Before the show started, I told a few of the kids to bring the bag of foam clown noses out into the audience and pass them out amongst the kids. It was really fun to watch my students clown around and feel comfortable being goofy in front of people they’d never met before!
After the show we took down the set, packed it up into all the vehicles and drove it to Cilincing, the village of the other half of students and the venue for our next day’s performance.
Sunday’s show day started early. Very early. We arrived at Cilincing around 730am and the kids had already begun cleaning the trash and debris from the clearing in front of the village. Pak Wahar, the father of one of our students and the go-to-guy to get things done around the village, had ordered 2 very large tarps to put on the ground, because it had rained the night before and the ground was still wet. Pak Wahar had also ordered a tent top pavilion to be set up for the audience to sit underneath, so they could watch the show without the very hot sun beating down on their backs.
Pak Maman immediately began directing the kids and volunteers from the community about where and how to set up our ring curb and back drop. I worked with a few kids to organize props back stage. When the KDM kids arrived, the stage was all set up and the show was ready to begin.
The show was even better than the first. The kids were more confident, funnier and had a great time. So did the audience! By the end of the kids show, there were at least 500 people gathered around the ring watching. So many, that any of the people still sitting underneath pavilion, had to stand on their seats to see the action. I saw a few teenage boys climb up a water tower to get better seats. Reminds me of baseball games in Chicago. There were tons of highlights in the show, but I will share a few.
The first moment that made me very proud was from a conflict that happened before the show. One of my 14-year old boys from Cilincing had been having problems with a group of boys from a different village. Because of all the commotion, the boys had come over and started trying to cause problems. The kids had told me stories about this group of bullies, but I didn’t think they would be brave enough to actually come to this village to start an issue. I was busily unpacking, organizing and preparing for the show, when the youngest boy ran over to me and grabbed my attention. “Kak Dan! Ada yg brantem!” (There’s going to be a fight!) I looked up and began walking quickly towards the altercation. Three boys from the other village “staring off” with the one boy from Cilincing. Before I could reach them, one of the older KDM boys(19) walked right in between the kids, put his arm around the Cilincing boy and walked him away. As they walked by I heard him telling the younger kid, “You are better than that. You don’t need to fight with those bullies because of words they use.”
I was so proud of my older student for backing up his younger partner, but even more proud that he was not backing him up by punching on of the bullies. He was teaching him how to be a mature young man. How to be the bigger man. I walked up to the three bullies and asked them with a big smile on my face, if they needed anything. They of course did not. They turned around and walked off. The second part of this story, was during the show. The Cilincing boy who was being taunted, was on stage doing his two-man clown act, when I saw, who else but the bullies, hanging around the edge of the ring. I watched the boy on stage notice the bullies and I was afraid that he would lose all concentration and/or begin to act cool or tough. He saw them. He smiled and then he went on making the other 497 people in the crowd laugh hysterically. When the bullies saw that they weren’t going to get a rise out of this clown, they left. Just like that. As they walked away he gave me a glance and a wink, and I was very, very proud.
The second highlight of the show was a 13-year old girl named April. Crystal, my assistant coach from JIS, had choreographed a short dance/contortion/gymnastics act with two girls. April was very reluctant to do this in practice, but Crystal was insistent that she was too talented in this area to not show it off in the performance. April’s partner was very sick the weekend of performances and wasn’t able to make it to the Cilincing show. I thought for sure that April wouldn’t perform or that she might perform, but she’d be so embarrassed that she’d go through the movements as fast as possible and run off stage. Boy was I wrong!
Before her act, I stopped the music and explained to the audience that the next act was very special. April was the only student who was going to be performing a solo act and this took a lot of guts, so everybody needed to give her an enormous round of applause before she even started just because she was brave enough to do it alone. I watched April’s mom and grandmother cheer and scream so loud that it made her laugh out of embarrassment, but the good kind of embarrassment. She performed her act gracefully and eloquently. I watched her mother not take her eyes off the stage for a second the entire time she was performing. Her mom was proud and so was I. When she was finished, she didn’t run of stage, instead she took a proud bow and the audience went wild. This was a great moment for April. Especially because April is one of the girls from last year, who disappeared the day of the show, because she was too shy to perform a few group acts with 20 other kids on stage with her. She has really grown in the last six months. I can’t wait to see where she goes from here.
The third highlight of the day’s events came during my clown show. After the kids show was finished, and they packed up all the equipment, I had them all come out to the audience and then I performed my one-man show. What really impressed me was when the same older boy from KDM who was helping the younger kid not fight, Darmadi, was completely engaged with the audience my entire show. I do a lot of audience participation and it was so cool to watch him help bring kids on stage and reiterate directions that I gave. He did this all without me asking. The best part is when I ask a kid in the audience with a pony tail, to hold their pony tail out and I would through a juggling knife from the stage to cut their pony tail off.
I’m very careful when I pick this kid and I always whisper to them that I am not really going to throw the sword. This girl didn’t hear me or didn’t believe me. I was in the center of the ring and she was following directions, but I could tell that she wasn’t digging it. Before I could even say anything, Darmadi ran over to her, tripping on the way to make her laugh and then stood right next to her, reminding her that I was just joking. She immediately became more relaxed and I was able to drag the gag out longer than ever before, because she was laughing, the audience was laughing and nobody was scared.
Hidung Merah Circus is so lucky to have the support of so many people and organizations in Jakarta and around the world. You’re support keeps this project going and enables us to make a difference in the lives of children who need help. If you or your organization can make a donation, big or small, please contact Dan at email@example.com.
Check out some of the publicity that Hidung Merah Circus has gotten in the last month:
Hidung Merah Circus on Sun TV
Hidung Merah Circus on RCTI
Read the latest article in The Jakarta Globe by Zack Peterson