It’s been a few months since I’ve updated the blog and I assure you, that’s not because there hasn’t been anything interesting going on. In fact, there has been so much going on, I haven’t been able to take the time to write about all amazing things going on. But, I’ve devoted today to uploading photos and stories about the circus.
We’ve made such phenomenal progress with our project this fall. The kids have performed on two of Indonesia’s most popular TV programs, our education program has expanded to three days a week and we’ve taken on 30 new students in Cilincing. We’ve been so lucky to earn the respect and support of several organizations around town. SSEK, Indonesia’s second largest law firm, is helping us register as an official non-profit foundation in Indonesia pro-bono! An entertainment group called, Options, has graciously donated 15 guitars to our Cilincing project and Deddy now teaches Guitar for two hours and English for two hours on Mondays. We’re so grateful for all generosity that we’ve received from our communities here in Jakarta and abroad.
A few months back, I was asked to perform on Indonesia’s version of “The Gong Show”. I was a guest performing on the talent show and had a blast getting to know the producers and celebrity hosts. When I told them about the circus that we run here in Jakarta, they were all very interested and wanted to hear stories. A few weeks after that, I received a call from another producer from TransTV (the same network), inviting myself and my students to perform on one of Indonesia’s highest rated Sunday morning talk shows, “Ceriwis”.
I don’t watch TV very often, so had never heard of it, but as soon as I mentioned it to the children, they couldn’t stop screaming and jumping with joy and excitement. I picked a group of 7 out of the 15 that had been working the hardest and/or had the highest level of skills. We worked hard to put together a 7-minute act to perform for millions of people in Indonesia to watch. The day before the shooting, we held an evening rehearsal at JIS, so that the children would feel more comfortable with the great product they were producing. As a treat after the rehearsal, we all came back to my house and shared a meal. The kids were very excited to see where Ka Dan lived, since for the last 2 years, I’ve been in their homes several times a week.
The shooting went very well. The kids were nervous, but the celebrity hosts were very comforting to them. The show was an hour long, and we were their only guests. The kids performed for a segment, I performed for a segment, we talked for a few segments and then we taught the hosts how to juggle the final segment. It was a great experience for these amazing kids from the slums to be on a TV set, performing on a TV program that they watch every Sunday morning. In fact, it was such a boost to their confidence, I had to talk to them about not being conceded or “cocky” to the other kids who didn’t get to participate. They all understood and to my knowledge, there was no “glutting” or teasing the others. When the show finally aired, it was fabulous. The network did a great job of editing the piece and I was very impressed! As soon as the network gets us a copy of the show, we’ll post it up on the website so everyone can have a look!
A couple of weeks later, I received another call from TransTV, inviting me to return on “The Gong Show”. This time, however they wanted me to bring two students and actually join the competition. I ask the kids how they felt about it, and they were ecstatic, of course. I spoke with the group about how we should chose the two students and there was a natural consensus. There are two boys that have been working very hard and at that point, had the highest skill level. Part of the deal with the network, however was that all our kids got to come and be part of the audience during the competition.
We practiced and practiced everyday, the week before the show. The boys were very confident about their performance. We spent the whole day at the studio, getting our make-up and hair done. Visiting the costume shop and the boys were on cloud 9. The rest of our group showed up about an hour before the performance and I had ordered Pizza Hut for the kids. They’d never had pizza, but have been talking about wanting to try it for months. We chomped through 5 large pizzas and then the kids went to watch in the audience. The shooting took a long time. We were the last act to compete and I could see the boys getting more and more nervous, each hour that passed. I tried to calm them down by practicing with them, taking them back stage while the other acts were competing, and walking them around the studio. By the time we got on stage and were waiting for the “lights, camera, action!”, one of the boys ran over to me on stage. “Ka Dan, I don’t remember what to do,” “You are great. We’ve practiced a hundred times. If you get lost, just look at me and I’ll remind you,” I replied. “Are you sure Ka Dan?” “Positive.” Then he said okay and walked back to his post. Five seconds later, the lights came on and we were off. As soon as they saw the cheering section of their classmates and heard the rest of the 350-person audience cheering for their successes, they were amazing. I asked them after the show, at what point did they stop feeling nervous. They both had specific tricks that they remembered doing and hearing applause for, that stopped them from being nervous, both of course within the first 15 seconds of the 5-minute act. It was such an amazing experience for them. And, to top it off, we won first place!
We have been very fortunate to be the recipient 15 brand new guitars from an entertainment agency in Jakarta called, Options Entertainment. Deddy Purwadi, our Director of Educational Outreach, is also a professional musician. For the last month, he’s been teaching the children how to play guitar on Mondays, after his normal 2-hour English lesson. We made a deal with the kids, that after they came to four guitar classes in a row, without skipping class or misbehaving, we’d allow them to keep the guitars at their homes to practice during the week. As soon as they skipped a class, they had to return the guitars for another four weeks. Today was the fourth class and 8 of the kids had earned the privilege to keep the guitars at home. We explained to them, that there were no more guitars. They had to take very good care of the guitars, because if they got broken, lost or stolen, that meant they wouldn’t be able to participate in the guitar class any more. They all understand and some have even cleared special places in their very small homes to keep the guitars.
Our Education Program has grown at lengths since the last time I updated the website. We now sponsor four of the children to stay in school and have set up tutors for several of the kids who cannot read. There is a very nice woman who lives in the village next to Cilincing, who has volunteered to work with two of my 4th graders, 3-times a week, on how to read and write. Deddy now keeps very close observation on the children’s progress at school. We have monthly progress reports that their teachers fill out with quantitative data like, average monthly grades, attendance, behavior and quality of work. This allows us to know which areas the kids need help with. They are also, much less likely to skip school, if they know that we’ll find out about it. So far most of the teachers are very supportive of our efforts to support the children out of school.
We’ve recently taken on two new groups of students in Cilincing. 15 kids per class from the ages of 9-15. These kids do not yet get English lessons, but are beginning to ask more frequently when they get to take English lessons also. The reason we don’t do English with them yet, is because they are still learning how to be students. It takes a few months for the kids to understand how we expect them to act in class. They don’t learn those things in Indonesian public school. Before we can begin teaching them something, which is less instantly gratifying, like English, they need to understand the process of learning and studying. I predict they’ll be ready to begin English lessons with Deddy in February.
Also, making them wait and giving them the sense that they are earning the privilege to take the classes, gives them a sense of achievement and pride once they reach that goal. It’s amazing to me how quickly the new students are learning and how devoted already to the circus classes they are. I think it has something to do with the fact that, they’ve been watching their friends perform and learn circus for the last two years, being inspired to learn and in a sense, revving their engines for success. Now its as though, we’ve taken off the emergency break and they are jetting away down their journey of this circus world.
Our Sunday Performance Troupe rehearsals have been going better than ever. We still gather at JIS every Sunday from 12pm-5pm. The group consists of students from Cilincing, Bekasi and JIS. It’s great to practice at JIS, because we get to use a big space, and can work on more difficult skills that require crash pads or gymnastic mats.
We’ve been very lucky to have several volunteer teachers join us on Sundays. Nico and Frengki are two ex-patriot young men, working in Indonesia, who come every Sunday to teach the children circus skills. It worked out fabulously, because these two young men have a completely different set of circus skills than I have. Nico is great with the Chinese Yo-yo and Frengki walks slack rope. It’s really been a treat for the kids to work with these talented teachers and its great for me to have them doing things, that I myself, can’t do!
After two years of searching, I finally made contact with an Indonesian, professional touring circus. A few weeks back, I took 70 children, all students of different HMC programs to watch, the Oriental Circus of Indonesia. It was great! The kids were absolutely awed and amazed at the flying trapeze, acrobatic bike, Russian bar, teeterboard and foot balancing.
The circus cast was mostly younger men and women in their early 20’s. After the show, we had a talk back with the cast, where the kids got to ask them questions about what’s its like to be in a real circus. They were amazed when the cast told them, they performed 3 shows a day and practice 5 hours every morning. After our talk back, the kids got to show off a few of their juggling skills in the ring and talk to the cast one on one.
A few months ago, I was contacted by a man who runs a stilt-walking program for victims of the 2006 earthquake in central Java. He expressed interest in getting to know our project and possibly having some kind of an exchange program with our kids in Jakarta and his in Jogyakarta. He was in town a few weeks ago and I invited him to come by and check out our performance troupe rehearsals. He asked if it would be alright to bring a few of his students and actually give my students a workshop about building stilts and then walking on them. Of course I said yes! He brought 5 of his students and we bought enough wood to build 5 sets of strap-on-feet stilts. It was amazing to me that many of the kids already knew how to walk on stilts. It was something they learned in their village, because there is so much scrap material laying around. The workshop was great and we are going to try and plan a trip to Jogyakarta in the near future to visit their program and share our skills.
During the first week of November, a Clowns without Borders volunteer and Founder/Artistic Director of 500 Clown, Adrian Danzig visited Hidung Merah Circus. During his visit, we performed for several different villages and taught classes in Cilincing and at JIS. It was especially exciting for me, because Adrian was my first circus teacher! The kids had a blast and learned a lot. They still talk about the funny things that he did while he taught them and haven’t stopped practicing the tricks he showed them. Here is an excerpt from Adrian about his time in Jakarta:
“When I got off the plane in Jakarta, it smelt like the whole place was on fire. Disoriented from 32 hours of travel – another 2 hours in the car from the airport was surreal and exciting. Western style billboards and cars and roads – radio stations even, things seem pretty similar and in many ways they are similar to life in The United States, but the feeling of being huge and white and therefore privileged was palpable in every meeting I had with each person. Jakarta is a study in contrasts.
Dan had made a social circus and had told me about it in person as well as through his blogging and it sounded like he’s made something real that might outlast him, and that was serving a web of real needs. Self -esteem, poverty, gender issues, power issues, leadership issues, village life, family structure – a whole compliment of post-colonial issues that I’ve thought about, but never before gotten to wrestle with in real life.
Hidung-Merah Circus is an educational outreach program disguised as a circus arts program. Using totally measurable and definite Circus Arts skills- you can either juggle or you can’t – The program is teaching kids and their communities that they can be powerful agents of change in their own lives. Dan is working with a network of service organizations and is allied with powerful partners such as The Jakarta International School and Save The Children for the benefit of the Children he teaches, their families and villages, as well as his staff. It’s a very impressive operation. The children are ignited, are helping each other, are aware of their success and are getting to be good gymnasts, jugglers and balancers through hours of hard work.
I watched Dan deal with a sticky situation really well. In English class, one of the older students had been asked to make a sentence in English. He chose to make a degrading sentence about another kids’ father. Dan heard about it on the way back from the village and the next time we met with those kids, we sat in a circle together and Dan reminded them that this group was a special group. In this group we support each other, in this group we help each other; we go out of our way to be kind. He also spoke to the student individually and reminded him that as an older kid, he needed to be an example. Then we got out the juggling equipment and learned some new skills. It didn’t feel at all punitive, it didn’t feel too heavy. It had some real gravitas – the message was clear – your actions have power. Your choices have power. You are responsible for what you do in the world.
So the level of cultural sensitivity and attention to creating a functional group of aligned individuals, is very high. The care is very great. The plan is sustainable and supportable. I was very impressed and was pleased to be able to help guide the organization objectives, put in my two-cents and identify some necessary next steps.
An important observation for myself was that although the village people had very little furniture, only cold water, no toilets, tarpoline walls and sometimes dirt floors – they are very aware and engaged people. I think, in my mind, the impression was that they would be less functional, more totally in need. I think this idea was fed by my interaction with American poor people, who are often less trusting of offered help in my experience and seem less able to receive the help into a working fabric of their own construction. The people we met with did not seem desperate or bitter. They are consciously improving their situations using the resources around them. Hidung-Merah Circus is one such resource.
All of this would be dryer and less amazing if there was no fun. But there is. The kids are cranked for fun and are inventive players of games. Dan is teaching in a way where he can have fun with them without surrendering his authority and they laugh easily and often. While I was there we performed three improvised shows. Two in villages and one at Save The Children headquarters. The audiences were fantastic. They included a ton of people of all ages, socio-economic levels and village animals. I was excited and nervous to see how effectively clown work crossed all the cultural differences: how bumbling Americans in Indonesia are funny – and it was effortless. Clear intentions, getting into trouble and failing all seem to translate. Imitating chickens and cats and children and smashing into stuff also worked. Being in precarious positions and needing your friend to help you also got the laughs and heartfelt support that it might anywhere.
These seem to be universals. Dan and I had never played together before in front of an audience and my usual mode of clowning is more long form and story based, but the trick based structure we used in Indonesia was really simple and after a show or two we really were delivering the struggle of the clown and well as the funny antics and impressive feats. The villages took care of us well and treated us with great respect – After our second show (which was cut slightly short because it was almost call to prayer) one of the kids cart wheeled all the way down the path and out of sight to his home. There may be no greater or full-bodied appreciation than that. I count myself fortunate to have been able to participate and doubly so, because the opportunity arose from the work of one of my students (Dan). That’s just such a sweet and powerful experience for me as a teacher.
I’ve been hearing about Clowns without Boarders for years and really admire the work being done in the name of clowning all over the globe. Thanks for the support! I am looking forward to incorporating this work into my practice in the coming years and am eager to learn more about how I can participate.”
We’ve had articles posted in The Jakarta Post, The Jakarta Globe, TimeOut Jakarta, Gatra Magazine, Provoke Magazine, The Jakarta Post Weekend Magazine. Coming soon we’ll be featured on Trans 7’s Empat Mata (Late Night Talk Show), and on Channel News Asia (International News in SE Asia). We are so pleased at all the positive press attention that we’ve received in the last three months! Thank you to all the reporters and journalists who’ve taken an interest in our small circus program!
Just last week, I had the first of many meetings with a lawyer from Indonesia’s second largest law firm, SSEK. This very generous Canadian man is going to help us fill out all the paper work, build our board and register as an official non-profit NGO in Indonesia. And to top it all off, he’s doing it all for us pro-bono!
All pictures from this post were taken by our new photographer, Renny Antoni. Thanks Renny!
As time rolls on and the project grows and expands, I can’t express my gratitude to all who support us. The community support, may it be moral, financial, exposure, or any other type has been the backbone of our project. Thank you very much from all of us at Hidung Merah Circus in Jakarta!