The Clowns have Arrived!

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Red Nose Relief in collaboration with Clowns without Borders

Gabi and I arrived in Jakarta yesterday afternoon, and were introduced to the Red Nose Foundation team and to Jakarta’s formidable traffic.  Gabi and I had never met before, so we got to know one another while attempting to stay awake to combat jetlag. We made it to 8:30 pm.

This morning we drove with our host Dan (Red Nose founder/director) and his team to the village of Cilincing, 45 minutes from downtown Jakarta, where Red Nose runs a small school to teach circus and english.  Dan showed us around the sea-front fishing village, which is a very rough and crowded bario literally built on trash, discarded shells, and cement.  It was a little intimidating but Dan seems to know everybody in town, including his many circus students.

We walked to an elementary school nearby where Red Nose is sponsoring a new renovation.  There was a ceremony and also a chance to help lay down a new brick courtyard.  Gabi and I helped level and set bricks for half an hour, before retiring to a classroom to work on show ideas.

Over lunch we pulled together a plan for a short show with Darmadi and Dedi, two members of Red Nose who will be sharing the stage with us this trip.  Then, less than 24 hours after landing in Indonesia, we mounted our first show for over 250 children from the neighborhood.  We did some club juggling, diabolo, tug of war, and some improvisation, with Dedi contributing a sing-along song.  Over-all the show was judged a success; with many smiles from the local kids, school teachers, and others.  It also gave Gabi, Dedi, Darmadi and I a chance to get to know each-other as performers, having just met we thought we acquitted ourselves well.

Tonight Kolleen, our third CWB clown compatriot, arrives; and tomorrow we will have time for proper rehearsal.  Tuesday we leave for the remote island of Mentawai, off the coast of Sumatra, with Dedi, Darmadi, and a Jakarta reporter and photographer.  After a twelve hour boat ride, we’ll stay there for eleven days of shows and workshops.  Here in Jakarta we have easy access to the internet, but Mentawai has little electricity, so we do not expect to be able to send regular updates during that week.

So if you don’t hear much from us, at least know the trip is off to a promising start!
Jan Damm


November 23, 2009

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!

Even Grandma Mangi can juggle now!

The new students learning about Clown Statues

All pictures from this post were taken by our new photographer, Renny Antoni.  Thanks Renny!

Eating after our Performance Troupe Practice

They Spent at least an hour perfecting this trick!

Ring passing in the Ole ‘Y’ formation

Nico teaching Rais a new Chinese Yo-yo trick

Two high on the globe.  Go Andre and Bebi!Minah finally found her Niché, slack rope!

Kardi rocking out his handstand on the Rolla Bolla

Asis actually catches the ball on his forehead

Dedi working hard on his 4-ball juggling

Ipul spent 2 months working on club juggling alone. Way to go dude!

Juggling in Grandma Mangi’s kitchen

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!

June 15, 2009

Final Pyramid

House of HopeThe 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!

At Dufan


hanging by the roller coasterThe 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.  Yayasan BSDMany 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!



ready to goWe 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.

break dancingOur 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.

DSCF4313Luckily, 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.

Mr. Puppy

CrystalAs 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. DSCF4416 “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!

Slow motion clown race
OMC girlsMba 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.

DSCF4386Before 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!

Cilincing Field Flooded

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.

Asis setting up the Ring
Pak Wahar and son, MisnoSunday’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.
April and Mina with the Circus Box
RGA_5019Pak 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.


OndengThe 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.
Ring Curb Meeting

RGA_5075The 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. Badut Gatal! 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.”


Dedi and IinI 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.  Iin and AndreI 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.

Darmadi and Neng
Ino and JajatThe 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!

RGA_5243 RGA_5164Before 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. Rais 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.

RGA_5195Stong man RaisThe 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.  Kardi 4-Balls!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.

RGA_5217I’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.


RGA_5297_2Hidung 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






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

April 22, 2009


The past month has been filled with numerous wonderful experiences, breakthroughs and excited donations!  I’ve made the official decision to stay in Jakarta long-term in hopes of creating a sustaining program to continue helping the children of Indonesia.

Photo by Ot Sukardi

Chinese Yo-YoI’ve begun focusing a lot of my time and effort towards a few specific groups, as well as continuing to perform at different venues across Jakarta.  In the end of March, I brought 15 children from Cilincing to watch a performance by their older classmates at Yayasan KDM.  The KDM children had been training mime for a few weeks with a French gentleman and it was a great experience for the kids to come and watch.  After the performance, the KDM kids gave the Cilincing kids a tour of their home.  It’s more like a complex, housing nearly 100 homeless children, with a dinning hall, classrooms, basketball courts, a greenhouse and a compost and recycling room.  After the show on the bus ride back to Cilincing, I ask the kids what they thought of the mime show.  They loved it!  They thought it was so funny and it was great to watch them reenact their favorite parts for the entire bus ride home.

Juggling my mom's platesCilincing classes have been going very well.  We’ve started taking attendance and all the kids have been showing up every week.  During this last month, we’ve focused a lot on creating new clown acts.  It’s really wonderful to watch the kids begin to understand how to be funny on stage, without just acting silly.  They are beginning to learn the fundamentals of clown to the point that I can give them an outline of an act and they can fill in the details by themselves.
I’ve continued visiting the tutoring center for poor children, SD UNWANUL (part of Yayasan Emmanuel’s work).  These children are learning quick and enjoying every minute of it.

learning to walk on stilts

I’ve also continued visiting Yayasan KDM in Bekasi to teach circus every other Saturday.  This is a great opportunity for the older students of KDM who practice weekly on Sundays, to teach their younger siblings the joy and art of circus.  The older kids have really begun to step up and take responsibility and pride in teaching circus to the other kids of their yayasan.

clown plate

Sunday Circus rehearsals have become very structured and our performance troupe show is almost ready to be shared.  Every kids is involved in at least one duet or trio clown act as well as involved in at least one circus skills act.  The acts have been rehearsing weekly and are coming together fantastically.  The Hidung Merah Circus performance troupe will make their performing debut on May 9th and 10th.  We will perform one show in Bekasi at Yayasan KDM and one show in Cilincing in the clearing in front of the children’s kampung.  For more information about these shows and how you can attend, email:

Learning how to type!

Each week on Sundays after our rehearsal, I’ve set up activities for the kids.  We’ve been swimming, played basketball, badminton, watched circus and clown movies in the theater at JIS and begun learning how to type with computers.  Sundays have turned out to be a really nice afternoon with a good mix of hard work, learning and lots of fun!

dscf4025One of the highlights of the last month is performing live on TVOne for the victims of the Situ Gintung levy break.  When I arrived in the area of Situ Gintung it was absolutely devastating to see the destruction that occurred.  I looked down the miles of canyon where the water destroyed everything in its path.  Miles and miles of dwellings were absolutely flattened and washed away.  I performed with a group of popular Indonesian musicians at one of the higher ground affected areas.  When the morning started, there were about 100 people who came to watch and by the end there were at least 500 people from around Situ Gintung who had come to watch the entertainment.  It was a nice event, and I hope that the children and adults were able to forget about their shattered homes and livelihoods for a few hours of smiles and laughs.

2 high

Balancing a plateWe’ve  received a generous invitation from Andrew White and Nana Mirdad to take the Cilincing kids to Dunia Fantasy, an amusement park in Ancol.  Andrew and Nana are both popular television actors and they wanted to bring the kids on a trip somewhere they’d never been before.  I think the kids are just as excited to be hanging out with two TV stars as they are to be going to an amusement park for the first time.

Dancin'Another highlight of the last month is the opening of Rangga Rinjani’s photo exhibition, based on the Hidung Merah Circus.  I attended the opening and was a bit embarrassed to see a huge blown up picture of me making a goofy face, suited up in my clown gear.  He did a wonderful job with the photos and we have been so lucky to have him documenting all the hard work that the children and I have been doing.

Jakarta International School also gave us a donation of US$400 to purchase Hidung Merah Circus T-Shirts, with our new logo create by Maybeline Chow.

Things have been busy as ever and won’t slow down anytime soon.  Thank you to everyone who has donated time, money, supplies and advice to this project.  We’re on a roll now and it’s all because of the support that’s given so generously to us.

March 16, 2009

Cilincing Shore

The last few weeks have been difficult, disappointing and eye opening.  As many of you may know, I had a trip planned to tour through northern Sumatra and perform for children affected by the 2004 tsunami and displaced children due to the civil unrest in Indonesia’s province of Aceh.  Our trip was planned, tickets were bought, visas were renewed and we were ready to go.  On Thursday, March 5th, Deddy and I boarded the early bird plane to Banda Aceh from Jakarta.  About a week before we left, I was informed that it would be a “good idea” to get a letter from the Jakarta police, stating we were residents of Jakarta, traveling to Aceh on a Social project.  I went to several different police stations in Jakarta and they all told me that I would have to get such a letter in Aceh.  When I informed my organizer in Aceh about this, he suggested that I go directly to the police station in Aceh, after I arrived.  So we did.  Straight from the Banda Aceh Airport to the Banda Aceh Police Station.

When we told the police officer what we were there to do and where we were from, he asked us to come into his office and have a seat.  He then proceeded to tell us a list of permission slips, progress reports and letters of invitation that you needed to travel to Banda Aceh.  We were all shocked.  Is Banda Aceh still a province of Indonesia?  Yes.  But it is the one province in the whole country that you need special paper work to travel to.  Unbeknownst to any of the people who organized my trip or any of my expat friends who just returned from Aceh doing similar work, with similar organizations.  The police officer informed me that I was to return to Jakarta, get my paper work and then “try” again.  After many hours of calling people who knew people and trying to sort this all out, I was introduced to someone who finally knew everything that needed to happen.  His advice was to go to Jakarta and plan another trip to Aceh in June or July.  He said that with the elections in full swing, it is possible for me to return to Jakarta, get my paper work and still be turned around upon returning to Aceh.  So…  That’s what we’ll do.  I’m not giving up on Aceh and the surrounding towns, but I’m going to wait until after the elections are finished, because the last thing I want to do is get turned away a second time.  Cilincing Boys

Wisnu JugglingAs frustrating as the bureaucracy of developing nation’s politics can be, there is a silver lining to this story.  Two extra weeks to work with my students in Jakarta!  And that’s exactly what I did.  It wasn’t possible to schedule a lot of shows or visits to new locations, but what was possible was to schedule classes with my regular students from Cilincing, Bekasi, SD Unwanul and our Sunday Circus classes.

Neng helping out
In the last three weekends our Sunday classes have really started kicking off.  There are about 35 regular students from the Cilincing fishing village, a homeless shelter in Bekasi and expatriot JIS students.  They have all begun the journey of making friends with other kids from completely different backgrounds than their own.
Swimming at JIS
Diving!The first weekend there was very little interaction between the three groups unless I specifically partnered two kids together.  However, there was a very nice moment when, Neng, a 12-year old from Cilincing, decided to help out one of the older boys from Bekasi and teach him how to spin a plate.  Really cool to watch her filled with so much pride that she knew how to do something a 17-year old boy didn’t.  The older boy was very friendly and receptive and when he finally learned how to spin the plate, Neng gave him a big high-five and told him how great he was doing.  After class I organized a pool party for the kids and the kids had an absolute blast!  Thanks to the supervision of a JIS teacher, Kathy Nestroff, the kids were able to jump off the diving board, play water basketball and water polo, and float around in inner tubes.  They had so much fun and so did I!

juggling off the wall

CartwheelsThe next two weekends of Sunday Circus were filled with more great relationship building, new skills and more after circus activities.  One afternoon I booked JIS’s little theater and we turned it into a movie theater with a video projector.  I brought a few Charlie Chaplin films and a few Cirque du Soleil videos and the kids were absolutely amazed.  I think their favorite act was the juggling act from Corteo, because ever since watching it, they’ve all been trying to learn some of the tricks from the video.
passing rings

Spinning Plates

Flower SticksI made my second visit to one of Emmanuel’s tutoring centers, SD Unwanul.  The kids were super excited to have me back again and I was happy to be there.  We split up into four groups this time, one for each of the basic circus skills and one group for me to play theater games with the kids.  I wanted to begin learning their names, since I’ll be returning every two weeks to work with these kids.  We had a great lesson and its really nice to see the kids get so excited about doing such a simple thing, like spin a plate.

Juggling Scarves

Ibu dan Bayi

AcrobaticsCilincing classes are going better than ever.  The students are excited, disciplined and really beginning to move to the next level of skills.  As my relationship with these kids grows and gets stronger, they are beginning to open up about their personal lives to me.  I spoke with one girl, who told me that she isPartner Juggling very hopeful that she will be allowed to finish high school.  She told me that her real dream is to go to college and get a degree in management or marketing.  When I ask her why she chose those two majors, she told me, that was what she was interested in.  I was impressed.  She is 14, has learned how to speak a decent amount of English with a friend and a dictionary, and she really has a dream of becoming the first child from her village to get a college degree.

Muna and Ipul 2 highGirls JugglingI got to thinking after this conversation about how I could help these kids.  Some of the middle school aged boys have already dropped out of school and some of the kids don’t know how to read or write.  I’m in the process of creating an educational program for these kids, where they will learn circus for an hour or two and then they’ll be given lessons in reading, writing, English and math.  This idea isn’t completely mine.  I’ve taken two programs that I’ve seen work successfully in the past and combined them.  The first is from a circus I worked for in Chicago when I first started teaching called, CircEsteem.  They tutor their students after each circus class, and the kids have goneDive Rolls on to get full scholarships to college and become straight A students.  The second is from Emmanuel’s tutoring centers where, he works with his orphans in these four categories,  because they are essential to a child’s education.  I’d like to start this work as soon as possible and I just need to get my hands on some workbooks or other educational material.  In the long run I’d like to hire tutors, who have experience doing this type of work, but for its going to be me.

Next week looks a lot busier than the past few, which is exciting!  Stayed tuned for more!Arka

February 22, 2009

big sister

Another great week just flew by like it was only a few hours.  I actually had to slow things down a bit this week, to begin preparing for the Clowns without Borders trip to Sumatra.  A childhood friend of mine, Deddy Purwadi(who is now a professional musician and vocalist) will be joining me on the trip.  We’ve started putting together a new show that combines my old show, with songs by Deddy and a few new clown bits between us.  It’s really exciting to be able to prepare a show, with such a good friend, to share with children across northern Sumatra that are in real need of a little levity.

two highThe week started out with our Sunday Hidung Merah Circus rehearsal.  Today a few more JIS students and the regular Cilincing crowd joined us.  The OMC kids couldn’t make it because they had begun end of trimester exams.  We had a great class as usual.  The kids are really beginning to become enthusiastic about not only playing with the circus equipment, but actually learning new and more difficult tricks.  We had a few special guests today and the kids were very excited about it.

Laura and RaizDeddy, whom the kids had already met and they were very excited to see him again.  Also, a friend of mine, Andrew White, who is apparently a very popular TV actor, came by with his little son.  I knew Andrew was an actor, but never really knew to what capacity, until he walked in late and all the girls started whispering and giggling.  I ask the kids if they knew who this guy was and they all screamed, “Of course we do!”  The kids had a blast playing with Andrew’s 3 year-old son and teaching Andrew and Deddy how to juggle and do different circus skills.  They really go a kick out of it when I climbed up on Andrew’s shoulders into a two-high.


Next week, I’m going to start scheduling activities for the kids after circus class.  The first activity will be a pool party, hosted by JIS HS teacher, Kathy Nestroff.  The kids have been absolutely awed by the pool and I’m not sure they’ve ever been in such a large body of clean water, so it will be a fun afternoon!

JugglingWednesday I visited Cilincing as usual, and we had another great lesson.  The kids are showing great improvements after a few weeks of coming to circus twice a week.  Not only are their skills improving, but also their attitudes are changing.  They don’t give up as easily, they hardly ever say “I can’t” and it is a rare thing to hear a boy and a girl complain about working together.  This is the same group of kids that last year; I had to separate into two classes, because the boys and girls refused to work at all if the other was present.  After a few weeks of forcing mixed gender pairs, they are not complaining or making fun of the pair by calling them boyfriend and girlfriend.

Lounging with the plates Big Smile from Raiz


Thursday I traveled all the way to West Jakarta leaving my boarding house at 630am to perform a show for an Indonesian elementary school.  They kids were rowdy and excited and it made for a very interesting show.  It was also possibly on of the hottest rooms I’ve ever performed in.  Before the show even started, I was soaked with sweat and as I performed, I could feel the sweat dripping down my face.

Spinning Plate Smiles

Ladder on Chin

ClownSaturday I returned to the homeless shelter in Bekasi for our bi-lesson.  The kids were very excited to see me back and met the car at the front of the complex.  I separated the class into two groups: 13 and under and 14 and above.  With the younger kids we workshopped some basic circus skills for about 50 minutes and then moved into a simple clown routine that the kids always get a kick out of learning.  When it was time for the older kids to learn we broke up into two groups; one of the groups had free reign of the circus box and the worked on partner acrobatic skills with me.  They were all very enthusiastic to learn and such nice kids that I decided to put the offer on the table for the older kids to join our Sunday Circus lessons.  I wouldn’t be able to pick them up, because I was already sending a bus to Cilincing, but if they could get to JIS, they could learn circus with the Cilincing, OMC and JIS kids.  I passed a notebook around and ask them to write down their name if they were interested, and if not then not to put their name on the list.  About 15 of the 25 kids signed up and were excited to join the fun.
Scarf Juggling

 Partner AcroAfter class, I was hanging out with some of the kids and one of the young boys pulled me to the side.  He had a story that he wanted to tell me and I was curious to hear it.  He started telling me about how he became a street kid.  He said that when he was about 6 years old, he ran away from home, because his parents used to beat him up and treat him like a slave.  He decided he’d rather live on the street than be treated in the horrible way that they were treating him.  He said he was on the street for a few months when he met, “Ka John”, who brought him to the shelter.  I wasn’t quite clear who John was, but the love that this boy spoke his name with, showed how much it meant to him that this man found him and essentially saved his life.  The story brought me to a “fighting back tears” stage, but it also made me realize how wonderful of an institution this shelter was.  The kids are treated with love and respect.  They are clean and polite.  They even have different recycling bags set up around the complex to throw out plastics, paper, glass and garbage.  They have an alternative education schoolhouse on the grounds, where the older kids begin learning trade skills so that when they turn 19 or 20, they can go out into the real world and get an average job.

Clown Falls

I feel so humbled to be able to participate with an organization that is actually saving children’s lives and helping them move out of poverty.  I’m very lucky to be involved with this group and I appreciate the opportunity every day.