It was autumn of 2017, when 25 young persons from Latvia, UK and Italy gathered for a youth exchange project “The CLOWN with me…!” in Daugavpils, Latvia. While the description, the concept and photos of the project could be seen at the end, we would like to jump straight to the perspective of participants. See with the eyes of participants
Story of Abroadship’er Finn: “My trip to Latvia was a whirlwind of an adventure. Although some days it could be better likened to a hurricane, destroying everything around it. I would firstly like to say that the organisers were nice people, the other participants were a joy to be around and we had some great fun. However, for the most part that is where the fun stops.
On the first evening we were greeted in our restaurant for the week. This is an experience I will never forget. Walking into a room of meat eating Italians with beaming smiles. I say meat eating as the school canteen… I mean the restaurant, had separated us, with the vegetarians in another room.
I sat down to our first Latvian dinner in our Ukrainian restaurant, looking around the table at the Italians who were all staring at me while I inspected the plate of ‘food’ in front of me. I noticed none of them had touched their dinner. I realised why quickly. The square of cottage cheese and poached pears topped with icing sugar looked far from appetising. It was far from tasty too.
Once again this was a reoccurring feature of the project. Many nights we did not go to the restaurant for fear of the daily salt flavoured soup or oil covered plates of potatoes, mystery meat, overcooked pasta and shredded carrot with a leaf of lettuce. Or if you were lucky you would get a free hair with your meal. School dinners are a good comparison, likening it to airplane food is a compliment.
On to the programme, or the complete lack of programme. On the first day of the project we were given our weekly timetable. We were told it was subject to change, which was understandable. I think change might mean something different in Latvian, maybe more like completely disregarded. When we got the timetable on day one, the first thing we noticed is that mornings activities had not taken place. This was because some of the group had not made the 9.30 start, so we had waited for them for more than 2 hours. It is the first day, the other UK participants are tired, so this is accepted. What was not acceptable is having to wait on them for the following three days, missing out on the entire morning activities, if there were any planned for us to do anyway.
The morning plan on the timetable said, “morning activities, energisers and plan of the day” for each day there. On one day we did do some activities, 30 minutes by one of facilitators and 40 minutes by me. This was the day after we had complained we had not done anything yet.
There was not one single energiser done in the time we were there. The plan of the day was written on a board in the common room at about 11pm the night before, and was usually changed by the morning.
Some of these activities on the timetable were in other buildings called the office and the Youth Centre. With extra facilities there and the prospect of not being in the cold hotel we were excited to venture out and engage in some quality workshops and activities there.
Shame to say we only spent the first day in the office and we never seen the Youth Centre at all. That goes for the visit to the circus school too, something as a circus professional, I was looking forward to. I think they assumed we had forgot about going there as there was no announcement.
The evaluation for the day which was scheduled for each evening was quickly scrapped too. Evaluations should be an important part of any project, to reflect on the day’s work. To remember what you have learnt, or have not learnt. Most importantly it is for the organisers to hear how their participants are feeling and address their needs.
The communication between the organisers in Latvia and the participants was limited. One of the facilitators only spoke Russian to us, which was then made politically correct and translated to us by other organiser. Spoke is an understatement as he shouted, and usually between the hours of 10pm and midnight. Funnily enough, this was not in the programme. Being spoken to in this way was very intimidating and very backwords in parts.
Another word that might need a better translation of is flash mob. On the day of the flash mob we were brought to a shopping centre, asked to get in costume in the toilets and apply makeup. It was a surprise to be that we were even there to do a flash mob, as we had absolutely no preparation for anything of the sort. I sat out of the embarrassing display which followed. I have pride as a performer, not a huge amount of it but just enough to not be a part of this. The group, or those of the group who had bothered to turn up, took centre stage. Adorned with some fluffy antennae, mismatched shiny clothes and self-applied ‘clown’ face paint they stood out from the ‘unsuspecting crowd’ of about 20 people milling around. They got in formation with Karina at the front and followed her dance moves for the next 12 minutes as the music leaked out of a tiny speaker being carried around the group by Serge. It was truly hard to watch, and you could see the participants involved wished they weren’t. They were grateful when it was over but then got the even better news of going to a second shopping centre to perform again. The second was better in a way, we were placed in the back of the building, had approximately 5 people witness our unrehearsed routine and now dance only lasted 5 minutes. All in all, a total shamble.
There, I did it. I said the word I’ve been avoiding saying. CLOWN. CLOWN with me!… the title of this project, and it couldn’t have been further from the truth. We did not do any clowning with anyone. Not each other, not ourselves and absolutely not with Serge Lee. And yet, we were expected to entertain sick children in a hospital, bring smiles to orphans in a children’s shelter and join in with a clown flash mob. Possibly the previous few days of clown workshops, choreography class, staging classes, games on clowning and preparation for the outings that appear in the weekly timetable would prepared us a little. They maybe would have too, if they had happened.
The first two outings require a lot of work before hand, they are sensitive situations and should be handled with at least the smallest amount of professionalism. On arriving at the hospital, the brief plan of attack we had was changed instantly with a lack of communication between the staff there and our organisers.
Most of the group had no entertainment or performance experience previously and would obviously not learn anything here as I am doubtful our Latvian organisers did either.
I, on the other hand, work in a circus. Unfortunately, this meant I was now the top of the class and the person who would do most of the work on stage, while the rest of the group, sat outside or hid in the toilets. The group mutinied after a few days and refused to let me be their play thing, I would not get called on stage when Serge wanted me, and I was not going to be the only volunteer he used to show how to clown because he couldn’t do it himself. The group were sympathetic towards me. I even got some apologies from them. One Italian’s final evaluation summed this up well, “This project has nothing about clown art and it is an insult for those who dedicate their lives to the art of clowns”.
Even if you know nothing at all about clowning this quote from a slurring and loud facilitator at 11.30pm one evening may sum it up, “For a man to be a funny clown he has to be silly and wave his hands around. For a woman to be a funny clown she has to cry.”. This, by the way, was the closest thing we got to a clown workshop.
I would like to finish as I started, on a positive. Something that was in the programme that did happen successfully, was the meeting with facilitator’s father. He was an old Soviet era clown and was a very interesting man with some great stories. The workshop we were promised from him was none existent (what a surprise!) but meeting him was truly a great experience.
We did bring laughter to the children in the hospital and kids shelter, not always for the right reasons. Meeting some of the orphans was a magical opportunity and I am proud to bring them love in the small way I could. Apart from the wasters who sat in bed most of the day and did not join in with most of the project, the group were a great bunch of people and I will keep a strong friendship with some of them.
Latvia is a beautiful place. We saw a lot of it, everything from the fortress to the library to the damp holetel we stayed in. (Not a typo).
In conclusion, my time in Latvia was fun. I laughed at the countries national evenings, I cried at the orphanage, and I slept in a room with 5 women. What was not to love about my time there?
Programme and project: 2/10
Would not recommend.
By Finn Carragher
Age 21 and a half”
Story of Abroadship’er Syed
Youth Exchange: CLOWN with me…!
Dates: 20-31 October 2017
Number of participants: 24 (each country sends 7 participants of age 18-27 years old + 1 leader of unlimited age)
Participating countries: United Kingdom, Italy, Latvia
Organizer: Serge Lee art synthesis society
The CLOWN with me…!
Download the infopack here: Infopack_clown – The CLOWN with me…! youth exchange – Latvia – abraodship.org
About the project
The aim of the project: to introduce a clown role in the public life and in the field of health, thus promoting youth creativity, personal growth and skills, to encourage young people to participate in the public life in their own countries as well as in the European level.
Main project activities: ice – breaking activities, uniting activities, making the acquaintance with a professional clown, the acquiring different styles of the clown work, choreography classes, Dr. Clown’s performance in the hospital, Clown’s show in the children’s community “Priedīte”, Clowns show and flesh mob in the Central park of the Daugavpils city.
Methodology: discussions, presentations, sketches, different kind of staging, brainstorm, experience stories and experience in exchange, group work, etc.
Impact: young people will broaden their horizons, expand their creativity and increase competitiveness. Thus the work with the young people and non-formal education methods will be promoted. Organizations will raise their capacity, get important European experience organizing this project, organizations will exchange their contacts, experience and other information. All project participants will get YOUTHPASS certificate.
- to encourage young people to engage in social work;
- to promote intercultural communication;
- to introduce young people with the culture of Latvia and with other member states’ cultures;
- to familiarize young people with artistic and creative environment;
- to increase the level of competencies and skills of the participants;
- to organize the project activities taking into account non-formal education principles;
- to ensure that young people involved into this project are joint, develop and learn;
- to provide common, team group and individual activities during all period of the project;
- to ensure young people with all necessary equipment during all the activities of the project;
- to promote ERASMUS+ program and its opportunities for young people from the European Union; • to visit Daugavpils regional hospital and participate in the promotion of the “Doctor – Clown”
- to visit children’s community “Priedīte” and to show the clowns concert;
- To organize public event “Dāvini berniem prieku” (“Give joy to the children”);
Due to the plan, the participants will take part in the project all together. Participants will represent – Latvia, United Kingdom and Italy.
The project activities will last 12 days, during which there will be held various theoretical and practical studies concerning the project themes. All the project participants will live in the hotel ERFOLG (Nometņu street 25, Daugavpils) which is situated in Daugavpils centre. Main project activities will run in the office of society or in the circus studio.
Now each partner should complete their participants as soon as possible which is the first step for preparation, because groups should start to buy their tickets. Every participant has to fill in application form which will be posted to the Facebook group of this project. Join it!
Travel costs will be covered according to distance calculator according to distance between place where participants live to venue of the project.
Travel costs will be covered according to distance calculator according to distance between place where participants live to venue of the project.
London – Daugavpils 1808,61 = 275 EUR
Bologna – Daugavpils 1658,18 = 275 EUR
Sfantu Gheorghe – Daugavpils = 1115,03 =275 EUR
Travel costs mean all costs to get from the participants’ home to the project venue and back. The participants will have to bring with them all of their original tickets, receipts and boarding passes as we will collect all of them at the end of the activities. In addition, participants are required to send us by post all of their original return tickets, receipts and boarding passes within 1 month of their departure from Daugavpils otherwise we will not be able to refund them.
NB! Please keep in mind, that without the original tickets, receipts and boarding passes, we cannot reimburse your money! The reimbursement of travel costs will be made by bank transfer when everybody sent their boarding passes and fulfill all our obligations.
Arrival and Departure
20 October – Arrival day
21 October – 1st day
30 October – last 10th day
31 October – departure day
If you arrive to Riga we recommend you to use train or bus services to get to Daugavpils (Riga – Daugavpils). Buses could be found here: http://www.1188.lv/en/transport
*Presentation about your country;
*prepare energizers, group and team work, ice-breakings, outdoor activities; *prepare activities for national evening (games, songs, dances,
*prepare exercises for morning activities;
*prepare recipes for national food;
*different presentations about clowns job and meaning of circus;
*costumes or other necessary props for clowns performance;
*Timely prepared small reprises for activities: Dr. Clown, before heading to orphanage “Priedīte” and a public event in Central park.
*Board games for free time activities. Timely preparation for the project will ensure that all the participants of the project will be acquainted with the topic of the project and that all the parties are involved in the organization of the project and duties are divided similarly.
*Timely preparation in your country for the activities “Clown evening” and “Circus evening”
*to ensure that all the participants understand clowns work, they need to organise an event in their organization before the project activities, where as a method clowns work would be used.
*comfortable clothes and shoes;
*hygiene items for 12 days;
*cameras, notebooks, charget batteries, battery charger, mobile phone; *medicines – if you need them (anti-allergy pills, pain killers, etc.); *bring leaflets of your organization and your cities;
*bring a little flag of your county;