BWW Interview: Five on Friday with Jayne Batzofin, the Artistic Director for Clowns Without Borders South Africa
Clowns Without Borders South Africa (CWBSA) is celebrating their tenth anniversary with a once-off Comedy Benefit Showcase at the iconic Fugard Studio Theatre later this month. Jayne Batzofin, the artistic director of CWBSA recently announced the line-up for the evening, which will feature the comic talents of Rob van Vuuren, Nik Rabinowitz, Sne Dladla, Shimmy Isaacs, Daniel Mpilo Richards, Yaaseen Barnes and CJ Benson. Proceeds from the fundraiser will support CWBSA's Ubuntu Clown Fun(d), which sends artists to communities affected by crisis in South Africa and internationally. For this week's Five on Friday this week, I interviewed Batzofin, whose dedication to CWBSA's motto of "children being children again" is - in a word - inspirational.
David Fick: What is it about clowning that gives it such incredible agency in shifting the minds of children in crisis?
Jayne Batzofin: Clowning is all about play, laughter, and resiliency. These are essential for children who have been affected by violence, natural disasters, poverty, and other forms of crisis - it gives them the opportunity to be children again after traumatic experiences. The clown also uses humour to play with the full range of human emotion from sorrow to joy. In a way, the clown connects us to our core humanity through being vulnerable, playful, and funny.
DF: The Fugard Theatre is a wonderful space to host your Comedy Benefit Showcase. What led you to choose this venue for the event?
JB: The Fugard is indeed an incredible space in the heart of Cape Town! When it came to deciding where to host our event, it was at the very top of our list! The Fugard have developed a strong theatre-going patronage, based on the high quality of the shows they present and produce. In addition to raising funds to support our work, we are looking to raise awareness around our organisation's work to new audiences such as those who attend the Fugard.
DF: Something you return to time and time again in your theatre work is the image of "the Clown". What has the highlight of your clowning career been?
JB: My absolute highlight has definitely been when we were travelling in Kenya in 2013 with Clowns Without Borders South Africa. We were performing around Nairobi, and myself and a colleague were granted permission to care clown in Kenyatta National Hospital with Kenyan Hospital Clowns. It was the most humbling and incredible experience - to be in a foreign country, surrounded by thousands of sick people, including terminally ill children, and yet we all played as equals and laughed with full hearts.
DF: What do you think the biggest challenge facing South African theatre is at present?
JB: I believe our industry is facing many challenges at present, but I feel it is more productive to start engaging in the solutions - the solutions that will bring artists in the industry together through a real understanding of community, inclusivity and social transformation. I see artists who are angry, artists who are unheard, artists who feel they have no voice. The solution is not an immediate one either, but rather about laying the stepping stones so that future theatre communities will thrive.
DF: In South Africa at this time, we have a huge mix of theatre legends and inspiring new artists. Who is your South African theatre hero?
What a question to have to reflect on... but I would ultimately go with a true clown! So I would say my theatre hero is Ellis Pearson: an incredibly talented, dedicated, committed, humble and politically conscious theatre practitioner and true living clown.
The Clowns Without Borders South Africa 10th Anniversary Comedy Benefit Showcase takes place on 21 August. Tickets cost R150 and can be reserved through Computicket. Parental discretion is advised; content may not be suitable for children under 16 years of age. Please note that the comedic line up is subject to change.