By Jacob Devaney
Every culture and tradition around the world has masks, costumes, dances, puppets, and ceremonial characters that teach or bring meaning to the community. In most circumstances, these are not considered “performances” to be watched, they are considered “sacred” or “ceremonial” aspects of life that the whole community participates in the magic of creating. Carnival, Halloween, Feast of Fools, and Day of The Dead are a few modern festivals that are rooted in this ancient and tribal heritage.
Everyone knows what it is like to put on a mask or a costume and allow yourself to become someone or something different. The human psyche is complex and social conventions/restrictions often do not allow for the range of emotional expression and freedom that is necessary for a healthy life. Universal archetypes abound, but the clown/trickster/fool seems to be the best qualified to transcend cultural boundaries. The reason for this is that culture maintains itself by enforcing traditional ways that often become rigid and closed systems. Culture clash and war often occurs because of ethnocentrism, when people can not see beyond their own culture. However, in order to keep traditions alive (and probably to keep our species alive), sometimes traditions have to be broken, and the clown/trickster/fool is the universally accepted tradition breaker.
Since breaking traditions is a sensitive issue, these characters need to be accompanied by laughter, merry-making, and much beauty and color. Often the laughter is created by some foolish and humbling quirk that makes the character love-able and almost human. Whether it is slipping on a banana peel, or being covered with mud, these characters have the ability to turn sorrow to joy, and anger to laughter. As our world gets smaller, as people begin to awaken to the fact that there are many cultures and many ways to see the world and experience life, we are all humbled to recognize that each is valid. In many ways, we are all fools to have thought our way was the only way, or the best way. True wisdom comes from accepting that each culture has something universal and valuable to teach us all about who we are. Everyone throughout the world knows what it feels like to be sad, angry, lonely, to laugh, to celebrate life, and to make merry in spite of life’s struggles. This is the common thread that can connect us across cultural divides, and it is the Clown who teaches us with humor to embrace the full spectrum of human emotions.
Jacob Devaney is co-founder of Living Folklore, Inc., founder and director of Culture Collective.
13 years as a clown, stilt-walker, vaudevillian, pianist, puppet-maker, costume designer, and most recently working on books, print-media and films including an interactive children’s DVD for developing minds called Funny Bone Logic. Jacob has spent many years performing at music festivals, pow-wows, and been intimately involved with New Orleans Carnival Culture, having worked with Big Chief Tootie Montana. Jacob also co-founded The White Buffalo Children’s Foundation and leads culture exchange programs with youth from New Orleans, introducing them to Hopi, Navajo, and southwest tribes. In 1997, Tucson, Arizona was declared “America’s First Living Folklore City” by Mayor George Miller, commemorating the event with a tree-planting at Armory Park.
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