Laughter is recommended for most situations; after all it is the best medicine. Stereotypical clowns wear white makeup and a big red nose. Enormous shoes are also involved. Court jesters have been around for centuries, with a fictitious one perhaps the most famous, namely Hamlet’s Yorick. However, circus clowns emerged during the 18th century and it took off from there. Pantomime and slapstick comedy became attached to the modern manifestation of the jester. The comedy they provide became more physical in nature.
Still, the comic aspect of a clown developed into something more. The sombre version of a comedian was introduced to the mix with Charlie Chaplin. Yet, it did not take away from the end result. Chaplin was still funny in his own way. If anything, the different type of clowns and jesters show the complicated nature of humour.
One thing remained the same though, the concept of interaction. A TV clown interacted with a fictitious audience, but there was still the appeal of a live clown show. Street performances represented everything needed in a clown: human interaction and spontaneity.
Enter Outa Hamra (which means red tomato in Arabic). They decided to bring street clowning to Egypt, with an earnest mission: to effect “change through workshops and performances in public spaces with a focus on the underprivileged of Egypt”.
The idea sprang to life in 2009 in France. The founders: Hany Taher, Diana Calvo, Aly Sobhy, Jakob Lindfors and Ahmed Mostafa met during a Clowns Sans Frontiers project. They worked together for a year and then founded Outa Hamra in 2011. In 2012, they became a part of the registered NGO Nahdet El-Mahrousa, giving them more liberty to do development work.
In addition to street performances, they also do workshops to help people “create spaces for laughing, playing and sharing, find one’s own creativity and imagination, and build on life experience and discover possibilities to change,” according to the group’s website. They believe that through laughter they can alleviate the stress and pressure of being politically or socially excluded. The project is especially important in Egypt since “civic activities are close to non-existent for many,” the website says.
They also organise projects related to social theatre, where members of the community can use drama and acting to speak up. The goal, stated on their website, is for “vulnerable groups find a medium to express their own point of view and address it to a wider community”. In addition, the group provides training for educators to help them deliver their content or syllabus in a more engaging method.
The community theatre section created a play called Going to the Neighbour’s House which has been on tour for the past two years and is still going. The actors involved include refugees from different parts of Africa and the Middle East, and the performance explores the relationship between them and the Egyptian society.
The group believes that the outcome of participation is both empowering and therapeutic. In 2011, they delivered the Yes!Chief! show, which tackled issues of power and authority through the use of clownish characters. In 2013, they created another performance Transformers which was inspired by Shakespeare. The show explored several emotions and ideas, and was attended by nearly 7000 people including children.