“Clowns Who Care” by Sabina Giado
August 8, 2010
The Clowns Who Care, Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed, recently brought their unique brand of humor to the Special Families Support, a support group in Dubai for children with special needs and their family, and Senses, a residential care facility for children with special needs.
Italian American Mina Liccione is the director of Dubomedy Arts, a collective of performance artists based in Dubai. Her business partner in Dubomedy Arts is Ali Al Sayed, an Emirati and the chief executive officer of parent events company Viva Arts.
The two dress up as clowns Charlene Chaplin and Rusty Keaton and perform a comedy and tap dance routine to get their audience laughing and comfortable with their presence. Then comes the fun part – there is music, singing and/or dancing to get the juices flowing and keep the laughter ringing. Their act ends with a group circle where each member of the audience places themselves in the spotlight for a moment and shares something personal.
The experience proves moving for both the performers and the spectators. “We are moved to tears every time by the amount of love and appreciation the families, staff and children always have towards us,” say Liccione and Al Sayed.
Liccione, a native of Rochester in New York, comes from a professional and educational background in dance, clowning and theater arts. She came to Dubai as part of the Arts Festival during the Dubai Summer Surprises. Noticing that her Solo Comedy, Song & Tap Dance Show was not working as well as she’d hoped, she decided to rework the routine, localizing jokes, changing songs and adding more interaction. The performance hit the bulls-eye with her audience, and Liccione was now loath to leave. She decided to extend her stay and taught a series of comedy workshops for children and adults.
Liccione and her business partner Al Sayed met through a mutual friend and soon found that they shared the same passion for creating a sustainable community of performance artists in the United Arab Emirates. The two founded Dubomedy Arts on April 1, 2008.
Liccione’s parents were at first filled with trepidation at her decision to stay in the Middle East.
“My parents are a product of American media… Many of our neighbors have sons in Iraq and here I was moving to the Middle East armed with clown noses and tap shoes.”
But Liccione soon convinced her parents that being in Dubai gave her work a meaning she had not found elsewhere. “Sometimes artists need to go where the art isn’t and use their talents and passions to help build a community rather than simply taking from it”.
Liccione and Al Sayed’s plans for expanding the Clowns Who Care project extend within the city and beyond. They aim to train more clowns, build a database of committed volunteers and organizations, and ultimately, become regulars at care facilities and hospitals. The benefits of regular visits will be exponential, say the pair, “Visiting once will bring joy to them but becoming a regular part of their lives will benefit them much, much more.”
Their dream of bringing their show to Palestine is about to become a reality in September with the help of on-the-ground relief organizations. “We have connected with the Ziara Group, The Palestinian Circus School, Maysoon’s Kids as well as other relief organizations to see how we could best help.” Their work in Palestine is due to include special training for teachers as well, i.e. “a specifically designed training program for teachers and educators to further develop their own skills.”