Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Sabine Choucair, A Lebanese Artist with Bubbles

Sabine Choucair. Photo Fanack

When I asked her about her job, she laughed a little and said, “I am a clown, and this is the only thing that I am good at in my life.” So, I laughed with her because some believe that people can’t make a living from clowning. Sabine, however, is a female artist who loves her job and has a different perspective.

Sabine Choucair (Shuqayr) was born in January 1982 in Beirut; her family consists of just one brother and one sister. She received her primary and secondary education at the Sisters of Sacred Hearts School in Bikfaya and then in al-Hadad. In 1999, Sabine passed the entrance exam to the Faculty of Fine Arts of Lebanese University, and she was accepted into the theatre department. Sabine cannot find words to describe her decision to study theatre at the university: she has considered theatre her passion since childhood. The clown of the house, as her father likes to call her, continues to be a child full of life and activity, a young dreamer who says, “I studied theatre because I like to make people dream.” Sabine Choucair grew up during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), when dreaming was her only way of life.

At university, Sabine was mentored by the preeminent theatre professors in Lebanon. The actress Aida Sabra, professor of theatre and mime, perhaps had the greatest impact on Sabine’s most important decisions in terms of theatre, so she decided to study mime, the silent art. Around 2000 she travelled to London, where she majored in the art of mime at the Desmond Jones School of Mime. During her study, however, Sabine began to feel that mime was not what she really wanted in her life. She believed that this type of art would take her to a static place, not a dynamic one; at that time, she needed an art that was full of life and sensory stimulation in response to her life-long dream, to make people dream. Could she find a better way than storytelling to achieve this goal? It was not difficult for Sabine to make a decision that might change her life, so she enrolled in the London International School of Performing Arts to study the arts of mime and storytelling.

Sabine believes that human beings need to listen to stories. She cites the example of Scheherazade, the legendary queen who saved her life through storytelling, adding that all people love listening to stories before going to sleep, and stories develop our characters and help us, in many cases, to overcome bitter reality. There’s no one better than a clown to narrate these stories, Sabine said.

Sabine does not imagine a clown to be just a man with a red nose. For her, a clown stands for the childhood that is inside each of us. “Every time we seek to kill this childhood in ourselves, a clown helps us bring it back to life again and deal more comfortably with our daily problems,” she says.

Despite all the difficulties that human beings face every day, Sabine realized that her mission would be far beyond the art of mime and that many people would need her type of work in the near future. So she moved to the East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy in New York, where she earned a degree in psychosocial therapy. In January 2007 Sabine returned to Lebanon to start a difficult journey.

Sabine’s Humanitarian Vocation

Sabine Choucair clown
The “Clown Me In” team founded by the Lebanese artist Sabine Choucair. Photo Fanack

The beginning was difficult for her, because Lebanon is in crisis and the country was unable to absorb quickly the art that Sabine was promoting. She submitted 60 project proposals to relevant associations and institutions, but none paid attention to what she was saying or doing. Because Sabine had no other profession, she left Lebanon again, in March 2009, and met her friend in Mexico. There, Sabine and her friend decided to set up workshops. She put her red nose aside and began wandering through the streets and moving from one country to another, from 2009 to the present. She went to India, Brazil, and Canada and eventually founded a band named Clown Me In, which includes more than a dozen mime artists who draw smiles wherever they go.

Sabine and her team chose carefully the topics they wanted to address. She used the red nose to “sniff out” the problems and difficulties that people faced. A few weeks before the rubbish-removal crisis in Lebanon began in July 2015 and bags of rubbish piled up in the streets of Beirut, Sabine and her friends performed an interactive show in the streets of the city, highlighting the message that the Lebanese people should pay more attention to their environment and surroundings and should not throw out unsorted rubbish randomly.

The show made bystanders and spectators laugh, but it foreshadowed the arrival of the storm; the Lebanese people were soon surrounded by stink.

In conjunction with the establishment of her band, Sabine ran several workshops on clowning as an art and provided psychosocial support for youth and children from Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan, Dubai, London, the United States, India, Brazil, Mexico, France, and Cameroon. Sabine did not wait for the people who needed her to come but decided to go to them instead.

Sabine changed her view of life after she began to engage in social work with young drug addicts. They are desperate people in the prime of life, so she performed shows to make them laugh and to ease their problems so they could live a simple, enjoyable life.

Despite Sabine’s continuous efforts for more than ten years, her social work became obvious only after the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011, followed by the refugee crisis that brought more than a million Syrians into Lebanon. Because of this tragedy and the precarious situation of the war-stricken Syrians, Sabine realized that it was time to help the most people possible, so she decided to cooperate with the Beirut DC cultural association, with support from the EU and UNICEF in Lebanon. After many visits to the Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps located between al-Beqaa and Beirut, Sabine decided to lead a workshop titled “Seeing the Self” to help teenagers and the victims of war and family and social violence to express themselves, writing about their experiences and turning them into short documentary films, with the help of specialized directors. This workshop produced about 19 short films that were entered in famous festivals around the world; some of them even became award-winning films. Most importantly, these films helped their heroes overcome difficult circumstances.

Sabine Choucair and Syrian refugees
Sabine Choucair as she entertains Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos. Photo Fanack

As Sabine worked with these children, she thought that this would be the limit of her social work, but after the influx of Syrian refugees to Greece, Sabine received a request from the Clowns Without Borders organization, of which she was a member. Sabine had submitted a proposal for social work in Lebanon, but she knew well that Greece, particularly Lesbos Island, was the most appropriate place for her activities, so she packed her bags and went to Greece.

It isn’t easy for Sabine to talk about her experience in that island, where many Syrian refugees came from all directions to escape death, including children, women, and young people who saw death with their own eyes; some saw relatives die at sea. They were praying and thought that they had arrived in Europe, but they soon realized that they were on a small island and still had a long way to go.

“Nobody laughed on that island, and even the social workers were in a state of shock. We were the only ones who laughed and tried to make everyone laugh,” Sabine said.

Sabine did not worry that the tragedies she had seen would make her an unhappy person. On the contrary, she draws smiles on the faces of these people. She laughs from the bottom of her heart to make others laugh and lift sorrow from their hearts.

Unfortunately, there is nothing that can document Sabine’s works of art because she is an artist that does not use pens or cameras. She only uses her red nose, her decorated skirt, and bubbles to perform her show. Only those watching her clowning shows can enjoy them, so her name may not be mentioned in history, unlike most great artists, but her image will be remembered by all those who watched her shows and laughed from the bottom of their hearts.

Sabine is preparing today to launch “The Caravan,” a new project in which she will be doing interactive shows in the streets of Lebanon. The ideas for Sabine’s shows will be based on the stories of Syrian refugees that she is recording. (Listen to the stories and follow her blog.) All Sabine wishes now is to find more people to volunteer in social work, because there is so much work to do and so few to do it.

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