Moshe’s first performance for refugees, 1987. Agua Benditas, Chiapas, Mexico.
The Official Bio:
(for a narative version, please scroll down this page)
Moshe Cohen, performing artist and sacred mischief maker, is an internationally renowned teacher, an early pioneer of the Clowns Without Borders movement, and co-founder of the Zen Order of Disorder (OD). He has performed his Mr. YooWho widely in theaters and festival around the world (all told, in over 50 countries.) Currently, he splits his time between teaching, medical cl0wning and the stage. He offers clown trainings to performers and tools of levity and lightfulness for the everyday and workplace environments. He teaches in clown and theater schools, spiritual and zen centers. He also offers lightfulness trainings in the workplace, and in educational institutions.
He began teaching Clown in 1993 at the San Francisco Circus Center. In 2001, Moshe started teaching Clowning Your Zen workshops with Roshi Bernie Glassman, and expanded his focus beyond clown performance, to also working in the everyday environment teaching levity and lightfulness.
Moshe has trained with some of the world’s most innovative and respected physical theater, clown, butoh and Zen teachers from Montreal, Paris and San Francisco, to Antwerp, Malerargues, Yokohama, and Kyoto. His formal artistic training includes Butoh Dance, Clown, Kyogen, Kabuki, Taoist Health Exercises, Closeup Magic, Juggling, Mime, Physical Theatre, Traditional Japanese Theatre and Voice.
Moshe has worked extensively in the Clowns Without Borders world, founding the US chapter, participating in over 30 projects. For a long period of time he was the executive director, then board president, and currently is an emeritus board member. Moshe is also the Closhi (guru of subtle humor) of the Order of Disorder of the Zen Peacemakers, and tries his best to live up to the OD motto, ‘Don’t be here Now.’
Participating with both of these fine organizations!
Some of the Places Moshe has taught:
TUT schule, Ateneu No Barris, Ravensburg Clown Sommerakademie, SF Clown Conservatory, Wise Fool NM, Clown Encuentro,
Zen Center Los Angeles, San Francisco Zen Center, St Virgil, Omega Institute, Le Forum (Paris FR), Tassajara, Village Zendo, ZLMC, Buddhistisches Zentrum Hamburg, Sivananda Yoga Retreat Bahamas…
HealthCare Clown Groups:
CliniClowns Austria, ClownVisite EV, Dream Doctors, Dream Doctors Intl. Conference (2011), Emergency Smile, HCIM2018, HaHaHa Akademie, KlinikClowns München, KlinikClowns Nürnberg, Röten Nasen Deutschland, …
Carlton College, World Philanthropy Forum, Alte Poste Kulturforum, Warsaw Academy of Drama, Cal Institute for the Arts, Walschule Flensburg, Children’s Day School SF, Nell-Breuning-Haus…
Paypal, Dolby, Google Arts, Center for Council, Medecins du Monde, Procurador de los Derechos Humanos…
A few of the places that Moshe has performed:
Belgium Teatre Op De Markt, St Truiden Hasselt; Fete des Artistes, Chassepierre.
Brazil Anjos Do Picadeiro: Rio de Janeiro, Rio Preto, Sao Paolo (1998, 2000,2006, 2008); FILO 99, Int. Theatre Festival, Londrina; Teatro De Anonimo, Rio de Janeiro.
Burma/Myanmar Clowns Without Borders Tour 2009. 2010, 2012, 2013.
Canada Festival d’Eté, Quebec City; Quebec City’s 400th Birthday Folk Festivals: Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton, Owen Sound; Children’s Festivals: Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg; Winnipeg Storytelling Festival; Montreal Jazz Festival; Festival du Voyageur, Winnipeg.
China 5 City tour in China. 2013 . 550-800 Seat Theaters. Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzen, Guanzhou, Zhengzhou. Colombia Teatro Jorge Isaacs, Cali Mimame, Medellin; Clown Encuentro, Bogota.
France Les Accroches Coeurs, Angers; Eclat d’Aurillac, Jeudis du Port, Brest, Chalons dans la Rue, Coup de Chauffe a Cognac, Furies Festival, Chalons, Festival de Ramonville, Vivacité, Sotteville-les-Rouen…and many more.
England Stockton Riverside International Festival; Bradford Intl. Juggling Festival.
Guatemala Teatro National, Guatemala City; Payasos Sin Fronteras Tours (3x)
Germany Saarbrucken SommerSzene; Essen Festival; Comedy Arts Festival; Moers, Varieté, Berlin; Theatre am Liebnitz Platz; Bremen, Charivari’ Winter Circus, Hamburg.
Haiti Clowns Without Borders Tour.
Israel Jerusalem Festival.
Italy Festival de Torino; Festival de Teatro Comico de San Omero.
Japan Fuchu City Theatre, Tokyo; Setagaya Theatre Festival, Tokyo; Toyama Tulip Fair, Toyama….
Mexico Muestra de Arte Escenico Popular, Mexico City; Casa de la Cultura, San Cristobal; Festival de Teatro Alternativo, Mexico City; Payasos Sin Fronteras Tour, Chiapas.
The Netherlands Limburg Straattheater Festival; Oerol Festival, Terschelling; Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Den Boss; Street on Stage, Amsterdam; De Klein Komedie, Amsterdam.
Poland Teatr Montownia, Warsa; Loch Camelot, Krakow.
South Africa Little Theatres Tour, Cape town Townships; Capetown University Theatre.
Spain Encuentro de Malabarismo: Madrid, Granada, Mieres; Festival del Humor, San Sebastian; Fira de Tarrega (1984…2006); La Mercé, Barcelona; Olimpiada Cultural, 1996 Barcelona; Ple de Riure, El Manou; Festival de Teatre de Carrer, Villareal; Teatro Principal de Zamora….
USA A Traveling Jewish Theater, San Francisco; Busker’s Fare-World Trade Center, NYC; Marsh Theater, San Francisco, Berkeley (Cirque Do Somethin’); One Arm Red, Brooklyn, NY; Pittsburgh Children’s’ Festival; Sing Out For Seva, BCT, Berkeley, Ca; PIXAR, El Cerrito, Ca; US Festival, Los Angeles; Theater of Yugen, San Francisco; Great Star Theater, San Francisco.
The truth be told…the non-official bio
Truth be told, I had little idea I could be funny until I started street performing as a juggler in Europe in the summer of 1981. At the time, I had quickly grown disenchanted with the ‘working world’ and was determined to discover an alternate pathway in life. 2 years later (June,1983) I quit my job at Merrill Lynch, and drove to Montreal where I found my funny performing nightly on Rue Prince Arthur. That summer I saved enough money to make it through the winter before heading north back to Canada, for another summer on Prince Arthur. There was just one change, I was to also play in my first festival, the Winnipeg International Children’s festival, and then later that summer in the Winnipeg Folk Festival. That was due to one man, festival director Mitch Podolok (RIP), who came up to me after a show, and asked me in gravely voice if I “wanted a job?”
By the summer of 1985, I had a ‘tour’ in Canada, both in Children’s Theater and Folk festivals and the street performing started to take a back seat to paid gigs. I had also developed something of a circuit, performing in Canada, Europe, wintering in San Francisco and Mexico before heading back on the road. The following summer I crashed the first street theater festival in Aurillac (FR) and was one of 2 performers there to street perform. Everyone else were French theater groups paid to be there. My shows were well received and as the street theater festival in Europe started blossoming, so did my European performing career, which became my main occupation through 2001.
The Street Theater Festival world offered such great opportunities-well paid gigs, enthusiastic family audiences, an amazing community of artists and a sense of purpose as an artist. I had no complaints whatsoever. Another aspect of my life, my friendship with Wavy Gravy (of Woodstock MC fame) brought me to meet Alejandra Alvarez (RIP) at Camp Winnarainbow, the circus and performing arts camp that he founded with his wife Jahanara in Mendicino (Northern California). Alejandra ran a project for Guatemalan refugees in Chiapas Mexico, reuniting 3 communities who had fled the civil war in the highlands of Guatemala. When I said to her “I wish I could help but I have no idea what I can offer,” Alejandra looked at me with smiling eyes and replied “clown!” I was so surprised, it had never occurred to me that I could travel there and share my show there, which I did the following spring.
The shows were a revelation to me, both that I could bring in the laughter, and that the occasion was truly appreciated by the communities. That I was actually bringing in something essential and wished for, reasons to laugh and celebrate. I was flabbergasted, grateful for the opportunity and wishing for more. That didn’t happen right away. A number of years later, another invitation, this time to work with homeless kids led me to Capetown, South Africa, where I spent 2 months, working with Jules, a social worker charged with liaison between the groups of street kids and the shelters that they sometimes took refuge in. I also connected with Mavis Taylor, theater professor at Capetown university and organizer of ‘Little Theater Tours’. She sent me on a tour of elementary schools in the townships.
When I heard about Clowns Without Borders starting up in Europe, my friend Tortell Poltrona leading the charge, I quickly joined in, excited that there was a growing movement looking to bring laughter into places where it was most needed. I traveled with a French group to Croatia in 1984, where we did 11 shows in 8 days. I came home with the intention to do more, and started a Clowns Without Borders movement in the US that remains quite active-now doing as much as we can given the pandemic situation. I also became active as a member of the “Funny Bone Doctors” as a health care clown. I continue this work presently as a member of Medical Clown Project here in San Francisco.
I had little idea when Wavy called me one morning in late 1998 and said “Can you come over right now to meet this guy who is looking for a clown teacher?” I asked “Now?” and Wavy said “Now!” This guy turned out to be Zen Master Bernie Glassman, founder of the Zen Peacemakers who told me that he wanted to learn ‘Tools of Tricksterdom.’ He told me that he found that his students and disciples often take themselves too seriously, bordering on arrogance, and he was looking for tools to change that. Little did I realize at the time that this would be a major turning point in my life, especially a few years later when Bernie and I started teaching ‘Clowning Your Zen’ workshops together. As I grew into this new role, I started shifting my teaching goals and methods, no longer teaching clown, and focusing on the tools of clowning, how to use non-verbal expression to share humor and lightness, to listen to our intuitive connectivity.
Soon I was teaching in Zen centers, in spiritual retreat centers; working with teachers, social workers, leading team building sessions in tech companies and similar endeavors. Over time, I became intrigued by the power of lightness, and the relationships between mindfulness and humor and lightness. Looking to describe that relationship, I came up with the term ‘lightfulness’. That brings ‘my story’ to the present day, currently focusing on teaching/training activities both in the online world and as the world opens up post-pandemic, very open to possibilities.