Moshe’s first performance for refugees, 1987. Agua Benditas, Chiapas, Mexico. photo: Alejandra Alvarez
The Official Bio:
(for the informal narative version, please scroll way down this page)
Moshe Cohen is an internationally renowned teacher, performing artist and sacred mischief maker. He has toured his Mr. YooWho show widely in theaters and festival around the world (50+ countries/1000+ performances). An early pioneer of the Clowns Without Borders movement, and co-founder of the Zen Order of Disorder (OD), Moshe currently works with the Medical Clown Project in San Francisco bringing laughter to both elders and children in institutional settings. He also brings humor and lightness trainings into the workplace and educational institutions. He continues to occasionally travel internationally to teach workshops. He teaches both performers and laypeople, in clown/theater schools as well as spiritual/zen centers.
Moshe began performing in 1981 and in 1983 quit his job, drove to Montreal and started street performing on the Rue Prince Arthur. After a couple of years, Moshe was touring his show professionally in the festival world, both in Canada and in Europe (scroll down for a listing of festivals). He began teaching Clown in 1993, at the San Francisco Circus Center. In 2001, he began teaching ‘Clowning Your Zen’ workshops with Roshi Bernie Glassman, expanding his focus beyond clown performance to the everyday world and how to awaken levity and lightfulness.(scroll down for a listing of teaching venues).
Moshe has trained with some of the world’s most innovative and respected physical theater, clown, butoh and Zen teachers studying in Montreal, Paris, Antwerp, San Francisco, Malerargues, Yokohama, Kyoto (and more)… His formal artistic training includes physical theatre, clown, butoh dance, kyogen, kabuki, taoist health exercises, mime, ukulele, and voice. Informally he practices juggling, closeup magic, bubbleology, singing and playing ukulele, and balancing objects on his nose.
Moshe has worked extensively in the Clowns Without Borders world, founding the US chapter in 1995, participating in over 30 projects. He lead the group informally, then established it as a non-profit in the US. 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, SESC tour…
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…and many more.
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 …and many more.
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 Teatro Helénico, Mexico City; Casa de la Cultura, San Cristobal; Festival de Teatro Alternativo, Mexico City; Payasos Sin Fronteras Tour, Chiapas (8x).
The Netherlands Limburg Straattheater Festival; Oerol Festival, Terschelling(3x); Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Den Boss; Street on Stage, Amsterdam; De Klein Komedie, Amsterdam …and many more.
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….and many more!
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 …and many more.
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 grown disenchanted with the ‘working world’ and was determined to discover an alternate pathway in life … Two years later, I quit my job at Merrill Lynch and drove to Montreal where I found the perfect spot to evolve 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 (his memory is a blessing), who came up to me after a show, and asked me in gravelly 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 (her memory is such a blessing) 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.