In Shakespeare's As You Like It, Touchstone, the court jester, says, "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."
Here is a familiar phenomenon: the so-called "wise" one—a parent, an authority—tells us a truth. Often, we do not want to hear it. We feel annoyed or belittled—after all, we are not fools—and so we rebel or, at least, we accept their words reluctantly. On the other hand, when the truth comes to us unexpectedly, spontaneously (for instance, through a child), it strikes us—we notice it; we may even heed it.
A wise fool, says Devon Ludlow, managing director of Wise Fool New Mexico, is "one of those fabulous names…Jesters being able to speak the truth…idiocy and wisdom melding." The medieval court jesters often interspersed truths, honest observations and wise words in their otherwise absurd performances.
WFNM is a nonprofit organization ("we don't have a troupe; we're more of an association," Ludlow says) that began in 1989 with an event using puppets to protest nuclear testing in Nevada. Over the years, it grew from a theater group composed almost entirely of women to a circus, puppetry and theater association that incorporates everyone.
"It started going beyond its roots to [become] a totally inclusive organization," Ludlow explains. "It's art about social justice—pulling people together as a community, bringing everybody in."
Ludlow says that WFNM embodies the do-it-yourself aesthetic. "DIY says that people are doing it from an authentic creative place," he says, adding that the association's vision is "really a cultural thing in the end. [It] goes back to some very cool ideas about what art is. Not as a commodity, but [as] a tool to draw energy into something, to show people new ways of imagining, to open up their minds a little."
The association offers creative circus camps for children and classes for just about everyone else. It puts on a variety of programs each year.
This Saturday, Wise Fool joins the St. Michael's Drive rejuvenation project, RE:MIKE, with a foretaste of performances to come. See/Saw, an outdoor performance, is "all about integration and movement and home and cause and effect…the show is going to be composed of two metal apparatuses…these big kinetic structures—giant seesaw and mobile structures—inhabited by death-defying acrobats," Ludlow says.
About the union of WFNM and RE:MIKE, he says, "Our missions dovetail very nicely; Wise Fool is always trying to find ways to help and get people excited about urban rejuvenation." WF's Peñasco Theatre Collective, for instance, has restored an old theater in the small town of 700 people, and brought children from Peñasco and the surrounding area under its colorful wing with circus camps and performers from around the country.
"Over the years, a lot of kids from all over the area [have come. The collective] has been working very closely with the conservative rural community." The hard work, Ludlow says, pays off. You can truly "feel the good feeling of community."
Wise Fool is dealing with some of the most important truths, challenges and issues presented by our modern time and place. "Every responsible artistic company has to be responding to the time and moment," Ludlow says. "We draw on these really old traditions—probably some of the oldest—[and] we're also using [them] to adapt to the protean environment we are living in."
Ultimately, with its visionary projects and its playful practices, WFNM has a little something to teach those parts in all of us: the foolish and the wise, the young and the old.
As Bill wrote, "The little foolery that wise men have makes a great show."