New Orleans circus performer Clay Mazing took his Emergency Circus troupe to the heart of the Syrian refugee crisis this past December and, for a few moments, made the lives of thousands of people a little brighter.
Now he wants to go back, and he needs a little help from his friends. His “Emergency Circus Strikes Back” fundraiser on Saturday night (Feb. 13) at the Castillo Blanco Art Studios on St. Claude Avenue (home of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus) seeks to raise funds for a springtime return to Europe where he hopes to bring a troupe of fellow performers to continue their work. That work began with a partnership through Clowns Without Borders, and the work never ends.
On Saturday night, the fun begins at 8 p.m. with an art-crawl led by Afro-Brazilian troupe BateBunda starting at Antenna Gallery (3718 St. Claude Ave.) and will pass through the traditional second-Saturday art crawl, down the boulevard and to the Castille Blanco for a big dance party, art auction, and circus show featuring local and touring circus artists (including those from Cirque Copine and the recent “Vaude D’Gras” show at Happyland Theater.
Clay Mazing took a moment to explain his work and the show. Read more about New Orleans’ thriving circus-arts scene here.
What was the most rewarding aspect of the first trip that has inspired you to come back for a second tour of duty, so to speak?
Well, honestly when I first arrived I didn’t know how my clowning would be received by these people going through such unimaginable hardships. I mean, these people were fleeing war, walking for miles, spending their life’s savings, and losing loved ones. I didn’t know how they would feel about a foolish American clown showing up to make funny faces and play music. But as soon as I did the first show, as soon as I made that first smile, I realized how imperatively important this work was not only for the refugee children but for their parents, the other aid workers, my own soul, and for all my friends, family, and strangers back home who needed to know the hearts of these struggling humble folks.
What if any feedback did you get from relief or aid workers about your work? Did you have much interaction with “official”-type people who were dealing with this crisis?
The aid workers were always pleased to see us. It’s very hard on them to work with this constant surge of refugees who are mostly only there for a day or two while the aid workers have been dealing with death and hardship for months. It’s a magical feeling when you can get Syrian refugees, UNICEF workers from Norway, and Greek border police all laughing at the same pray fall. It proves we are all connected at the deepest level.
Let’s talk about your needs with the fundraiser. What kind of budget are you looking at for this trip? What are the cost breakdowns, if you can do so generally? What’s the plan and how much will it cost to go back again?
Our plan is to bring three circus performers along the entire refugee road from the Syrian border with Turkey to refugee camps in the Netherlands. We will be documenting the journey because I think it’s important for people to know what compels these refugees to make this journey, to hear their stories, and to realize how close we all are. Of course it costs a lot to do such an epic journey. Luckily I was offered a gig as a keynote speaker for a conference in Denmark on “play in difficult situations,” so they’ll be paying for my ticket but I’ll still need at least $5,000 for travel, room and board to bring three circus performers the whole way.
I know we won’t be able to raise all the money needed with this one fundraiser but I think part of the importance of this project is to raise awareness, especially after hearing some of the xenophobic rhetoric recently spread by some of our political leaders. I experienced first-hand how kind, sweet, funny and loving these excellent souls are, and I want to share that. I want to show the ways in which we are the same. I want to show that we all laugh in the same language. That’s why I’ll be sharing stories, videos, and pictures from my experiences between acts at the show.
What’s the name of the conference and which three other performers are joining you? And what’s the time frame of the trip?
The trip will go from April 13 until May 25. We’ll be joined by New Orleans performer Moniek de Lieu, who went on the trip last fall and has spent a lot of time here in New Orleans. We’ll bring other European-based artists as well and link up with local musicians and clowns in each area we visit. We’ve got great connections in Athens, Germany, and many places along the way. I’m really excited to be working with such amazing talent for this extravaganza. We’ve got BateBunda marching through second Saturday’s art galleries, with jugglers and circus artists reveling the whole way. The show includes some of the most famous artists currently pushing the envelope of bringing a new consciousness of love to American society, like “Americas Got Talent’s” Special Head; Joey Cook, the New Orleanian who just killed it on “American Idol”; and Matthew Silver, the incredibly viral Internet wild man — not to mention local favorites Nick Williams (Guglielmo), Chatty the Mime, Sam Aquatic, and of course Clay Mazing.