New Orleans circus artist Clay Mazing continues his “Field Trip” travelogue, which chronicles his experiences with the Emergency Circus as they continue to entertain Syrian refugees across Europe.
Being a child with special needs in Turkey is even more difficult than being one in the U.S. Disabilities are more stigmatized and hidden by families fearing embarrassment. Luckily for these kids a brand new center is opening in a mystical landscape in the heart of Turkey. The Little Prince Academy is a place where children with all manner of different abilities can come for free to explore and create together.
Here, children leave their labels of autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, etc., behind. Differences are celebrated and encouraged. Little princes and princesses integrate to discover life in a safe and loving environment amidst the most unique geography on the planet.
Watch the Emergency Circus bring laughter and applause to christen the opening of the Little Prince Acadamy. This video shows the first time many of these “challenged” children played and danced with “normal” children. We all laugh the same.
Liza Rose offers some final observations from her trip to the U.S. Aerial Championships this past weekend (May 13-15) in New York City as part of our continuing “Field Trip” series.
What a wonderful week in New York! I’ll tell you all a secret: I did not expect to win this competition. I’ve been at this awhile, and I know how these things go down. When they named Mathieu Bolillo the champion in my division, I was like, “Yeah, duh.” Know how I knew? His act had backflips. I had scoped out the competition back in January, and I called it then.
There’s a heated debate happening in the circus world right now regarding contemporary circus and traditional circus. I do the former. Mathieu does the latter. Traditional acrobatic acts in the circus are solely about presenting dynamic tricks (gymnastics) and feats of strength or flexibility. Contemporary circus concerns itself with things like design and narrative. It seeks to use the vocabulary of acrobatic movement combined with dance to tell a story or invoke an emotion in its audience. Lots of us can do backflips. But when is it appropriate to use that movement in your show? That’s one question. Should we even bother considering the appropriateness of flashy tricks when it comes to the narrative of the piece, or rather, should we even bother with the narrative; because people like backflips a lot?
That’s the other question. Mathieu has very, very strong skills. There’s no question about that. But I have to say that I feel like there is no comparison between my piece and his. They could not be further apart on the circus spectrum. To say one is better than the other is comparing apples and … chickpeas. Which are you in the mood for?
I have made great connections here with other performers and circus makers this week. I’ve had one offer of work in the U.K., I’ll be back in New York again in the fall, and, most exciting: I’ve had two offers from artists interested in collaborating in New Orleans. I’ll tell you another secret: That’s why I actually came. (Win!) Be home soon, y’all.
See my performance and Mathieu Bolillo’s performance at live.upa.tv.
Day 1 — See me starting at 52 minutes into the video.
Day 3 — See Mathieu starting at 2 hours, 46 mins into the video.
Liza Rose continues her “Field Trip” journey to the U.S. Aerial Championships with a recap of Friday night’s competition.
I’m on the train back to Manhattan after teaching a workshop at the Muse in Brooklyn this morning, because I am a genius and figured it would be totally fine to teach this morning after doing the competition last night. I’m … awfully tired.
Last night’s competition went well, I felt. There were minor technical difficulties, which cannot be avoided in those kind of “one-off” show scenarios, but I felt like overall, I made a good impression. I performed in the New and Innovative Apparatus division. The act that I presented is “Parapluie,” on my aerial umbrella. I made the act in 2010, and have left it largely untouched for the last three years or so. I submitted a video of me performing it six years ago to U.S. Aerial in a whim.
I love creating circus acts that transform the mundane into something magical. “Parapluie” was inspired by a simple mental image of a girl standing under her umbrella. She became, in my mind, a Parisienne showgirl after a show, waiting in front of the theatre in the rain, an aesthetic informed by the music I’d chosen, Erik Satie’s Gnosienne No. 1. The act is the reverie she experiences while waiting.
The winners were announced in the women’s lyra and men’s silk divisions. Darya Vintilova (@charu_lova), the winner of the women’s lyra title, did a gorgeous, nuanced performance as a broken doll character to some great, spazzy breakbeats. Very mod. Very contemporary. I pinned her as the winner before I’d even seen the rest of the girls compete. Darya is from a circus family, and began performing contortion with her parents in Cirque du Soliel’s show Saltimbanco when she was just 4 years old. She also toured with Cirque in Kooza, and has already won a gold medal at Cirque de Demain, the world’s most prestigious circus competition. She is polished and perfect.
Brandon Hansen (@brandonscottacrobat) won the men’s silk title. Brandon is an incredibly strong performer. His physical strength and control are near perfect. He is very young, and his relative naïveté works in his favor. His face conveys everything. He is open to the audience when he is performing in a way that is not easy to fake. His authenticity shines onstage. He connects. It’s delicate and lovely to watch.
I also very much enjoyed Troy (@troydaboy1) Lingelbach’s silks piece as Hedwig to “Origin of Love.” His skills are over the top crazy difficult. His contortion is on point, and he’s just, for lack of a better term, a fucking baller. His character choices, his tricks, all of it was top notch. I loved it. There are two more nights of competition.
The awards in my division won’t be announced until Sunday. So now, I wait. This championship is fierce. I am energized and inspired by what I’m seeing here, and by the fantastic artists around me. I hope to make good connections and bring some of them to New Orleans in the future.
Max and I are sitting in a coffee shop in The West Village, waiting out a spring rain shower. I’m sitting in a window seat, watching the people pass with all their different umbrellas, and totally not feeling antsy. T-Minus 2.5 hours to call time.
I had my one rehearsal in the theater today. It was not without hiccups. The way this act is constructed, it relies on a pulley system to hoist me and the apparatus up and down to different heights throughout the performance. The system is operated by a team of four crew people who literally pull or let out a rope, and who must anchor the rope at all times, or the whole thing will crash to the floor. My life is literally in the hands of a couple of strangers.
Max knows the act and when to pull. He stands in the wings, watching and cueing the crew members, who are standing in a line down the hallway backstage, unable to see a single bit of what is happening onstage. The timing, the communication, must be precise. And I had one 30-minute rehearsal with them this morning.
Circus. It takes a village. A really smart, competent, highly focused village. I hope …
Liza Rose, along with collaborator and fellow producer-performer LadyBEAST, has been at the forefront of a fast-growing circus-arts scene in New Orleans. That’s one of the many reasons that makes her competition in the U.S. Aerial Championships May 13-15 in New York City — which was chronicled earlier this spring — so exciting. She will be competing among some of the very best in the form, representing New Orleans as well as herself. As part of a continuing series, “Field Trip,” Liza Rose shares her thoughts and experiences at the championships …
It’s the night before I will compete in the U.S. Aerial Championships. I’m sitting in my friend Cindy’s apartment in Chelsea, working on the website for the new Fly Circus Space because I suppose it’s true — when it rains, it pours. I arrived in New York on Tuesday morning, with my gorgeous valet/life partner, Max, and my aerial gear in tow. I used to live in NYC, and every time I visit, it’s a bit of a homecoming. I kept thinking how beautiful it was as the Uber crawled through Queens in traffic on its way in to Manhattan. If you’ve ever been to Queens, you’ll know how funny that last sentence is.
Liza Rose with New York Fox5 news anchor Simone Boyce.
It’s been a funny ride. I have never participated in an aerial competition before. I am not in the habit of making work to be judged. I make work to be enjoyed. I am a circus artist. My whole job is to remind people how to have fun, how to be inspired, and how to imagine the extraordinary. My job is not not to make sure I can do the most dangerous skill with the most panache in front of someone who will then later declare one person a “winner” and someone else a “loser” based on said levels of danger and panache. Where’s the joy in that?
I know that artists compete every day — for sales or audience, for grant money or Kickstarter dollars, but I haven’t ever stepped over the line and offered up a piece of my work purely and blatantly for competition. It’s well outside my comfort zone, and has not been an entirely healthy process. It has been important for me, in that it has made me look at why I do what I do, and reassess how I spend my time in the studio, and for what. My most fervent hope is that my participation in this competition will draw attention to the growing circus scene in New Orleans, and help audiences to realize that they have world-class circus artists in their midst. I don’t know if I’ll win, but it is an honor to be here in New York, and in such good company.
I would hate to be the judge that had to declare just one of us a winner. Perhaps they have the more difficult role here. Yesterday I traveled out to the Muse, a circus training space in Brooklyn where I’ll be teaching workshops later this weekend. I met and trained with a handful of other competitors. One is from Slovakia, one from Hong Kong, one from Australia, one from Las Vegas. We chatted openly about the nature of competition. We are all very different performers, and our work is difficult to compare. We all acknowledge that in the end, all we can do when we get onstage is try to let the artistry shine through and connect with our audience.
Meeting them made me feel better about putting my work on the chopping block. We all train endlessly. We all fret about details. We all strive for that one skill that eludes us. Why in the world would we ask someone else to join in the critique? We do it to ourselves constantly! I think we do it because as artists, we all just want exactly the same thing: connection. We dream of circus as a common language, and this is a way to know how articulate we have become.
Throughout my life I have endured various lengths of time in many different establishments — domestic violence shelters, mental health institutions, women’s homes, and inpatient treatment facilities, but none have helped me discover who I am more than the tent of the World of Wonders sideshow.
I felt burnt out. I felt the “not enoughs” — not slim enough, not young enough, not funny enough, not sideshowy enough. I was ready to give up on performing for a while, switch mediums to visual art, more specifically to focus on my newly attained tattooing apprenticeship at Bayou Queen Body Art, where I was receptionist and personal assistant to one of the most inspiring lady bosses ever, Kai Kita.
But then it happened, I got the message from management at the sideshow: “Do you still want to go on tour with World of Wonders?” I was floored, and the universe clearly had other plans in mind for me. Over the next few months, I made arrangements with my family, my partner, my employer, and my production partners. I expected my mother to not be supportive at all, and to my surprise she laughed and said, “About time!” My last few shows were collaborations with some of my favorite NOLA producers — I was sideshow art in May Hemmer’s new show “Artlesque”; sideshow working act for Slow Burn Burlesque; I got to reprise one of my favorite roles, my first with what became NOLA’s premier nerdlesque troupe, Xena Zeitgeist’s Society of Sin, as a double sword-swallowing Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot in the revamped “Arkham Assylum” — where I even auctioned off my umbrella sword (first sword I got down following my accident and was pulled out of me by Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman at DragonCon) to purchase my bus ticket to Gibtown, Fla.; and did a hook-suspension, glass-walking sideshow fusion act in my own production, “Covington Cabaret.”
I told my loved ones I would “See them down the road,” and set out.
I made it to Gibsontown, Fla., one hot April day and met up with the rest of the World of Wonders crew. I had briefly met Tommy, Dyz and Trixie Turvy a few weeks before at the Sideshow Hootenanny. Tommy is probably one of the best bosses I’ll ever work with, Dyz is an incredibly talented knife thrower from Washington, D.C., and Trixie is one of the most talented hoopers I have ever met. There was Lolly Gagger, another sword-swallowing friend who moved to New Orleans three years ago, our working man Will, who likes “Squidbillies” almost as much as me, and legendary sword swallower Red Stuart, who began singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” after I nervously introduced myself. I was briefed on what all we would be doing and that we would be jumping to the first fair the next day.
When I say I have never worked this hard in my life, I mean I haven’t worked as physically and mentally hard since my time in Odyssey House. There, it was 6 a.m. “feet on the floor,” go until lights out at 10 p.m., assignment after assignment after assignment. Here at the sideshow, it is less brutal, but building an actual midway entails elbow grease, endurance and prayers that you don’t break anything, including yourself. There are stakes to go into the ground, heavy poles to install, tents and stages to build. This fair took us about two days to set up. Slowly but surely each piece became home. We built the “Illusions,” a stage for fire performance, a stage for the blade box, Red’s stage, ladder of swords, an escape act, the bannerline, and while watching and absorbing everything while it came together, we had the sideshow — the sideshow that has run for 70 years, the World of Wonders.
Clay Mazing and Emergency Circus continue their video journey by capturing their recent work with the Lebanese troupe Clown Me In as they help entertain Syrian refugees.
Here’s what he had to say in this, another installment of our “Field Trip” series:
“Death and conflict surround the tiny country of Lebanon. With its north and west bordering Syria and its south bordering “the occupied land” as they say (Israel according to official U.S. policy), the Mediterranean is their only peaceful neighbor. Half the buildings of Beirut are bombed full of holes from their own civil war which just ended the year “Ice, Ice Baby” hit the charts. For 15 years, Muslims and Christians tried to eliminate each other for praying differently until one day the just decided it was a stupid idea and quit. The other half of the buildings consist of massive under construction skyscrapers ready to welcome yuppies with state-of-the-art Starbucking. The new hipster neighborhood changes every 6 months or so and the food is insanely satisfying all over.
“Five years ago, the horrors began next door and a river of refugees flooded the country. Around one million Syrians have joined the half million Palestinian refugees to make up about one third of the countries population. And they were accepted. Because Lebanon knows the horrors of war and the bliss of peace. The refugees who choose to live here say at least they can still see Syria and they can still hear the bombs so they know what’s going on. They keep hoping for those explosions to stop so they can go back and rebuild.
“Lebanon may not have much to share, but they have some kind of a heart. And they have a few clowns. Clown Me In was founded by a beautifully souled friend of mine, Sabine Choucair. We joined them for the beginning of both our tours for an Emergency Me In party that neither we nor these smiling kids will soon forget.”
“We’re trying to build a community of playful people from around the world to figure out what does it mean to be playful and why do we think that it’s beneficial for people in all kinds of situations — also in very, very difficult and hard situations — to be allowed to be playful,” said festival organizer Mathias Poulson.
As part of the video travelogue, Clay Mazing (who gave the conference’s keynote speech), interviewed members of other organizations, including A Secret Club and The Future Makers.
Come back soon for a full video of that keynote speech.
Sideshow performer Lydia Treats of Covington Cabaret.
Step right up, folks, and catch the daring Lydia Treats this weekend! Watch her eat fire! Watch her swallow swords! Watch her pound nails up her nose! All before she pulls a disappearing act and fulfills a childhood dream.
The performer will host her regular “Covington Cabaret” show Friday (April 15) at the Green Room in downtown Covington and then perform at the weekly “Talk to Nerdy to Me” show with The Society of Sin on Saturday (April 16) at the Dragon’s Den, and then she’s off to join the carnival.
“I was always the weirdo,” she recalled, adding that she was “even surrounded by other weirdos.” This was when, as a young woman, she’d hang out in Fat City at Cypress Hall or later in Metairie at Zeppelins. By the time she’d graduated at NOCCA back in 2000, New Orleans was becoming a popular tour stop for sideshow performers such as Jim Rose, Blockhead, Eric Odditorium and other performers.
“All of the old sideshow working acts fascinated me,” she said. “In fact, the ones that freaked me out the most were the ones I had to learn and pick apart and perform. Blockhead used to make me want to hork. Sword swallowing terrified me. It still does.
“I had a dream a few years ago where I performed it, and it was the same as dreaming of having a fountain Coke. I had to have it. The ‘fountain Coke’ thing happens to me a lot.”
It also happened with booze. Not long after graduating from NOCCA, as a growing desire to perform kicked in, she found herself pregnant, and working a dreary job at a corporate medical company while trying to be, in her mind, someone else’s version of herself. “I crawled into a bottle every night,” she recalled, and quickly graduated from beer to liquor, going into and out of treatment. This was in 2012.
Then, suddenly, something clicked. Even though she’d left Odyssey House due to a relapse, she started to focus on her recovery, and sought treatment at Townsend in Metairie. Within a month, she got up onstage, serving as a stage kitten for the Rev. Spooky LeStrange’s Billion Dollar Baby Dolls’ annual “Banned Books” burlesque show.
Around this same time, she recalls, she started taking classes at Bella Blue’s New Orleans School of Burlesque, and met performer Remy Dee at a club, which led to the “Banned Books” gig.
Getting into performing at any club became instantly problematic for a recovering alcoholic, as she learned soon after offering to help out on the Baby Dolls’ next show, “The Night Circus Burlesque Show” at Siberia. Glancing at all the beer taps and the bar against the wall, she panicked.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I am in a bar! What do I do?!” she recalled saying to herself. “Because the institutionalized side of me instantly went to ‘If you hang out in a barber shop long enough, you’re bound to get a haircut.’ So I freaked out and texted my sponsor. ‘I’m in a bar.’ ‘Are you drinking?’ ‘No. I am drinking a Monster (energy drink). At a bar!’ ‘Ok, just don’t pick up (a drink).’
“It was a simple program for complicated people,” she explained. “That’s when I learned it isn’t that guy or that girl or that non-binary person’s disease, much less the entire city of New Orleans. It it is my disease, and that if I refrain from picking up, I don’t get loaded.”
Soon after, Lydia Treats the sideshow performer evolved, especially after befriending local performer Sideshow Matt, who helped introduce her to classic sideshow acts including fire eating and sword swallowing — the latter of which, obviously, required intense concentration. Now more than ever, booze was out of the question, and after having been sober for several months, she felt ready to give it a try.
It didn’t “take” at first — it rarely does, she noted, given the often painstaking process of getting over a gag reflex.
“I’d started a couple years ago and was making no progress,” she said. “It wasn’t until after I moved to the Northshore that I found my coat hanger and said, ‘What the hell?’ and started trying again. It went down! Past my throat! For the first time ever! I think I made a little more progress each month — top of chest, cardiac sphincter, solar plexus, into stomach.” As late as last year, though, she still suffered the same potential pitfall of every performer when she had to visit the emergency room after suffering a perforated esophagus.
Her well-received debut sword-swallowing performance in The Society of Sin’s “Pulp Science Fiction” show, in front of 400 people, in 2015 further confirmed she was on the right track with her career. The itch to perform onstage that had emerged at NOCCA finally was getting just the right scratch for the weirdo, who along the way had her tongue split and often wears kooky contact lens for an added weirdo effect.
She can’t put a finger on one particular reason for the thrill of these performances — whether it’s the simple ability to do it, the ability to shock the audience, or simply for audience approval.
Lydia Treats performs. (Photo by Bob Moose Kustra)
Over the years she’s performed regularly in nerdlesque shows with The Society of Sin (including “Talk Nerdy to Me”) and with Remy Dee (“Nightmare Before Christmas Burlesque”) along with performances at BUKU Music + Art Project and House of Shock.
She’s cultivated her own act but also as that of a producer by starting up the “Covington Cabaret” show in 2015, which she says has played to standing-room-only crowds thirsty for something different on the Northshore. She’s invited several of her New Orleans burlesque friends to come perform, including Bella Blue, as well as Xena Zeit-Geist bringing the “Vice Is Right” burlesque game show to the Green Room.
“The Covington show has been going amazingly, much better than I anticipated before getting it started,” she said. “It has a great support network and a lot of locals in the community have become regulars, I’ve gone on the radio over there twice with a sort of open invitation to go over and do the radio spot whenever I wanted because it’s been fun.”
Friday’s show will feature comedian (and regular) Corey Mack, Lolly Gagger, Ri Dickulous and Tsarina Hellfire.
The 34-year-old has done all this while raising two children — a daughter, 14, and a son, 11 — both of whom have shown the kid of creative spirit their mom hopes to cultivate.
Performing alongside the World of Wonders sideshow artists will not only give her a chance to showcase her work with other peers, but will fulfill a childhood fantasy stoked early on by peeping at those early Edith Clifford videos.
“I have wanted to run away and join the carnival since I was a little kid,” she confessed. “This was a dream come true to be hired by them — to work with living legends of the sideshow, to actually travel, build the banner lines, the tents, sleep in the bunkhouse.”
After all these years, Lydia Treats feels comfortable in her own skin — onstage, as a weirdo, offering a little shock and awe to her audiences. Beats office work.
When asked whether an encore presentation of “Vaude D’Gras” came from either people telling her they’d missed the first production or wanted to see it again, circus-arts producer-performer basically answered “yes.”
The show’s popularity, combined with a busy and distracting Carnival season, necessitated a re-launching of the delightful circus show, held in February inside the dilapidated but soon-to-be-renovated Happyland Theater in Bywater. The new shows run Friday-Saturday (April 8-9) at Happyland (3126 Burgundy St.).
“For so many people every Mardi Gras, for some it’s become a part of their experience,” she said of the show, now in its third year after changing its name this year. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s their Lundi Gras, or their Friday before Mardi Gras. And I’m stoked about that because that’s how I want to do it. I want to put on a ridiculous circus show. Some complain that they miss it each time, and they’re bummed. I want to show it to them so they’ll, ‘I won’t miss this next time.’
“It’s a show that people go to for more than one night, also. (Burlesque producer-performer) Bella Blue sat in the audience two different nights and said, ‘I fucking loved it!’”
The same basic cast will reunite with LadyBEAST: Clay Mazing, GoGo McGregor, Guglielmo, Madame Daggers and Sarah Stardust.
In a sense, LadyBeast — an aerialist and fire and escape artist when not producing — is taking one look back before vaulting forward. The following weekend (April 15-17), she will finally bring back “The YardBaret,” a backyard-style circus show in a private Bywater location. The show will include some of the “Vaude D’Gras” performers but also featuring frequent collaborators including The Lady Satine, Penelope Little, Liza Rose as well as aerialist Laughing Sky Diamond and drag performer Golden Delicious. Also: Marlo Winter, a Washington-based aerialist who’s working in New Orleans now. (And giving lessons, too.) And formerly New Orleans-based contortionist Sam Aquatic will make an appearance.
Guests also can enjoy a dinner from pop-up chef Louie the Greek.
LadyBEAST loves this show “because it’s not a standard venue – performers can take their work anywhere. This setting gives artists the freedom to do what they want to do, Plus it’s ambient. You’re outdoors in this lovely garden.” She said one performer from last summer’s presentation “described it as if she was playing in a secret garden party in Europe.”
Next comes the show LadyBEAST has been working on for months, a continuation of sorts from the “Cirque Copine” show she has brought with Liza Rose to One Eyed Jacks. Her monthly “LadyBEAST Cabaret” will make its debut May 7 inside the French Quarter club. The performers include Guglielmo, Liza Rose, Sarah Stardust and LadyBEAST as well as touring artists. There’s Gretchen in Motion, a popular touring hand balancer.
The hope is to make the cabaret a monthly show with “Cirque Copine” filling in one of those months on a quarterly basis, though a second production inside One Eyed Jacks isn’t expected until after the summer — a popular touring season for performers. Still, these productions underscore a more consistent presence of circus-arts productions in New Orleans.
“It means that us circus people are here to stay in New Orleans and we’re just going to keep going,” LadyBEAST said. “We’re setting a standard of quality of circus entertainment in New Orleans.”