Clay Mazing, Emergency Circus, and special-needs refugees (Field Trip)

13223532_1141236919262206_1959221475_oNew 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.

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Emergency Circus pairs with Clown Me In in Lebanon (Field Trip)

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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.”

See previous posts here.

Video: Watch Clay Mazing at CounterPlay (Field Trip)

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 8.06.48 AMClay Mazing of Emergency Circus continues his travels (chronicled as part of our “Field Trip” series) by chronicling a stop at the CounterPlay conference in Aarhus, Denmark, in which examines the concepts and values of play in a range of settings.

“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.

Next up: On to Lebanon with Clown Me In.

Clay Mazing returns to entertain Syrian refugees (Field Trip)

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(Photo courtesy Emergency Circus)

In the first of what I hope will be an ongoing series focused on New Orleans entertainers on the road, called “Field Trip,” New Orleans circus performer Clay Mazing chronicles his return to entertain Syrian refugees abroad — a journey that I chronicled here and here. In this first installment, Clay Mazing explains his need to return to help through his Emergency Circus.

Well, since the last trip I knew I needed to go back. The extreme situation these humans have to face just breaks the hell out of my heart. After discovering how impactful this clown work could be to the situation, I just constantly ached to come back. I also wanted to do a better job of documenting my experience and showing the refugees in a positive light to the rest of the world.

This new rhetoric of xenophobia used for political power makes me utterly disgusted, like my eyes want to vomit screams or something. Being on the ground, listening to, clowning for, and being playful with Arabic people of all kinds has destroyed my tolerance for prejudice. It’s extremely stupid to hate Muslims for being Muslim, for example. So I have to use whatever privilege I have to attempt to better the situation.

It’s just so important to me to show these refugees as neighbors in need, not mysterious enemies. Hopefully, through showing the smiles of children and the warmth expressed by their parents, a few more fearful and confused people in my country will be able to see the similarities of our souls.

Counterplay, a conference on play in difficult situations in Denmark, invited me to be a keynote speaker earlier in April. I took the plane ticket as an opportunity to do another month and a half of work. I’m linking up with about 20 other clowns and performers from all over Europe to tour refugee camps and schools in Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Germany, France, Belgium, and Holland. Linking up with local clowns is a great way to begin establishing regular clown missions in the area. We learned this from our last trip.

We’ll be visiting areas where the refugee situation has been complicated by terrorist attacks and camp closures like Calais, Brussels, Beirut, Istanbul and others. Since the last trip in November 2015, the situation has become much more difficult for refugees. Nationalism, xenophobia, racism and economic concerns have led many governments to close their borders. Last time we traveled alongside the refugees, getting a small taste of their experience while spreading as much joy and entertainment we could along the way.

This time we’ll be visiting places where they have been stuck, trapped with the inability to move forward or back. Aside from Denmark, our first stop is Lebanon, where we are joining forces with a local troupe called Clown Me In led by a clown who I worked with in Lesbos and previously in Lebanon. We are visiting mostly refugee schools near the border of Syria.

April 20 (see photo above): Sometimes I start to wonder why I work so hard booking, planning, raising funds, and traveling for days on end for $0 an hour. Then I have a day like today where 900 refugee kids go to their tents excited to dream about the circus that came to school today. So happy to team up with Sabine again and Clown Me In. This is the silly, sweaty, sunburnt life I wouldn’t trade for anything.

(You can support Emergency Circus’ work here.)

Clay Mazing on Saturday’s Emergency Circus fundraiser for Syrian refugee trip

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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.

Fly Movement Salon offers ground zero for New Orleans’ circus arts training

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The future of New Orleans’ circus arts scene is hanging in the balance — or, maybe more accurately, about 20 feet in the air. Dallas Alexander, a petite 23-year-old with a gymnast’s physique, is grappling with a pair of crimson silk ropes hanging from the ceiling of Cafe Istanbul in the monthly Fly Movement Salon.

Working her way up, spinning lazily around, and working her way back down again, Alexander is literally trying to get the hang of this form of circus arts performance, the aerial silks. They’ve become a mainstay of both circus-themed performances around New Orleans as well as in more conventional burlesque shows such as Rick Delaup’s Bustout Burlesque and Trixie Minx’s Fleur de Tease. And it’s starting to catch on with this younger generation of performers.

Including Alexander, a Biloxi, Miss., native who’s spent the past three years dancing on Bourbon Street but has spent the past two years adding the silk ropes to her pole experience . This Tuesday night marks only her second time performing in front of a Fly Movement Salon audience, which gathers monthly to watch newcomers learn the ropes of the circus scene.

“It’s an extremely laid-back environment. The audience (members), even if you mess up, they don’t notice or they don’t care,” she said. “The fact that we’re participating or we’re trying, or starting somewhere, is a good thing to have.”

She said she only messed up once in this performance, “but apparently nobody noticed, so … .”

There was plenty variety on this evening, which doubled as a little fundraiser for fellow performer Clay Mazing and his work with both his own Emergency Circus and Clowns Without Borders in helping entertain Syrian and Afghan refugees in Europe. Coordinator Liza Rose and fellow producer LadyBEAST were even able to hail Clay Mazing in an iPad for a brief Skype chat with the audience at the end of the evening, from an airport in Europe.

Beforehand, the audience got to enjoy a song Sami Smog plucked on her ukulele, juggling by David Chervony, rope work by Penelope Little, Say Rah performing with a hula hoop, and then a closing duet on the ropes by Liza Rose, the seasoned veteran, and Sarah Stardust. It was all emceed by Alison Logan, the self-proclaimed “Original Classy Broad” and a recent transplant from Chicago who filled in the gaps between performances with silly jokes a few songs (including a hilariously dark turn on the Police’s “Every Breath You Take”). Chervony, perhaps playing to the notion of the evening as a workshop, pretended to keep dropping one red pin, followed by a smirk at the audience before flipping it back into his hands with one foot.

Scanning the stage, an older audience member smiled and observed with a thick Irish accent, “It’s the best reason to come out: watching a bunch of clowns pursuing their dreams.”

The show raised nearly $500, according to Rose.

Learn more about the Fly Movement Salon by visiting its Facebook page.

Fly Movement Salon hosts benefit show Dec. 1 for Clay Mazing’s work with Syrian refugees

Each month, New Orleans’ top circus and variety performers get together and showcase their latest works at the Fly Movement Salon over at Café Istanbul. But next week they’ll get a chance to showcase their work while supporting the very timely work of a fellow performer helping Syrian refugees.

Clay Mazing, known to some for his work at Cirque du Gras (which I covered here for NOLA.com) has taken his initial project work with the nonprofit group Clowns Without Borders in Greece and is continuing to perform with Syrian refugees as they continue on their journey. Right now he’s in Macedonia. And because now he’s supporting himself on the journey — working with his own troupe, the Emergency Circus — he needs some help, and his friends back in New Orleans are ready to go.

The next Fly Movement Salon, which will be held Tuesday (Dec. 1) at Café Istanbul, will feature performances by co-organizer Liza Rose (who I’ve also covered here) paired with Sarah Stardust, as well as David Chervony, Emily Chervony, Sami Smog and Golden Delicious, Penelope Little, and more to be announced soon.

Molly Levine, the director of the New York-based Clowns Without Borders, performed with Clay Mazing and a couple others during their project trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, which included 32 shows over 16 days for Syrian refugees who have already endured major hardship.

“If I could say one thing to my close friends, that I wish people would understand, is the sheer enormity of tis crisis,” Levine said. “The people who are arrive in Greece, these are middle-class people, they’re children, they’re old people, their families, and they’re coming knowing this is a dangerous trip for them. The choice for them in taking this trip often is between dying and maybe dying, and so they chose maybe dying, so they chose these trips.”

For Clay Mazing, it’s been an emotional and fulfilling journey.

“I feel so blessed to be following my dreams out here,” he said via message. “It’s obvious that people need this kind of empathy out here. When someone is starving and you offer an apple they take it hungrily. The same is true for people starving for joy. Some of these people (not just children) haven’t laughed in days because they are constantly moving through boats, tents, trains, and busses without knowing what’s next.

“It’s really this focused attention we give to them that they appreciate. The Red Cross and others give them blankets and tea but we provide some simple relief from the constant stress,” he continued. “And we all make instant friends. Tonight we all laughed and played music and danced around the fire. These friends are so damn full of love it’s insane. I don’t know how they keep it up honestly after being treated like cattle they offer their cookies and blankets to us.

“I’ve had so so many heartfelt hugs and deep eye contact thank-yous. There’s too much to say.”

(It should also be noted that Moniek de Leeuw of the Balcony Players also is performing, on violin, with Clay Mazing.)

(Related: Follow Clowns Without Borders’ project here)

Fly Movement Salon co-organizer Liza Rose has worked with Clay Mazing on several productions and sees him as a perfect fit for this kind of work.

“He is a delightful raconteur, a shameless ladies man, the penultimate poster boy for the Peter Pan complex … And he has, without a doubt, the shiniest heart of gold you’ll ever meet,” she said. “When he’s here, he spends a lot of his time arranging and performing shows for kids in hospitals, folks in nursing homes, at special needs schools, and wherever else it’s needed. As a sometimes guest performer with the Emergency Circus, I can tell you that it’s a special kind of thrill to bounce up in the Sh’zambulance (when stateside, the EC travels in a converted ambulance) and hear Clay on the megaphone saying, ‘It’s an Emergency Circus!'”

As for Clay Mazing’s work, Levine said, “He’s is a very special performer. He’s also really versatile. If you’re in New Orleans you’re probably seeing more of the edgy Clay Mazing, the cowboy who’s cracking his whip, and with the flaming shotguns. It’s fun crazy stuff.

“And when he is doing the Clowns Without Borders shows, he’s in character, but as a really child-friendly clown. He does comedy,” Levine added. “He does slapstick. He loves to perform with the charango (a lute-like string instrument). The reason that Clay is the best performer to be doing this tour for the refugees he’s performing for is because, when he’s going, he never stops. If there’s a kid nearby, he’s always on. We’ll do two, three, four shows in the morning and be wiped out and will be going to lunch, but if he sees some children, those fake teeth will come on, and he’s performing again.”

Liza Rose echoed those sentiments: “He is doing what we all wish we could do, what we all think about briefly right before we think, ‘… but what about all this other stuff that will be hard and all the things I have to give up…?’ Clay’s not thinking about that. He’s living in the moment and using his talents to make a real change in the world, human to human. He should be a national fucking ambassador.”

Visit the Fly Movement Salon’s Facebook event page for more info.