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.

Liza Rose’s final thoughts on U.S. Aerial Championships (Field Trip)


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

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 at U.S. Aerial Championships: Done! (Field Trip)

IMG_9229Liza 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.

Liza Rose at U.S. Aerial Championships: Ready for take-off (Field Trip)

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New Orleans circus-arts performer Liza Rose continues her journey through the U.S. Aerial Championships as part of our “Field Trip” series. Today (Friday, May 13) might be a two-parter. Here’s today’s first installment:

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 …

Video clip of my rehearsal here.

Lydia Treats hits the road with World of Wonders sideshow (Field Trip)

We continue our“Field Trip” series with an essay by Lydia Treats, one of New Orleans’ most popular circus sideshow performers and producers, as she travels with the World of Wonders sideshow. (You can read about the path to this journey here.)

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.

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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)


(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.)