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.
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.
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.
“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,” Clowns Without Borders’ Molly Levine says of Clay Mazing. “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.” (Photo by Mike Shane)
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.
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.)
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.”