Monday, 6 January 2014

I ran away with the Circus

Show at and orphange in Botosani. Dance Routine - Myself, Jolien Van Haaster and Misja Nolet
My Halloween costume!
Alexandra getting creative with her Halloween party poster designs!
Children at the school in Colonesti we visited every week
Waiting for the cue from 'Bash.' Amber Diephaus, myself and Misja
Robert waiting for costume making support (photo credit: Misja)
Art workshop ran by Emma Taylor and myself (photo credit: Misja)
Amber, Jolien and Janetta Verheij
Setting up - Ash 'Bash' Perrin, Jolien, Amber and myself (I loved this costume!)

Here is just a small selection of photos from my time out in Bacau, Romania. More photos can be found on my tumblr:

Thanks to Misja Nolet, Kim Van HaaSter and Ernst Hestel for letting me putting up their photos, on both this blog and the Art Fair tumblr.

Many many thanks to Ash Perrin and Jolien Van Haaster for having me join the Flying Seagull Circus for 6 weeks. It was an incredible time for me and a journey I will never forget. I met many amazing people and fell in love with Romania.

I am in the process of writing an account of my time there, from the journal I wrote whilst there. If anything, it is just for me to look back on, but is also there for anyone who wishes to read it... please let me know if you do!

An account of my Seagull Circus antics... Part One
I flew to Bacau from Luton with Ash Perrin, in the early hours of Wednesday 25th September 2013. On arrival to the school in Rachitoasa, it was time for a few hours kip, after which I was expected to get right on it!
The other volunteers, at this point, were Seagull veteran Jolien Van Haaster, who along with Ash is a permanent volunteer. She is a 27 year old Dutch dance school graduate, who has been at the school since day one, only leaving to do the festival circuit in the UK, in the Summer, with the other Seagulls raising much needed funds for the project.
Jolien's best friend, Amber Diephaus, a primary school teacher in Haarlem was also here for a month or so. Both these women are incredible, the way they get on with it, putting on their costumes everyday, dancing and performing and interacting with the kids like it is second nature to them... it is second nature to them. They are such an inspiration. Janetta Verheij... also an inspiration, and an amazing photographer was also there for two weeks documenting the Seagulls. I arrived half way through her time there, which was such a shame as we clicked so well.

My first day working was Wednesday 25th September, and every Wednesday it was the school session at Colonesti. Because I had just joined the team, I wasn't expected to do much apart from join in and interact with the children the best I could. It was a beautiful sunny day in the middle of the Moldavian hills, so we ran the music session outside. Ash led the way, with the support of Jolien and Amber, with various drumming and percussion instrument activities, letting each child have a go on the big kick drum, They loved it! The children are beautiful, although in weeks to come, I did experience their naughty side! It was lovely to sit in a circle, in the sun, with them playing shakers, bells and drums.

Over the next few days, I would say it was my ‘settling in’ period. Before coming out to join the Seagulls, I worried extensively about it… like would I be good at it? Would people (volunteers, Romanians, the kids) like me? I think I over prepared the Art side of things too, because I expected to be working with a certain group of kids regularly and wanted to provide the best I could for them.

In a meeting before going back out, Ash did say that the Seagull Centre of Silliness, initially set up to receive the local kids everyday to do a vast programme of activities, wasn’t doing so well. When they didn’t have school, the children had to help their parents with farm work, and the Seagull Centre was right at the top of the village and quite a way for the kids to get to regularly.

I didn’t realise quite how much on the road we would be. It was only Friday evenings (cinema club/disco night) and Sundays that Rachitoasa’s local children came to the Centre for a programme of activities. Apart from our days off on Mondays and Tuesdays, the rest of the week was spent visiting far away schools and centres in tiny remote villages nestled away in valleys with, mostly, only a wobbly dirt road to get to them. The nearest place to us, Colonesti, was over an half hour drive away with most other places at least an hour away.

Not only did the amount of travelling surprise me, but the extent that I was in the show! I am not a performer (I’ll leave that up to my sister!), which is why I wanted to bring more Art to the Project, but nevertheless, I had to be in the show. This scared me almost to tears to begin with. The first few times were ok, because I was just invited to watch Ash, Jolien and Amber do their stuff. And then, after not much practice at all and one rehearsal, a part was made for me and that was it… I was in the show!

The Show

This is the performance that has a rough outline, but obviously changes a bit depending on who, or how many volunteers there is. The Seagulls will perform this show when they visit a place for the first time. It is a chance to introduce what the Seagulls do through an entertaining visual experience that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, especially children and those with learning difficulties. The show, mostly led by Ash, or ‘Bash’ when he’s performing, with plenty of additional support from volunteers, consists of comedy, music, dancing, magic and general clowning around. While the other clowns are hiding in the audience, the show begins with just Bash for about 15minutes, messing around and doing all sorts of funny tomfoolery. The clowns are then introduced one by one (or ‘The Dutch’ and ‘The English’) as we sneakily climb on stage as Bash ‘struggles’ to find us. He then jumps back in shock as he turns around to discover that we are there! You can imagine the amusement form the audience. The routine continues with the trumpet scene, building up this instrument as Bash continually plays the instrument really quietly, much to everyone’s disappointment, including us, the clowns! It is our job to provoke a reaction within the audience… ‘MAI TARE! LOUDER!’
Of course this backfires on the poor clowns as Bash aims the trumpet in our direction and blows the pipe at such force that is blows to the wall with a crash and we all fall down. After we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, Bash sets a vote to the audience.
“This trumpet is a magical trumpet, it makes the clowns dance un-voluntarily! Who do you want to dance? The Dutch? Or the English?”
Of course, none of the clowns want to dance.. at all! The room is then filled with shouts of ‘DUTCH’ and ‘ENGLISH.’ Whoever gets the most shouts wins, or loses as it were.

This is actually my favourite part of the show, and I like it when I have to dance. For a minute I go absolutely crazy, uncontrollably all over the stage… the trumpet is making me! It’s funny for the children of course, and for me, I revel in the ridiculousness of it also. As an adult, why shouldn’t I be completely, utterly silly sometimes?

Anyway, digression! The show then continues with the spinning plate section (I was never part of this as still haven’t mastered the art of plate spinning – I think I successfully did it about three times!) with a routine by some of the clowns incorporating comedy and audience participation. Chosen volunteers then get to have a go whilst dressed in a silly hat and bow tie! The show then moves onto the juggling routine, which I was a part of and thankfully didn’t have to juggle! There is a little dance routine of ‘warming-up’ like gym bunnies to the theme tune of Rocky (ha!). Us clowns try in vain to impress the audience with juggling with one ball… taadaaa!! No, no such luck… 
And so with two balls… taadaaa! (I still managed to drop balls at this point!) Oh dear, they’re still not impressed. At this point, all three of us begin to panic… 
'MAI MULTE MINGE? Really? Even more balls?' Jolien is looking anxiously at the audience as Misja and I sneakily put a third ball in her hand and run off stage. She then continues the act, dragging it out with comedy value until she successfully juggles with three balls and wows the audience. Volunteers are then invited up to have a go. The show then continues with Bash’s balancing act on the ‘Rolla Bolla,’ fuelled with suspense, after which we have a succession of tricks in the magic show! Sometimes, if the kids are lucky, the show ends with a dance contest (musical statues or bumps) in order to win a balloon animal! Rad.

It is an act and you have to be involved 100% and really give it some welly… something I struggled with to begin with. It really threw me being in the show. I got so nervous before each performance… scared that I’d forget things and let everyone down. It was okay though. The other Seagulls understood this and helped where they could. For example, the show was done in Romanian, so I could snatch a whisper of ‘What’s next?!’ to the other girls, without the audience members noticing, if I blanked.

Although few and far between, the rehearsals were excellent. Ash is a trained actor, and quite a good instructor too, so knows exactly what he is doing and really encouraged you to amp it up when playing a part… the part of a clown! Every movement, reaction and action had to be on the verge of absolutely ridiculous otherwise there was no point at all.. Ash suggested, as I was quite nervous, to play the part of a nervous persona… to the point that it was just silly. I understood the ideology; it just took me a while to get it. This became most apparent when I had to perform a magic trick… BY MYSELF! It was the magic colouring book – playing up to my artistic talents – thanks Ash! Looking back on it now, I am proud of myself for this (not just the trick, but being part of the show in the way I was) but during it, I did beat myself up a little bit for it. Totally stupid. It was only because I had to do the trick right (I’m not gonna let on y’all!) and still act and perform while doing it – mega concentration – with millions of little eyes watching you! And they say children are the harshest critics.

Anyway, mostly, I pulled it off (just about) and the children seemed to enjoy and revel in it, so I’m happy. Also, despite me not being a ‘performer’ I found that I actually can be! It was just a case of finding that energy and confidence within myself to pull it off, not to let myself down, or anyone else. At the end of the day, the whole point of doing what I did was to make a difference to the lives of these poor children, so that they could be in another magical world for a couple of hours, my slight issue that I was dying of nerves inside didn’t matter one bit. And to be honest, the more I did it, the better I got, the more confident I became, particularly that week in Botosani where we did show after show after show. What’s more, when you do shows to the bigger kids, who understand it better, or simply to a bigger audience, it is so much better. The vibes and the adrenaline you get from it. I will never forget a feeling like that. The feeling is mutual.

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