Experience and Opening Doors with Spark Circus!

13 Mar 2019

Spark Circus was first conceived by a lady called Glenna who, whilst living on Koh Phangan, made friends with the Burmese and Karen refugees working in the resorts there. Many being young men working to send money to their families in the refugee camps in the north of Thailand. So Glena rounded up her friends, did a fundraising show in the resorts and took the money to the camps and bought the kids toys and circus props.

This project was called Laughing for life. A few years later, Andrea Russell a dancer and fire performer and also a resident of Koh Phangan, transformed laughing for life into 'Spark Circus'.

Groups of up to 25 performers would descend onto Mae sot and do shows, workshops and fire shows in the camps, orphanages, and migrants schools. Now, with Andrea retired, Charlene Whitehead, a clown and circus performer has taken the realm and been leading the project for 5 years now.  

What is the main concept of Spark Circus?
Burma has been in a state of civil war for over 50 years, hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled for their lives into Thailand. These people/children are at risk of being trafficked and used as slave labour. Many live very poorly, with their basic sanitation and educational needs not met. Spark Circus firstly wants to raise awareness of their existence in Thailand. Tourists are generally unaware of this situation, as is the world. Our fundraising shows not only raise money, they raise awareness. As does our social media.

Secondly, we want to raise awareness of the need for children to play. The UN states in article 31: that it is their human right and necessary for their healthy development.

Children are resilient and naturally play. But these communities are not able to provide physical activity for them. So we start with a mad and fun clowney circus show and then we run workshops/playshop's with them, sometimes running whole week programs in schools teaching them to create their own circus shows and lead their own workshops.

Mostly we want to start a conversation with these communities. For them to know that we see them, and are listening to their story, is very important to us. Circus gives us a starting point. As we visit different communities we find out what they need and have in the years sponsored: schools being built, clean water, building of playgrounds, teachers salaries and so on.

Who can join and take part?
Mainly circus performers, dancers, magicians, clowns, creatives who have something to teach and offer.


What can people learn?
We have a burmese representative that spends the year looking for remote communities, mostly factory works, fields workers, poor migrant and refugee communities that would benefit from a circus visit.

Tell us about some memorable performances....
We did shows for 5 thousand people in Mae La refugee camp with huge fire and an Aerial rig, it was wild.  We tried to run workshops and had to run away as all the props were getting stolen. Totally wild. We've done shows for a small organisation called Starflower with 8 disabled kids, who scream with joy throughout and mime our hula hooper. These are always so intimate and moving. We've done shows for Karen teenagers who can't hold their fits of laughter throughout the whole show at the pure ridiculousness of us all.

You recently did an event with Labracadabra, tell us about this...

This year we decided to make the most of local performers for our fundraising shows to keep the costs down. So we called in Samui Circus studio (thai and burmese performers whom we collaborate with in Mae sot too) and Labracadabra who also brought many performers to our fundraising show. This was a wonderful collaboration and a great way to get everyone involved and aware of our project.

Plans for the future…
Gradually we have more local performers joining spark. We have a building relationship with The Last Fire Crew, a hip hop organisation in Vietnam. We have had two burmese performers from Samui circus studio join us and also two thai performers are now core to our team. Over time we would like to build more support in Asia for our project. Getting more local organisations to sponsor us and more local performers to come and perform and teach on the project. Rather than relying on international support too much. We would love to have a permanent circus studio in mae sot with thai, burmese, vietnamese performers being paid to teach all year round. We would like to be able to pay for and support schools who are struggling to survive.

Leave us with the Spark Circus philosophy…
It is about working on what seems impossible and try to go over it. Circus becomes a tool to question its own limits, work on self-development, trust, solidarity, social fulfillment… our actions are not an answer nor a single entertainment, but offer experience and open a door.’