Interview with Ash Perrin
He seemed destined to be a ‘special child’ after he was born deaf but thanks to the love and care of his parents and music, he could have a normal upbringing. Now he is spreading love himself. He is born in the UK but travels the world to bring laughter and magic to children all around the world with his Flying Seagulls Project. In February his first book ‘The real play revolution’ will come out.
Ash has a remarkable beard and moustache that would be trending in any barbershop. But he never visits a barbershop and prefers to do the grooming himself as he doesn’t like his beard to be ‘too tidy’. He uses a special wax for his moustache and he makes his own beard oil with a specific scent for each season.
For Ash, beauty is definitely something that comes from within. He is clear about that: “Beauty is seeing someone entirely, while they are being themselves. Real beauty is seeing someone in full confidence. You can have the most perfectly beautiful person, but when they are mean you won’t find them attractive.”
The Flying Seagulls is a group of circus performers that travels to places where children live in despair, whether they are orphans, refugees or treated as outcasts in their own country. Their aim is to bring some magic into their world. For the past 3 years they have been performing in refugee camps in Greece. Ash explains why this is so important.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
I was born deaf and only got my hearing when I was 2 years old. The doctors told my mum that music would stimulate my development and that’s why I still have a special relationship with music and creative arts. It really helped me and was part of the reason I never had to go to a special school. So it was a logical step for me to go to an acting school. When I was 20, I had very little money so I started to do clowning at parties an events. I travelled a lot in those days with my ‘magic case’ and saw how children responded. And then I visited an orphanage in Cambodia and I saw nothing was being done to make the kids laugh. That touched me as this was such a contrast to my own upbringing. A few months later I went to Rumania to perform for orphans and that’s how it all began. I never looked back since.
THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE
I performed in hospitals, in gypsy camps and at special needs schools. And wherever we came, the children responded so well to these shows. As we worked all over the world, with so many different languages, we had to create a non verbal performance with the focus on energy exchange, intention and eye contact. Actually, it is the language of laughter and love.
With every show I have a mission; I want each child to feel special. So I look at them in the eye, all the time. It’s the energy what is important. That’s why I let them repeat that word so often: ‘e-ner-gy’! I am 100% there for them and what you then see is magic. The camp disappears, the war disappears and in just half an hour we live in a magical world.
MORE THAN A REFUGEE
These children have seen more terrible things than any of us. Their identity is ‘the refugee children who have been through war’. True, but that doesn’t mean that they have no magic or laughter in them. It doesn’t mean that life for them can only be that. They need to know that life is bigger than that. I want them to dream of something else and to feel the possibility of something more positive. I want them to change their identity. I like to call myself a ‘childhood conservationist’. Because war, greed, corruption and the pursuit of success by what you own or how much money you make, are all endangering childhoods around the world.
I want these children to know that they are loved unconditionally. If I were a builder, I would build them homes with love. If I was a cook, I would cook them food with love. But I am a performer, I am a clown, so this is my offer and they can have it. They can have every drop of it, for free, because I love them and they deserve to have whatever I got. And hopefully, when they are older, they will give with the same heart.
We all have something to offer and we all have something we need. If we can find a way to live in a community – even without knowing each other – without being divided by religion or economics, then we have a chance to save the world. And this is not radical, but a very real and human philosophy. There is enough food for everybody but it is wrongly distributed. It’s not that I am anti-capitalism, but I am anti the idea of full ownership.
IMPORTANCE OF PLAY
I want to comfort these children in the most universal language, the language of play. Because it makes sense for a child to laugh and to giggle. Everything else in their life doesn’t make sense right now. Living in a camp, in the rain does not make sense.
The focus in my book is the importance to preserve traditional real play. I am not anti-technology either, but on a sunny day we should be in the garden, climbing trees and connecting with each other.
Albert Einstein said: “Play is the highest form of research”. That’s how children learn the world. They need to play in a safe environment. But when they don’t have that, what will they be when they grow up? They will not have any self confidence or don’t know how to be challenged. Children in the UK are also suffering. They get upset and depressed and that’s why we have the highest number of teenage depression in history. You don’t need a lot of stuff as a kid, you need fun.
INJUSTICE, VIOLENCE & AUTHORITY
Of course you have to adapt when you work with traumatized refugee children. When we first came to a camp on the border of Macedonia with 14.000 people, we did a circus workshop. We got all the equipment out and then the children went mad. They couldn’t handle sharing and started to fight each other. This made me realize that these children couldn’t handle injustice. If one kid gets a go and another one doesn’t, they are not just disappointed but simply outraged. It brings back all that unfairness to the surface and they can be really aggressive towards each other. That is why I do everything now in a circle. I would never do a line because then there is a front and a back. They hate lines, then you hear immediately ‘no line, no good line!’.
Another thing is that you have no authority as an adult. Their concept of authority has been destroyed. They have crossed borders in an outrageous and criminal way, so they don’t just give their respect because you are an adult. That’s why I always ask and will never say ‘you have to’. You just have to make it so much fun that they want to do it. Because if you see your mum and dad scared and they react aggressively, then that is what you learn to be when you are scared. I have never met a more violent group of children and I have seen a lot as I worked everywhere with the most deprived kids. This breaks my heart because it means that I have never been with children that have seen so much violence. And this violence became part of their understanding of the world.
Magic on the railway
One incident I will always remember. We were doing shows in a camp near Macedonia and there was one boy who especially loved the magic so I taught him a trick. Two days later a big fight broke out between the border police and about 200 men and we were in the middle of it with 100 kids. There was teargas out so we grabbed our cases and ran after the kids who were showing us where to go. And when we were safe, all sitting in a circle, then this boy performed that magic trick for us because he thought we would be scared.
This was so beautiful and still gives me goose bumps when I talk about it. But there are numerous stories. I remember a boy in Rumania who didn’t talk for several years but during our performance he spoke after I asked his name.
Performing in Rumania
That is so magical about our shows, we create our own world and all the hardship disappears. Moria* disappears, the heavy rain disappears and we are just in a golden dome where magic happens. And that is the essence. We create our soul world where we are all brothers and sisters. When I perform, I have to be bigger than Moria. Because for every kid on the Olive Grove who is attending my show, I have to create an energy that is more powerful so they can leave Moria behind for a moment.
OUR MOMENT IN THE SUN
Doing this work makes me believe in that connection between people. That goes beyond where you are born, how much money you make or how clever you are. When we connect like that, we are pouring energy into each others lives. The world breaks my heart. In some ways it is cold en selfish with so much oppression and exploitation of people and animals. On the other hand there are also a lot of beautiful people and things happening. There is such imbalance. But in those shows we are claiming our space on earth, we are claiming our moment in the sun. At those moments we are just happy, equal people. I don’t care if you are poor or rich or important, because we all are important. If I wouldn’t do this work, I might get depressed. But now I can at least claim to create utopia when I perform.
A reason why we are able to exploit people and ignore refugees, is that we see them as a group and not as individuals. It is much harder to ignore a Mustafa who is 7 and sleeps on the floor in a leaking tent, than ‘a refugee’.
Happiness doesn’t come from stuff, it comes from people, from nature, music or experiences. When you have nothing, you are unhappy because you long for things. But when you have things, you are also unhappy. When I eat in front of you and you have none, it doesn’t taste good. Whereas if I share my food, we can both enjoy it and the experience will be much better.
The important things in life are health, relationships and occupation. Happiness for me is to be in good health, have strong, honest connections with people and to have your actions benefit the world and yourself. Happiness is when you can contribute to more love on this planet.
SHARE THE WEALTH
We live in a funny time. In order to turn the environmental issues around, we have to redistribute the wealth. But instead we want more food and things than we need, while elsewhere people are starving. That’s insane. And I really believe that this is the core of what makes us unhappy. Because the air in the world, the consciousness of the planet can feel the pain that happens elsewhere and that’s why we can feel it too. We can’t close our eyes and escape the suffering of others. The feeling that things aren’t right is a global feeling.
SOUL OF THE WORLD
I used to meditate and I did yoga, but during the last 3 years I haven’t done anything. Through mindfulness I knew I had to do this work, I felt what the universe was telling me. But right now I am too sad and tired to do mindfulness. It does take a toll on me. Also I am getting older. For the past 10 years I haven’t live in a proper home. But I feel we are in a battle to save humanity and I believe more than ever I need to do this. When I see young people constantly on their phones, making selfies, it worries me because the world is losing its soul. We can’t be passive anymore.
*Moria is a refugee camp in Lesbos, Greece
Photo’s: Katherine Needles, Janetta