With 2016 rapidly approaching we’re all preparing for the next round of festivals and flow retreats, but a small group of seven entertainers are readying themselves for a different adventure in performance and flow–they’re gearing up to travel to Nicaragua with Performers Without Borders (PWB). I was fortunate enough to get to chat with Aileen Lawlor, the 2016 PWB Team Leader, about her upcoming travels, and to ask her a few questions regarding Performers Without Borders, their efforts, locales, and how those of us interested in PWB can help contribute:

How did you find out about PWB? What was your immediate reaction?

I originally found out about PWB through Rob Thorburn, a wonderful spinner/juggler/performer friend from Scotland that has been on the spinning scene forever. He had just come back from organizing the first PWB tour in Nicaragua in 2013. He talked about teaching kids poi and staff and acrobalance in Nicaragua. My immediate reaction was “That sounds exactly like what I need to do!” Gaining fluency in Spanish has been a lifelong goal, and since 2006 I felt a huge draw to Nicaragua after studying the country a bit in school. I had already been teaching poi and staff for many years, and the idea of bringing these specific arts to kids immediately resonated with me. I also liked that the project wasn’t just about Circus, but it embraced performing arts as a whole. That made me feel that I had enough to bring to the table with my acting & dance background, and my flow-arts based work.

Have you met anyone in your previous trips that you really remember, or who inspired you personally?

The 2014 tour blew my heart open. Besides my mega-talented teammates (Emily Rice, Jake Hirsch-Holland, Justin Pulsford, Steve Bags & Valentina Martin), I was inspired & impressed by many artists from Nicaragua and Costa Rica that I saw perform at “El Berrinche Ambiental”, a street performance/environmental festival held annually in Nicaragua that is attended by many different circus and performance artists from Central and South America, Mexico, and Europe. I was inspired by their clowning and pure joy for live performance and interaction with their audiences. The Flow Arts culture in which I have been embedded has really taken flight through awesome internet videos & fancy editing, so witnessing great juggling, improvisation, & performance LIVE from artists in the street that don’t have the quick and constant internet access we have, and being genuinely entertained by them, was massively inspiring.

Where will your performance route take you, and what are you excited to see along the way?

We start the 3-month journey with a 10 day “bootcamp” at a guest house in Las Peñitas, a small coastal town where 7 of us will get to know each other, play team-building games, create a circus show, and practice teaching our workshops to each other in Spanish to prepare for our work with the kids. Then we are off to Granada, a charming little city in Nicaragua that will have us parading through the streets, performing our show and teaching skills to other artists & neighborhood children during the annual Berrinche Ambiental festival.
After that, we are in Leon for one month, teaching children ages 3-18 at various projects throughout the barrios in the city for 2.5 hours every day. Following that we continue the project with Los Quinchos in San Marcos. The children there are up to 13 years old and have been taken off the street & out of precarious situations. After going through a filter house in Managua, they are given the opportunity to live on a farm, attend public school and partake in activities such as hammock making, bread baking, woodwork, and circus! After we finish our month with them, we head back to Granada to perform and teach at La Escuela de Comedia y Mimo, the house that hosts El Berrinche Ambiental. I am excited to see all the artists and kids I’ve met on previous visits, and see their growth.

How does your work impact the communities you visit?

We create memories and moments with the children that stay with them throughout their lives. They witness adults from other parts of the world being playful and performing unique skills, and through their classes with us they learn new physical skills they never thought possible for themselves, they get the opportunity to work as a team with others, to express themselves creatively, develop self-confidence, build cross-cultural bonds. When this happens at an individual level, it empowers each one of them to bring that same influence into their communities.

What are you doing to prepare for your travels?

I am maintaining my personal practice, learning to juggle more, fundraising to cover some of the costs of the tour & bring more awareness to the PWB organization, listening to Spanish music & watching Spanish movies to keep my language skills sharp, sending out emails and posts to keep my team of volunteers apprised of information about Nicaragua and the places we will be, getting contact staves made to be brought down there..every day there is something!

What is your goal amount?

My goal is to raise $2750, about $1200 of which is the donation amount that goes directly to PWB. That will cover all of my food, transportation, and accommodation costs for three months in Nicaragua! The rest will pay for roundtrip airfare, travel insurance, well-made contact staves & wands to use with the kids & donate to their projects after we leave.

What will the PWB be using the money you raise for?

The money raised goes directly toward the props for the shows (all of which get donated to the kids’ projects we work with, so they can have a “Circus Kit” of props to continue their practice throughout the years), bags to carry PWB objects, audio/visual equipment to document the tours and use for performances, a contribution towards an environmental fund, and cost effective travel to each project within Nicaragua, 3 meals a day (most of which are cooked at home), and humble accommodations in each location for the volunteer team.

What advice would you give to other performers looking to get in to PWB and similar programs?

Make sure you know what travelling to that country entails for you. You may be uncomfortable, dirty, sans internet, overly familiar with a toilet seat after eating too much street food, and not surrounded by our daily conveniences….all of which has the opportunity to instigate tremendous growth and clarity in one’s life. If that reverberates for you, apply for a tour! Leave your expectations behind you, open your heart, breathe, get rid of your own agenda for a few months and allow yourself to be a significant cog in a wheel of artists and flow along with the ride!

Where can we go to support Performers Without Borders and your travels?

My GoFundMe website has relevant video & article links, tour information, photos, and the chance to donate to my campaign: Aileen’s 2016 PWB GoFundMe

You can also go directly to the PWB website to read blogs about the volunteer tours in India, Nicaragua & Africa, become a “FAB 500” member, sign up for the newsletter or apply to next year’s tours: Performers Without Borders

Aileen is a wonderfully talented performer, actress, and flow artist with over a decade of experience. She has conducted numerous workshops and instructed countless students nationally and internationally. Her talents, passion, and dedication will prove invaluable for PWB’s 2016 tour, and I look forward to seeing what amazing things they can accomplish!