The Thanlyin circus team

This is the first of a series of posts about the circus teams that Serious Fun is working with in Yangon. Let’s start with the boys from Thanlyin.

Serious Fun trainer Jules Howarth is teaching 25 boys in the circus team at Thanlyin Boys’ Training Centre, who he describes as the best young jugglers in Burma currently, full of humour and madcap energy.  Many are in their second season with Jules and they’ve been working hard on their circus skills. When Jules returned in December, they turned out for the first workshop wearing their T-shirts from last year’s International Juggling Festival, proudly showing off the “everyone needs to have fun” logo and eager to show Jules what they’d been practising.

Circus workshops

Every Thursday afternoon, the boys move the tables and chairs in the dining hall aside, Jules positions the plastic bins full of brightly coloured props, and the workshop begins with a warm up routine they’re all familiar with.

Jules demonstrates a new trick or a new prop then the boys try it out, helping each other along the way.  They’ve been testing out the translations of  diablo legend Donald Grant‘s book (thanks Donald).  Later they spread out into the compound with the props, practising whatever they like and inventing their own routines.

Each workshop includes a presentation to the whole team, when the boys show what they’ve been working on and the other boys pay close attention and enthusiastically show their appreciation.  Each boy has a personal chart where their progress in tracked in several circus skills including 3-ball juggling, balance, hat, flower stick, diabolo and spinning plate.

Principal U Kyaw Oo says that the circus workshops make the boys happy and positive in their outlook and he’d like to see the workshops rolled out in more of the Social Welfare department’s training centres.

“The children seem to be really interested in these lessons and these games help their brain development,” says U Kyaw Oo.

About the Centre

Thanlyin Boys’ Training Centre centre is a home for boys, mostly orphans and street children, who are in the care of the state. There are usually around 160 boys at the centre, aged 8-16. They have a daily routine of primary or secondary school, meals and chores, with free time in the afternoons and on weekends. That usually means playing sport, often chinlone, Burma’s popular cane ball manipulation game. The centre has several exemplary chinlone players, U Kyaw Oo says proudly. When the boys turn 16, the centre helps to find them a job and somewhere to live.

The Civil Society Initiative, a volunteer effort of the British Council Library, visits the centre regularly with a mobile library, reading stories and loaning books to the boys. CSI introduced us to the boys and U Kyaw Oo in 2014 and CSI volunteer Zin Zin is providing fine assistance to Jules as the translator for the Thanlyin workshops this season. CSI and the British Council are supporting the Day of Fun on February 13 when we’ll bring all the circus teams in Yangon together for workshops, rehearsals and presentations. We are very grateful for their support and encouragement for the social circus project.  We’re really looking forward to seeing what the boys and other circus teams will get up to when they all get together.


Social Circus Yangon

Our project in Myanmar

We’ve just launched a campaign in support of our Social Circus project in Yangon 2015-2016, with Serious Fun trainer Jules Howarth back in Myanmar to take the circus teams there to the next level.

Jules has been running weekly workshops in communities around the city since December. He’s reporting impressive progress from our keen and talented young circus teams at Thanlyin Boys’ Training Center, the kids at the Karen hostel in Taung Thu Gone, Scholarships For Streetkids in Mingaladon, Helping Hands, and the kids at Eden Center for Disabled Children in Insein.

Jules is doing shows with Circus4All Yangon which developed from a training of trainers project we set up for people working with disabled children and adults last May. After a week’s training with adaptive circus specialist Thomas Hinz, the participants decided to form their own circus. The troupe has continued training with Julian Ariza, a Serious Fun volunteer and genius with the buu-geng amongst other props.

Why Social Circus?

These activities are part of a social circus project tailored to the unique conditions in Yangon.  Social Circus makes the skills of circus accessible and inspires and develops the personal skills of those taking part. There’s a growing international social circus network, using circus to engage and empower people, particularly children and youth from marginalized and vulnerable communities, across the globe.

Get Involved

We believe the Yangon circus teams are doing something special and are worth supporting. The next step is to bring them all together on Children’s Day, February 13, for workshops, rehearsals and presentations. We can’t wait to see what they do when they all get together.

Our crowdfunding campaign has just launched to raise funds for prop-making, transport, translators, food and drinks for the circum teams and crew. Please support our project by sharing this with your friends and liking us on Serious Fun in Yangon

circus4all launched in Yangon

A week of teacher training in adaptive circus, lead by Thomas Hinz from Circability in New Zealand, has led to the exciting formation of circus4all Yangon.  As part of the training, organised by Serious Fun in May, participants created a show and loved it so much they decided to do more.  Here’s some highlights from the week of training.

Circus4all performers are based at Eden Centre for Disabled Children, Shwe Minn Tha Foundation, Myanmar Independent Living Initiative, Aye Myitta Center and Linkage.  They’re planning more workshops and shows, and a photo exhibition.

Serious Fun Yangon Coordinator Virginia Henderson says the birth of circus4all is all about people finding out what they can do together. “It’s a group of mixed ability which is empowered, united, and keen to reach out to the world to share skills and a fabulous fun circus show.”

Thomas Hinz began teaching circus skills to disabled people after evaluating activity programmes and finding circus skills had by far the most beneficial outcomes, both in terms of skills development and the ability to change public perceptions. For more information, here is the circus4all Yangon Statement 150531.

Thanks to the Inya Lake Hotel for supporting the Training of Trainers week by providing accommodation for Thomas.

Webisodes launched

The Serious Fun in Yangon series of webisodes are rolling out now on our facebook page and there’s a complete playlist below as well.

The seven webisodes tell the story of the children’s juggling project, a key part of the first ever International Juggling Festival in Myanmar in February.  The webisodes start with the children learning juggling and circus skills with Serious Fun’s Jules Howarth (aka Mr Jules) in the lead up to the festival, then move on to the experiences the children have once the international jugglers arrive.


Festival Restrospective – Monastery School Show

A group of performers and crew visited a monastery school in Insein, northern Yangon, on Friday February 13, to put on a show for the 400 children who are taught there.  In Myanmar the monastery schools provide education for children who can not attend normal state-run schools.

The children clearly had no idea what juggling was when the show started, but as you’ll see in the video highlights posted here, they soon got the idea.  Their reaction and enthusiasm made the day very special.

In order of appearance the performers were MiMi, Mike Twist, Tink McQuillin, Maike Aerden, Andrea Russell and Haggis McLeod. Thanks to Richard Gillett for doing the filming.


Festival Restrospective – Fire Show

Thousands of people gathered outside Mahabandoola Park on February 14 to see the spectacular fire show starring international jugglers.  The fire show took place on the Unplugged stage next to the famous Sule Pagoda in the heart of Yangon.  Unplugged is on a historic site directly opposite City Hall and in front of the Independence monument which commemorates Burma’s independence from Britain in 1948.

Staging performances on the Unplugged stage is a recent initiative by the City’s Parks department, which provides the space to bands on Saturday evenings during the dry season. When the park closes at 6pm, the performers take to the stage while the crowd watches from the other side of the ubiquitous barbed wire barricades.

After months of diplomacy by Serious Fun Yangon coordinator Virginia Henderson and our partners at the Smile Education and Development Foundation, the Mayor’s office agreed to we could stage the festival fire show on the Unplugged stage.  Check out some of the highlights in the video and photographs below.

Many thanks to the Parks department, the Serious Fun crew and performers, and to camera team Lin Thet Naung, Yannick Jooris and Tim Webster.

Festival Retrospective – Day of Fun

The idea behind staging the Day of Fun was to bring people together and have fun together with public participation games, workshops, shows, and a special performance from the Yangon juggling students trained by Mr Jules in the lead up to the festival.

The Day of Fun was held at Kandawgyi Park on February 14.  A highlight of the day was the juggling olympics where there were competitions for children, beginners and experienced jugglers.  Here’s some video highlights of the day’s activities.

Thanks again to Serious Fun camera team Lin Thet Naung and Yannick Jooris.

Some great photographs of the day’s activities from Tim Webster – firstly here’s some from the juggling olympics, answering the question how low did everyone go in the 3-ball limbo?

And some more great shots from Tim of other Day of Fun activities.

For more photos, click here

Festival Retrospective – the Big Show

The Big Show took place lakeside at Kandawgyi Park on February 11, featuring performers from all over the world, hosted by young Myanmar comedians, Thura Thein & Jo Ker of Omega Mime.  Global Harmonies world music choir warmed up the crowd, while Balloonity from Thailand created fabulous balloons for the kids. MNTV filmed the show and later broadcast it for the whole country to see. Thanks to Dreamboat for providing the sound and lighting equipment and to Off the Beaten Track cafe for providing dinner for perfomers, volunteers and crew.

Here’s a few excerpts from the Serious Fun camera team.

The Big Show capped off another busy day at the festival – here’s a few photographs of some of the activities.


Festival Retrospective – Day 1, February 9

Day 1 started with dawn juggling at Mahabandoola Park, next to the famous landmark at the centre of Yangon, Sule Pagoda, for those jugglers who managed to get up early.  The park is a popular place for early morning activities and a bunch of jugglers fitted right in.

Next came a walk around the corner to Pansodan Scene arts cafe, for a special breakfast of traditional mohingya and roti with beans and coffee.

Most of the first day’s action took place at the lakeside home of the head of the British Council, Kevin MacKenzie, who kindly offered his garden for a day of workshops and hosted the opening ceremony.

Check out some of the workshop action here, starting with a club passing master class from Haggis McLeod for the kids from Red Nose Foundation Jakarta and Phare Ponleu Selpak circus in Cambodia.

Thanks to Parami Pizza for lunch, Kevin & Alex MacKenzie and the British Council for the fantastic hospitality and dinner, and Mandalay Beer for the drinks. All very much appreciated.

Festival Retrospective – Sule Shangri La Brunch

What happens when you invite a group of international jugglers into the 5 star Sule Shangri La hotel for Sunday brunch? Plenty of action and entertainment, that’s for sure. It started in the lobby, moved into the cafe, then there was a parade through the hotel to a special show for the kids.