Laughter As Medicine

June 5, 2014 |
Emergency Circus, a nonprofit organization, connects patients with performers to heal with laughter and fun. photo courtesy Emergency Circus

Emergency Circus, a nonprofit organization, connects patients with performers to heal with laughter and fun.
photo courtesy Emergency Circus

Not every circus travels in an ambulance. But the Emergency Circus has a mission to uplift the hurt and healing, with entertainment and fun.

“Laughter and joyful feelings have been proved to increase endorphins, which relieves pain,” says Clay “Mazing” Letson, one of the founders and performers for the Emergency Circus.

Founded in Tucson, the nonprofit troupe embarked on its first major national tour last month, “Tour to the Rescue,” which began in New Orleans. Traveling in its specially retrofitted ambulance, equipped with megaphones, musical instruments and circus props, the Emergency Circus rolls into Tucson for hospital visits and a special extravaganza on Saturday, June 14 at Hotel Congress.

The event, starting at 7 p.m., will transform the Congress patio into a superhero-themed circus, juggling, music, magic, dancing, high voltage electricity, and a costume contest for best original superhero outfit. Timed to coincide with 2nd Saturdays Downtown, the family-friendly event is a fundraiser for “Tour to the Rescue,” with a $5 to $25 suggested donation.

“Our shows are very audience participatory and interactive. It’s kind of like a show and kind of like a game. We put them (the audience) into the show,” says Letson. “It’s nice to go into some community, like a homeless shelter or a nursing home where a lot of the time they don’t get the opportunity to interact with one another in a fun, social setting.”

While in Tucson, the Emergency Circus will visit Tucson Medical Center’s Pediatric Unit and the Casa de los Niños Children’s Crisis Center. The overall Tour to the Rescue itinerary calls for visits to more than 25 “under-circussed” facilities coast to coast during a five-week, 6,000-mile tour.

“For this particular tour we’re touring with four main cast members and in each city, we link up with locals in the area to bring them in to go to hospitals and nursing homes,” says Letson. “It works out really well because a lot of these performers are really excited to be able to go into a place and provide some joy to people who don’t get to see that very often. It’s a treat for the performers and it’s a treat for the patients.”

The superhero theme for the event conveys a message about believing in yourself. Audience members are encouraged to dress up as a superhero they invent themselves based on their own superpower.

“We’re superheroes, but not the kind you see on movies or TV. We’re the kind of superheroes that dedicated ourselves to a certain super power and through persistence and perseverance we’ve cultivated these skills,” Letson explains. “We try to send the message that anybody can achieve great skills if they put their mind to it, whether it’s juggling or hula-hooping or doing whatever your heart desires.”

After the Emergency Circus formed, the group contacted The Gesundheit! Institute—the non-profit organization founded in 1971 by world-renowned humanitarian and activist Patch Adams—and the institute agreed to place the Emergency Circus under its umbrella.

In addition to the Emergency Circus, the extravaganza features America’s Got Talent Finalist “Special Head” (the levitating magician), Cirque Roots, Tucson Variety Society, DJ Carl Hanni, Dr. Drea Lusion, The Wonderfools, Circus Amperean’s Towering Tesla Coil and more.

Zack Armstrong, host of the Tucson Variety Society and a member of Cirque Roots and The Wonderfools, says there is something inherently nurturing about fun and games.

“It’s an aspect of community we as humans long for and often lack,” he says. “The reason we do live shows at all is to create a space to come together as a community, not just performers, but the audience as well. We’re able to share a connection that can be uplifting and healing in a way. That’s part of what the Emergency Circus is and that’s a part of why the Variety Society exists, to encourage people to come together and experience something new.”

Visit for more details about the organization. The Saturday, June 14 event at Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St., starts at 7 p.m. and donations between $5-$25 are requested.

Category: Community, DOWNTOWN / UNIVERSITY / 4TH AVE, Events