How can we work together for the future of circus arts?

In Circus, Features, Festivals, Opinion, Regional theatre by Katharine KavanaghLeave a Comment

The second week of Bristol’s Circus City Festival has been characterised by lots of opportunities to get together and talk over pressing issues in the sector in a facilitated manner.  The ‘biggie’ is the Open Space forum, presented by Circus Futures and run by Devoted&Disgruntled, who have been rallying the UK theatre community in this manner since 2005.

The session opens with a question: ‘How can we work together to forge a vibrant future for the circus arts?’

We are then introduced to the democratic OST process which allows everybody a chance to air the topics they want to discuss. These are then scheduled  into the day’s three sessions and multiple breakout spaces via my favourite hands-on wall-and-bluetack method. Facilitator Matilda Leyser – who was herself a trapeze artist for 10 years – explains, ‘You are responsible for the quality of your experience’. Even if your contribution feels passive at these events, sitting listening to other people’s passions it would seem impossible not to learn and grow.

 

One of the major themes that recurs throughout the day in a variety of guises is that of communication. From expectation management of audiences and venues to the dissemination of opportunities, there seems to be a need for better strategies in marketing, publicity and conversation across the board. Nowhere can this be seen more sharply than in the archive of contributions from the day – fewer than a third of the sessions were documented (though I do feel this is partly because the process to do so wasn’t made clear to those who’ve never attended Open Space meetings before), and barely a handful of Twitter mentions came from anyone other than the facilitators or yours truly.

The Storify feed which includes what little remains from the day can be found here, and you’ll find several places where the sector’s inability to talk about itself usefully is raised in the fascinating reports that were produced.

Members of the Extraordinary Bodies integrated circus company talk about their first show, ‘Weighting’

Hopefully indicative then of a shift forwards, other events this week have provided some opportunity to practise.  A session hosted by integrated circus company Extraordinary Bodies, investigated what it means to reflect the make-up of our real society by working with disabled and abled artists in professional contexts; a special Women In Circus edition of the Ausform VOLT platform, for testing out works-in-progress for the feedback of live audiences, featured a panel discussion with director Flick Ferdinando and film maker Umut Gunduz (creator of the Circus Girl series for Channel 4); a Clowns & Power symposium, hosted by Circomedia founder and Artistic Director Bim Mason, explored political and philosophical themes of control and vulnerability.

Each discussion merits its own write up, but my brain feels fit to explode with circus at the moment. Another reason I strongly advocate more people taking up the challenge and communicating all this brilliance to a wider audience!

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Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."
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Katharine Kavanagh on FacebookKatharine Kavanagh on InstagramKatharine Kavanagh on RssKatharine Kavanagh on TwitterKatharine Kavanagh on Youtube
Katharine Kavanagh
Katharine is a circus writer based in the Midlands, a handy travel hub for getting out and about to new and smaller-scale work. From a background as a performer, theatre-maker and circus volunteer, Katharine took part in the EU-funded 'Unpack the Arts' circus residency, set up The Circus Diaries website, and now dedicates herself to sharing the intricacies of circus art with the world.

She says: "Circus is an area of performing arts where few people have the vocabulary and understanding to write balanced critical appraisal. This tends to result in wishy-washy 'reviews' that all sound the same and say very little about the relative quality of the show.

"As the circus arts grow in popularity and engagement across the UK, it's important for critical voices to reflect this to increasingly discerning audiences. That's where I come in."

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