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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Why Isn't Anyone Talking About Circus?

katharine kavanagh - 15 January 2017

WHO WAS THERE

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Convened by:
Katharine Kavanagh (via Skype)

Attendees: Catherine Boot, Laura Kressly, Paul Mooney, Matilda Leyser, Tilly Lee-Kronick, Kirsty Sedgman, Daniel Balla

Digital Contributors: Rosie Kelly, Nicolas Young, Vee Smith (via Twitter)

Session was called after Day 1 included no mention of circus, despite last year's lively discussion and the fact that this D&D is located in ‘unofficial circus capital’ Bristol.

DB: I live in Bristol, and I think people ARE talking about circus.
KK: So why is no-one HERE talking about a vibrant sector?
T L-K: I think circus people don't come to events like this because they're not obviously or directly related to circus.
DB: I think there's a different language used between circus communities and theatre communities.
CB: It ties to a distinct way of being too that, at risk of generalisation, is often more about ‘being’ and ‘doing’ in circus than ‘thinking’ and ‘talking’ in theatre.
DB: Circus people inhabit a liminal, non-theorised space?

Conversation about linking Body and Mind in connecting Circus and Theatre perspectives. If action-oriented circus people find a discursive environment alien (and, perhaps, intimidating), theatre people simultaneously privilege meaning and narrative at the expense of the sensed experience. Acknowledgment from the group that, with such a small number of participants in this conversation, we are speculating in generalised terms and alternate perspectives may be invisible to us.

RK: #circuschat #DandD12 just throwing thoughts b4 it begin;whats worse writing/talking about circus when your clueless. Or not writing at all… …which I mean, spreading mis info and maybe.. ‘Damaging opinions’ eg 'dont worry theres no clowns in this show'
KK: very good point! It's a bit of a chicken/egg situation isn't it? I think the danger is in assuming a viewpoint is fact… …either as the writer or the reader, you can always learn more.
RK: indeed very chicken/egg. Perhaps best to let the volume of circus talked about increase, informed or not.
RK: interesting to see all these reviews of the gandini show Smashed and water on mars. People using phrases like 'not like any juggling seen before' or 'new style of juggling ‘ where as for jugglers or those in the community its common to see and are they just saying its new juggling because theyve never seen any before and so assume its new/first of its kind???
I fear again another chicken egg situation!
DB: There’s a lot of irresponsible writing, not just around circus. Setting out a personal perspective as statement of fact without knowing the wider context.
KK: A personal qualifier, like, 'I've only seen three circus shows, but none have been like this' is more valuable than equivalent sweeping statement of 'unlike any other circus show'. Acknowledging gaps in your own experience is key.
LK: There's a danger in saying that someone should be an expert before they can write/talk about a subject because that expertise is a massive privilege that not everyone can have access to.
DB: Circus can provide things that theatre can't, through its spectacle and athleticism. The narrative laid onto a show is always subject to a ‘second narrative’ of circus, wanting more than anything for the human endeavour in front of us to be successful. I saw a piece of wire work at Circomedia that had a big impact on me. What touched me was seeing someone's soul & seeing them push themselves to the limit. You don't need expertise to feel that. Circus joins the dots really well between the sensory and the thinking, this is what should be communicated about a show rather than attempts at uninformed technical critique.

Conversation around honour and respect for the artists and workers regardless of your own familiarity or knowledge about the form.

DB: Critique is difficult to do well.

DB explains concept of ‘feedback fora’ that he has participated in:
audience and the show's artists sit in a circle, and talk about their experience of the show in question. Important thing is to be true to yourself and that experience, rather than having prior knowledge. (CB: Good for circus artists who don't feel confident talking with authority?) The artist then goes back round the circle giving feedback on the feedback so everyone's knowledge deepens.

T L-K(?): At Circomedia, the feedback tends to come formally from teachers rather than generated explicitly from peers and audiences.

NY: #circuschat Performers at VOLT & Testing Ground, and the significant number who do post-shows, might disagree. And our students who perform at festivals?

KK: An intimately connected community like circus needs a safe and secure environment to allow people to share their thoughts honestly. Otherwise career repercussions can be a big worry. How could this ‘feedback fora’ concept transfer information to a public who wish to know more about the work?

DB: That's tricky, as one of the key criteria is that nothing said in the circle goes beyond the circle.

Conversation returns to the title question: there are more ‘circus people’ in the room today than yesterday, but only two are at this session. Is that because they are bored about talking circus and want to learn about other subjects? Or because they don't see the value of the conversation? Or because they don't care? The circus Open Space held as part of Circus City festival in 2015 was not as well attended as had been hoped, and engagement with producing reports was low (http://www.devotedanddisgruntled.com/events/devoted-disgruntled-what-next-circus/reports/). The question returns almost to the title of last year's session: 'Who does want to talk about it'? And why?

DB: How do circus artists feel when a theatre director comes in?

CB: Depends on the director and the team, but can often be awkward. A shared language is needed that doesn't yet exist. The role of a director is not well embedded within circus culture, as acts have historically been authored by their creators instead. This Sept Circomedia starts the UK's first MA for Circus Direction.

VS: The #Circuschat #DandD12 @BustingFree is tweeting is fascinating. Same issues coming up again and agin. I should have been there.

Circus City festival will run again this autumn in Bristol.

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