Dare to Devise

Written by: Jessica Mai Sims

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Nearly There Yet is currently running Dare to Devise – a development scheme giving a group of mid-career artists the opportunity for focused mentoring as well as funding and space to realise their artistic projects. The scheme was created to try to address underrepresentation in circus, in terms of artists who are interested in exploring circus in an interdisciplinary context, artists who may have lacked the confidence or support to develop their work, and artists from coming from different backgrounds. 

Successful applications were set to receive £4000 to make a piece of work, 2 weeks of rehearsal space at Proteus in Basingstoke, mentoring from Kaveh Rahnama for their creative work and support from Fergus Evans (Producer, Proteus) to prepare an application for an ACE Grant for the Arts.  It is supported by Arts Council England, Albany, and ARC Stockton Arts Centre.

 

Selection of Artists

Each application was assessed according to a standard selection criteria and judged against the merits of their submitted application. Some of the most important criteria for the shortlisting were the stated reasons of why artist would benefit from this scheme in particular (as opposed just the funding or the space), the merit of the idea in terms of creativity and originality, that the project would benefit UK audiences, and the feasibility and legacy of the overall project. 

We were overwhelmed with the quantity and quality of applications. We received 58 applications and barely were able to narrow down 9 applicants for the interview process. Not all applicants were previously known to the panel and we were particularly happy to see a good representation of candidates from different parts of the UK.  

Initially our goal was to choose 3 applications to receive the scheme; however the panel found choosing only 3 applications incredibly difficult. In the end, compromises were offered to the applicants based on need. We are really excited to be working with Lucie N’Duhirahe, Lucy Frost, Si Rawlinson and Truan Jay Mathias, and have will be adding more information about them and their projects on our website as they develop.

 

Inclusive and Representative Arts

As a company, we are interested in finding ways to address some of the social inequalities in the arts and we hoped that Dare to Devise might be a way to address this – both in terms of artists and audiences. Dare to Devise is a scheme about artistic and organisational development of a workforce, but we had hoped by promoting it to artists of different ethnic, class and geographical backgrounds, it might impact equality and diversity as well.

We want our artistic workforce to reflect the society in which we live so that audiences can engage with a range of experiences and perspectives and future artists can see that they have a chance to succeed regardless of coming from established social networks or wealthy backgrounds. 

We are keen to improve our organisational policies and practices in relation to promoting equality and diversity. If you are an artist or organisation also interested in this aim, get in touch. We’d love to work with others to realise an arts inclusive to all. 

Interview with Umar Ahmed

How did you get started in theatre?

I was pushed into Theatre.

I was 6 years old and in an army boarding school in Pakistan in Abbottabad, and every year we used to have a parent’s day at the end of our school year. All the parents throughout Pakistan would come and take us home for a month on our holidays. For the day, the students had three choices. Either we could audition for the military band (drums and bagpipes), train gymnastics, or walk a mile with the soldiers. I auditioned for the gymnastics.

We had to do a somersault - shown to us just once by our P.E teacher.  I landed on my neck - to this day my neck still cracks. My teacher laughed and told me I would never succeed in anything physical and that I should concentrate on writing more. Fast forward three years; assembly room - Pollokshields primary School in Glasgow and our teacher asked all the students if we would like to sing or do something physical like handstands or dance for the parent’s evening. My friend pushed my hand in the air and told the teacher – Mrs Hamilton- that I could do a handstand. Lo and behold I did a handstand, danced and sang Greece lighting in my wi black leather jacket with my hair jelled back in front of all the teachers and all the parents and all the pupils and thought: “This is Great! This is what I want to do for the rest of my life!”

So I guess I got into theatre because my friends and teachers saw something in me and pushed me towards it.

Could you give us some insight as to the process in the rehearsal room? Any favourite moments?

Like everything else in the world nothing is perfect, right? We all have our good days and we all have our bad days. So accept change.

For me theatre should be imaginative, suggestive, undiluted, un polluted, and metaphorical. It's our job to expose humanity.

My process is simple. Don’t dictate. Facilitate and collaborate. Because many minds are better than one.

My process is made up of a lot of questions to be answered and worked out collectively.

The play never finishes evolving, adapting, and changing until the last night of the show is over.

As a director, I can only prepare the ground work. If we can make the foundations strong then we can build anything.

My favorite moments in MOVE ON are when Kaveh reaches out to us - the audience- and transcends the visceral images created by him so that we can appreciate something incredibly personal to him and connect it to us, and at the same time it’s greater than him or us. A shared humanity.  

Can you tell us about any other pieces you've directed and how this has compared?

I have professionally directed 5 works of my own and have been an assistant on many others. I have been fortunate enough to work with many wonderful theatre practitioners but I am a performer first and foremost and this gives me the language and courage to meet other professionals on common ground.

So far, in my career I have realised and recognised one thing which all my work has in common: storytelling.

The difference with MOVE ON is that this play is intensely personal to me and Kaveh. It shares with the audience our vulnerabilities and encourages the audience to sit up and pay attention. It demands understanding and compassion and it questions.

Could you tell us more about your company, Bilji? Any projects coming up?

Bijli came out of necessity. It was a seed sowed in my mind after playing the same stereotypical, linear, single end, one dimensional roles in my 17 years of being a performer, over and over and over again.

Bijli stands for diversity, humanity, truth, compassion and innovation.

In 2016 I directed “If I had a Girl”,  a verbatim play about honor based violence towards Asian women in Indian and Pakistani communities in Scotland. It was written by Mariem Omari – Co Artistic Director of Bijli.

This year the play successfully finished its tour of many sold out performances throughout Scotland.

Mariem and I have the same ethos. After the feedback we got from venues in Scotland about how they had never seen so many minority ethic audiences sitting side by side totally engaged and invested in the play, Mariem and I thought, well, we need to take a stand and change that script for the next coming generation. Hence Bijli was born.

Bijli’s next work “One Mississippi”, by Mariem Omari,  is a verbatim physical theatre play which explores how the impact of childhood experience shapes men’s adult lives. It’s an uncompromising insight into what takes us to breaking point. It will open on October the10th at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and will also be showing at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow on the 13th and 14th of October. We Intend to tour One Mississippi nationally in 2018.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in making their own theatre work?

Be kind and be generous! Work openly and collaboratively. Accept change. Find a story you want to tell and share it. Give a shit about your work. You are not alone. Theatre is a three dimensional medium and welcomes different forms. Its for you, it’s for me, it’s for everyone! All you need is one human being transforming themselves into another human being in front of another human being. Be happy. Theatre is in your homes. Theatre is on your streets, theatre is in our lives. Start from there.   

What is the circus/theatre like in your home town? 

It was only yesterday that I went to SIRF riverside festival in Stockton. I was in awe of so many different street performances from so many different corners of the world telling and sharing their stories in their own ways. It was lush.

What would you like to be doing in ten years time?

I would like to be sitting in a café somewhere - I imagine it will be raining outside - surrounded by many different voices. All speaking to each other with love and harmony. You’re alright, I’m alright.

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Move On with Umar Ahmed

2017 has bought the very exciting development of Nearly There Yet's new show, Move On. The piece explores themes of home and belonging as well as an ever pervading feeling of never quite fitting in. So far we've been lucky enough to receive support from Lab: Time from The National Centre for Circus Arts as well as a commission from Basingstoke Festival to develop the piece to an early work in progress stage which was shown at Proteus Creation Space earlier this month. 

We will be slowly piecing together the finished project over the coming year and further outings of the piece will be shown in Spring 2018 at ARC Stockton and Stratford Circus.   

Last week we spent two days working on script structure and content up in glorious Stockton (where we will be presenting a three week run of Pinocchio in December). We'll be keeping you posted on it's development on our Facebook page

In the meantime, if you'd like to find out a little more about One Mississippi, the show that Bijli (Umar's company) are currently working on have a look at Trons' website HERE. In very exciting news, they have just been made company in residence at National Theatre of Scotland. We very much look forward to working with Umar and Bijli into 2018 and beyond!

Umar and Kaveh

Interview with Paddy Waters - director of the Flying Bazazi Brothers

 

What is your background in circus? How did you first start?

I was always doing drama as kid and had learned to juggle a little bit. Then the head of the drama school I would go to on weekends taught me to fire breath, fire eat and escapology. After that I was hooked on the circus and spectacle and then went to Circomedia and later the National Centre for Circus Arts.

Do you make your own work? If so, what kind?

I do make my own work, its always very theatrical in nature. More and more I don't make work alone, even if its my own work, I never make it alone

How has it been working with the Bazazi Brothers recently? Any favourite moments?

Great fun working with the Bazazi Brothers. Silly, irreverent, and nicely lighthearted. I always love the 5 minutes before a first showing. When there is nothing you can do anymore but go out and enjoy it

Do you particularly favour indoor or outdoor work? If so, why?

I like both because they both offer different things. Outdoors can be big and loud and brash and over the top. Indoors can be wonderfully subtle and focused. I like both.

Have you seen a show/piece of work recently that you have liked?

I saw a lovely show in the Mime festival that was good. It had sharp knives that always made the audience squirm with tension whenever they were being used.

Have you always wanted to perform?

Yes, since I was very young I've always loved performing and found circus along the way.

Any advice for aspiring performers?

Your fun and pleasure is your North Star that you use to guide you, but you don't always have to follow it and go North

Interview with Silvia Fratelli of Mimbre

Silvia has joined Nearly There Yet to do a run of performances of The Party. Silvia is a joint artistic director of and performer with Mimbre. We couldn't pass up the chance to ask her some questions!

How did you get into circus and performing?

I got into circus by accident...I’m a former gymnast who stopped competing and training all together at the age of 14. When I moved to London to improve my English and become an interpreter and after 6 years of not doing much physical activity, I felt the need to move my body again and a friend suggested I should check Circus Space (now NCCA) as they run adult acrobatics classes. I discovered they also run a BTEC course in Performing Arts-Circus, so I applied, got in and ‘’the rest is history…’’. That was in 1996. I never looked back!

What is your background?

Gymnastics, from age 6. And I joined my local theatre group for a couple of years before moving to the UK. 

What is your main discipline? Do you find yourself strongly based in that or do you work with other disciplines?

My main discipline is acro-balance/partner acrobatics and I’m specifically the flyer of a women trio (Mimbre). I’m strongly based in this discipline, as it requires many hours of training just to get in tune as a trio and have time to explore and develop our own style within this discipline. I also run my own company Mimbre together with co-founder Lina Johansson and have a young son, so the combination of everything doesn’t leave much time to train anything else…Through being a performer and touring, I felt that I have also learned a lot about how to be on stage and relate to an audience. That has been an incredible and exciting learning curve!

What does your company, Mimbre, aim to do? What balance to you aim to strike between narrative and aesthetic?

Back in 1999, when Mimbre started its journey, we were one of the few female- led outdoor arts company in UK. The main reason that inspired us (myself, Lina Johansson and Emma Norin, the other two co-founders of Mimbre) to create a female acrobatic company was to challenge the predominant gendered roles within contemporary circus.

We specialise in acro-balance, the technique of creating human pyramids and imagery, which is typically a technique performed by a strong man and a small woman being lifted and thrown in the air. We challenged this assigned gender roles and created a unique style where women lift women and show how strong as well as graceful they can be and should allowed to be. Mimbre itself means wicker, a structure that’s both flexible and strong.

Since the beginning we really strived to use this highly physical language as a way of portraying human emotions and connections rather than just as a spectacle. We quickly realised the power of this language and the subtle ways that physicality can be used for imagery, not only representing the thrill and ‘wow factor’ but also human relationships and specific atmospheres.

This intrinsic nature of the acrobatic language has allowed us to bring narratives and characters forward and create strong connections with our audiences.  The public reads a lot in physical movement and very often gets completely absorbed by the stories we tell. Many times people come forward after a performance to tell us how much they had recognised themselves and their lives in what they saw in the show and in the relationships and closenessbetween the performers and they might go away energised or inspired, which for usis a great achievement!


Whilst touring with your company Mimbre, which have been your favourite venues and why? 

This is a very hard question…we have been touring outdoor theatre festivals since 2000. There have been lots of fantastic places we performed at.

At the beginning of our career we did an amazing festival in France: Chalon dans la Rue. We were novices and we felt everything was at stake at the time. The festival is also a showcase and helped us to create a strong international network that we still benefit from nowadays!

Other highlights include Fira Tarrega in Spain in 2001, when we drove from UK to Spain during a French diesel strike and we had to keep asking truck drivers to sell us cans of diesel to get there in time (we were very determined and so excited to perform at a major international showcase).  

Performing in Bogota, Colombia was a special one too, meeting lots of the young aspiring performers that are now in London and the rest of the world with great careers in circus.

 And last but not least performing at Watch This Space (NT) and GDIF has always been a brilliant experience, seeing these festivals grow so much and attract big, enthusiastic, multicultural audience; a very special London treat for us!

Which character do you play in the production

I play the acrobat girl who gets pulled on stage during pass the parcel and then ‘has’ to join the party…

What is your favourite scene from the show?

I love the Musical Statues scene. It’s a timeless game that kids and adults enjoy playing and watching. I love the joy and fun of it, the acrobatics in it and how the kids respond to all the little things that happen and how they essentially become an integral part of the game. Also having the responsibility to hold the last handstand of the game is quite exciting and nerve-wrecking…

How important do you think it is for children to go and watch live theatre?

I think it’s very important and it can be a very inspiring and forming experience at any stage of childhood. Whether it’s just a sensory experience, a morale tale or a bit of fun I think it’s very beneficial for kids to get drawn in a different world and develop their critical thinking from an early age through watching live theatre.

Very often we get amazing feedback at the end of our shows where parents highlight how inspiring the performance has been to their kids and they've gone away cartwheeling and talking about the show for days afterwards! 

What advice do you have for an aspiring performer? 

Train hard, follow your dream and don’t compromise: do what you love, not what other people expect from you! Create work that you really care about and the audience will feel and appreciate that. 

Interview with Alice Allart

This week, we got to quiz The Party cast member Alice Allart about the show, her story and her current projects. Enjoy!

What are some of your highlights/favourite moments from the Party?

In the show, my favourite moment always changes as we the show is never really the same. And the audience is never the same either. We manage to keep it alive by surprising each other with some extras. But I’ve got to say I always enjoy the very last image of the show, which I’m not going to spoil here! My favourite moment of all the performances we have done was when I pranked fellow performer Ed into eating a cupcake on stage full of HP sauce. He still talks about it sometimes, I should watch my back for the revenge prank… 

How much does each show vary? As it is a family show, do you find the children react differently on different days?

Most importantly I think the group effect is important. We won’t get the same reactions if it’s a big or small group, if the show is in the morning or afternoon. If some kids are vocal, you can expect other kids to follow them. It’s never the same reactions and it’s great because it keeps us on our toes and we (especially Kaveh) have to stay aware to respond differently to various reactions.

How did you get into circus and performing?

I started circus classes amongst lots of different activities (dance, visual arts, capoeira, etc.) when I was about 9. And then, decided I wanted to be a circus director at about 13 years old. First, I had to go through normal education and once I got my A-levels, I did a preparatory circus school in Chambéry (France) and ended up in London at the National Centre for Circus Arts. I stayed in the UK for a while after that and now I’m working both in the UK and in France. It’s great as I feel I have a double life!

What is your main discipline? Do you find yourself strongly based in that or do you work with other disciplines?

My main discipline is Trick Cycling, that’s what I learnt at circus school but since then, I have developed Slack Rope and worked with different types of objects (ladders, books, cabbages, shoes, etc.) I love doing Trick Bike but it’s a solitary discipline and I like working with other people. What I really love is to develop work with an object that will fit into a specific show. The techniques we learn in circus are transferable. What I like is to look for all the possibilities that an object can offer even though (and even more so) when it’s not a circus prop.

What else are you working on at the moment? What should we keep an eye out for?

 With Bikes & Rabbits, we have started a project called Attack of the Cyclotrops. A sustainable immersive outdoor night time circus show around the theme of low budget science fiction with bicycles at the heart. The show, including the discipline of trick cycling, is coupled with an alternative pedal powered electricity generator activated by audience members to generate electricity for the show. First, we’ll develop the Cyclotron, a concept of secret cycle cinema with an outdoors projection and themed circus shows, characters, some live music. And we are performing our recently reworked These Books are Made for Walking, mostly in France for the moment.

Where did your inspiration come from for 'These Books Are Made for Walking’?

My Partner Fabrice and I have the same interest in working with common objects and finding ways to use them differently. We started working with books as it is very interesting in terms of content and material object. When we started to work with our director Yann from Cirque Inextremiste, the show changed a lot. The books are still present but we developed work around the ladders a lot more. The show now talks about tensions and mental disorder. The characters take more importance rather than the objects. This show was very interesting to do because we had around 4 completely different versions of it we performed and it so nice to see it evolving like it did. It’s important to leave open doors and allow yourself to always make improvements and changes. I guess the development is never finished.

What does your company, Bikes & Rabbits, aim to do? What balance to you aim to strike between narrative and aesthetic?

I still see Bikes & Rabbits as a young company. We didn’t try to define the future shows when we first created it. We knew we wanted to explore the narrative possibilities within circus but let the door open to very different types of projects. Attack of the Cyclotrops is going to be a bonkers outdoor show of invisible circus/theatre, whereas These Books is more intimate.

Some directions are starting to emerge and big lines are taking shape:

- Audience involvement, not simple interactions but a real    participation from the audience.

- Live music with the musician being involved in the show.

- The use of common objects. Our aim is to not use any circus props at some point.

But who knows what future projects will be made of…

Lastly, which venue have you enjoyed the most and which show are you looking forward to?

The audience is making a venue great. The venue in itself isn’t that important. If you work in a theatre where the team is really friendly and professional, the experience is going to be amazing. Generally speaking, I like performing outdoors because it’s very challenging, and it’s a way to reach people we wouldn’t necessarily see in a theatre. I have performed relaxed performances for autism friendly audiences and that was very interesting experience. I’d love to do this again. We have some venues lined up with These Books that would be amazing. But it’s not all confirmed yet so I’m not allowed to talk about it for now!

Catch The Party on tour with Alice and the rest of the crew somewhere near you here

Our Youth crew head to the National Youth Circus Event!

During the half term, our youth group were lucky enough to get to take part in the National Youth Circus Event. This is a weekend of incredible workshops of all areas of circus such as flying trapeze, juggling, unicycle and aerials, taught by incredibly talented professionals at the National Centre for Circus Arts in London. The event is attended by youth circuses from across the country, from Cornwall to Aberdeen and across Ireland! It was a full-on weekend full of workshops and games for the young people and very interesting and thought provoking sessions for us as facilitators. It’s amazing for the young people as they can try all the things we don’t have the equipment for in our lovely theatre space in Jacksons Lane.

Here is what the young people had to say about it:

It was super great! Lots of fun. It allowed me to try new and cool things in circus skills. It was quite challenging for the body and my muscles hurt :) Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. 
Circus was great! It gave me a chance to try so many things and improve my skills. I really enjoyed the wide variety of people.
Circus was really enjoyable and fun!  The atmosphere was great and everyone I met was friendly and inviting. Having such an amazing space gave me the opportunity to try out new things which we had not tried before.
We’d like to say a huge thank you to the National Centre for Circus Arts for inviting us and putting on such an incredible weekend!

Mimosa goes to aerial teacher school!

This week, one of our youth circus teachers Mimosa was in Brighton on a 5-day intensive teacher training course in trapeze and silks hosted by Gravity and Levity and taught by one of Nimble Arts’ founders Serenity Smith Forchion. Here are her thoughts on the training.

I started this year off with an intensive course in teaching beginner level aerial. I am by no stretch of the imagination an aerialist, so being off the ground was a wonderful challenge for me especially in my work but also in my own practice.

We spent the week on the equipment going through a huge range of beginner moves, deconstructing each move into its individual steps, how to explain and teach it and how to spot it and support students through it. This process was fascinating and really appealed to the geeky side of getting super specific and understanding everything about the most basic of skills. We also had seminars on teaching psychology, safe rigging (not how to be a rigger – rather which questions to ask and when to know that you must ask a professional rigger!) and building strength and flexibility which acts as injury prevention. This creates smart bodies and sustainable careers for professionals and safe training for recreational aerialists.

I had a wonderful time on this course, I learnt so much and I feel so inspired to get back to my teaching and applying everything I have learnt. The main message I take away from this course is being a creative teacher. All our bodies are so different. For example, one of my fellow students when sat on the floor up straight couldn’t touch the floor with straight arms. It just happens that her arms are shorter than her torso, which means she must work harder than those with longer arms to tuck up under the bar. Another teacher on the course had wrist pain. We found out that this came from inflexibility in the shoulders which put pressure on her wrists – the pain didn’t originate from her wrists. I learnt that my plateau in my quest for proper splits is in fact in my quads (never even considered that!) From years of L-basing and not enough stretching, my hip flexors and quads especially are incredibly tight, it hasn’t a thing to do with my hamstrings. This very detailed analysis encourages smart training and teaching, not only in aerial but also in all the groups which I teach and thing I want to learn! This knowledge and respect for people’s differences allows everyone to achieve amazing things with small tweaks to allow that for each person. I certainly did tricks myself which I thought I couldn’t do with some smart notes from Serenity and spotting which meant I was safe 100% of the time. 

I would highly recommend this course and any of Nimble Arts' work to aerialists and general circus practitioners alike. What an incredible start to the year! I'd love to give a huge thanks Albert and Friends Instant Circus for sponsoring me to complete this course.

Interview with Floria da Silva

This week, we spoke to the lovely Floria, who regularly teaches with Nearly There Yet and worked with Kaveh to perform a swing inspired act for the festive season.

What have you been working on recently that you enjoy?

As it was Christmas, I had the opportunity to work on a original project for this year, make a swing Christmas act with Kaveh might not sound very original for some, but I have to say it is really not the kind of thing that I would normally make. So it was a nice challenge for me! 

When did you start circus and when did you know you wanted to do it as you job?

I had been doing gymnastics for a few years ( since age 6) but I disagreed with the way we were treated and the teaching methods, so I left to join my local youth circus class at the age of 9. As times went on I loved it more and more and eventually decided that I would carry on doing that as a career when I went to secondary school. I waited until I was old enough to apply for the only circus A-levels equivalent course in France at the time.

How do you think the UK Circus scene compares to the French?

Unfortunately, I can't speak for the whole of the UK as I have mainly been experiencing my career particularly in London. I am yet to learn about the circus culture within Wales, Ireland and Scotland, and even outside of London.

 I think one of the first obvious comparatives is the two different 'scenes' that are quite distinct in the London, but not so much in France. The corporate circus scene is really big in the London, it seems to be completely self sustained and has not much, if any, involvement in the artistic based contemporary scene. On the other side the corporate scene in France is much much smaller and its content is more commonly linked to what you can see at the theatre or under the big top.

Secondly, I'd say the culture and history of performance in each country influences the way people see and create circus, as circus is a very small part of the massive industry that is performance art.

But I would say that traditional circus still has a big influence on the industry in England in comparison to France. The culture of Musical Theatre in England has been feeding into Circus in big and small ways as well.

Circus in France, is, and has been a very popular art form. Due to it's long history, it has been able to evolve, grow and mix alongside different art forms in order to integrate within our ever changing society.

Which show have you seen recently and why did you enjoy it?

Recently, I saw a show called ''Les Chatouilles'' ( The Tickles). It was one woman show using theatre and dance to talk about child abuse. She goes from past to present, switches from on character to the other, never loses her audience. Her movement is very well integrated and justified in the whole show. All the different characters that she gives us are astonishing. More importantly she has found an amazing way to talk about a very taboo subject.

Probably one of the best show I have seen so far, I would definitely recommend it to any French speakers. 

If you weren't a flyer what would your discipline be?

I would love to find someone small enough to be my flyer, it would be very interesting for me to be able to swap roles and understand the other half of my own discipline of hand to hand.

Christmas Contracts

It’s November – or maybe even October – and the space I train in begins to fill with a different type of mood. Suddenly, music you haven’t heard since, wait, this time last year, fills the air. Many times. “Sorry”  *apologetic forced slightly embarrassed smile* “is it okay if I just play my music again”. The answer I want to give is, of course, “no. It really is not okay to push me in a corner while you sashay about to Last Christmas. Again”. Of course, I smile understandingly. “Sure”.

This is a familiar tradition in the training space. A familiar exchange and one that is often talked about with knowing sighs, shakes of the head, and a rolling of the eyes. Christmas contract time. Huh. They suck but we’ve all got to do them, right? But I’m going to make a stand. A celebration of the Christmas contract gig. A stripping of self importance and a snatch of ordinary in an often reality starved universe. A feeling of being just a blink in someones evening. An opportunity to be humble, rub shoulders with the world and be, well, normal.  

As artists/performers/ show makers/ circus theatre practitioners – whatever we call ourselves, it’s easy to get hung up on the art. We prance about as if what we do is somehow special; that somehow, being able to do a handstand, throw some objects in the air and catch them, or make a nice shape on a bit of rope sets us apart from the civilians taking up the space around us. Christmas contracts - with their glitter, smiles, cramped dressing rooms, and the smell of slightly overcooked food seeping into our pores – are sneered at. Frowned upon. Seen as possibly beneath us. “Oh, I’m just doing a Christmas contact – you know, pays the bills!”

Last night I was in a horrible mood. Work had gone badly, I was feeling like a bad father, and my wife and I were feeling a bit depressed at the dawning realization that maybe we couldn’t quite afford a winter sun honeymoon.  7.15 rolled around and I hopped on my scooter to go to work. At my Christmas contract gig. I arrive and the booker happens to be walking past. We have a chat about mopeds. I babble on for ages about how great they are. I should be a moped ambassador. He misses his Vespa he says. I go in to the venue, say hi to security and go into our pretty small but very friendly dressing room. Floria (my flyer) is already there and in make up. Ugo the compere is twiddling his cane and Pippa the Ripper is stretching on the floor. Hi, hi, hi. You seem a bit sad today says Ugo. I am a bit, I say. The other day we found out we grew up round the corner from each other near Shepherds Bush. Probably went to the same sweet shop.

Usually I’m mega chirpy but today I just go and warm up by myself to sort my brain out a bit. There isn’t really a proper warm up space so Floria and I have been using the space next to where all the waiters, first aid staff and security sit on their breaks. It’s constantly being passed through by people carrying trays of food or wine and we share the space with Pippa and the dancers.

I need a pee. There are only two toilets so I wait for one. There is a young waiter outside the loo. It’s his first shift and he seems pretty nervous. I like him. I warm up. Floria joins me. We go through the steps in the routine then warm up the tricks, same as every other night. A few of the staff watch us. I can see them whispering to each other. I feel half proud of the tricks we’ve just done and half like an idiot for having to do them in, essentially, someone elses space. We had a terrible gig last week so have put in some practice time since then and everything feels a lot more solid tonight. We get our 15 minute call from Richard, the guy who misses his Vespa. He is a lovely man. I get some water, Floria nips to the loo. The loo is an integral part of the pre-show ritual. A good PSP is essential before going on stage.

I ask another waiter how many are in tonight. About 1,000 he tells me. Last week we did a show to 2,000 people here. It’s a pretty great gig I think. 

5 minutes to go and I have the lovely nerves I still get even after all these years. It’s my favourite and least favourite feeling. Excited and pumped but terrified. Floria and I combat the stress by trying to get the compere to introduce Pippathe Ripper as Peppa Pig. We do impressions of her falling over in a Peppa pig suit with a hula hoop lodged around her waist. It would be pretty funny we think. The dancers do a few last minute bits of checking their steps and taking the piss out of each other. They have the hardest job. 4 dances and three costume changes in 15 minutes.

Then we’re on. Bit of mooching about at the beginning to say hi to the crowd then a full on three minutes of joy. Dancing and lifting and chucking and balancing and applause and oohs and aahs and smiles and eye contact and silly faces and a bow. Most of the crowd watch. Some of them don’t. Then we’re done.  Best show so far.

The stage manager opens our dressing room. I get changed, say bye to everyone and hop on my bike home. Done for the night.

So I have spent a large proportion of the last 10 years in rehearsal rooms. We bury our heads in the work and I love it. It’s intense, stressful at times, and incredibly rewarding. It is, however, easy to forget about the rest of the world and lose a sense of reality a bit. There is something about the backstage area of a Christmas contract that is a wonderful blast of reality. Jostle, food smells, queuing for a slightly skanky loo, warming up whilst dodging waiters, chatting to people who don’t do circus about first aid or telly or the food. It’s just normal. Sometimes, in our slightly crazy, extreme, ego clogged world of circus I miss normal. I miss it very much.

Without it, after all, what would we make shows about? 

 

Interviewing Proteus' Mary Swan

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Kaveh has been touring with Proteus Theatre's childrens show Brrr for the past few weeks. It's been to a few arts centres but much of the touring has been to rural communities which see little or no theatre for the rest of the year due to locations. Nearly There Yet very much want to take more of their work out to rural communities in the coming years and in fact, next summer The Flying Bazazi Brothers will be popping up in villages all over summer with their show. This week, we interview artistic director of Proteus, Mary Swan, and ask her a little bit about her involvement with rural touring and just what the attraction is.

How did you get in to creating work for rural touring?

My first role as a professional Director was with Solent Peoples Theatre, who toured their work to rural venues throughout the south of England. I had only made work for professional theatre spaces prior to this so it was a real culture shock, but having worked in outdoor arts as well, the adaptation skills one develops working outdoors was invaluable in developing my work for rural spaces.

      Have you done other kinds of work in theatre/arts before?

I started out as an actor, but I have worked in Street Theatre, stand-up comedy, puppetry, teaching and lecturing theatre techniques and have written several scripts for my own work and for other companies.

      What do you prefer about rural touring to bigger venues/cities?

I love taking work to an audience working in ‘their’ space – you have to adapt your performance, set, everything to make the show work in these spaces and that makes every performance of the same show unique. It’s also far more testing for the work itself – you can’t rely on technical aspects of a show – like lighting or sound – to paper over any issues with the script, performances or direction; you can literally see the whites of the audiences eyes and you know instantly if the piece is working for an audience or not in a way that just doesn’t happen in formal theatre spaces. You also get a real connection with your audience – you are performing often to an entire village who all know each other - you are the strangers!

      What kinds of challenges do you face with rural touring?

Obviously the technical aspects are the most challenging – from having enough plug sockets to low ceilings, from no heating to unexpected pianos in the space – often finding the venue in the first place can be a challenge, as well as getting large touring vans down tiny country lanes. Over the years we have developed at Proteus a way of making work that we call ‘concertina’ – everything from the set to the lighting design can be scaled up or down on a show, meaning that we can take the same piece to mid-scale professional venues and village halls.

      Do you have a favourite tour/show/venue from your career?

That would be like picking a favourite child! But there have been some amazing moments; in a tiny, packed village hall Salisbury doing a show about ex-military personnel suffering with post traumatic stress disorder, an audience member at the end of the show spontaneously stood up and told the story of his battle with PTSD after he had served in Bosnia – cast, crew and audience all in tears by the time he had finished. The gasp of amazement when during ‘Houdini’ the actor disappeared in front of the audience’s eyes on the exact spot where one audience member told me she had been doing yoga the previous night “so no trap door – that’s incredible!” And the Christmas show tour where deep snowfall meant that while the touring van was big and heavy enough to make it to the village, no cars could – but the undaunted audience walked up to three miles in the snow to see the show. But perhaps my favourite thing about rural touring is the sheer democracy of it – increasingly theatre is cited as being elitist – the fact that people can see the same piece of high quality theatre in their local village hall which then transfers to the West End or New York (as we have done with our work) for an affordable ticket price, is the overriding reason why I do it.

Interview with Abi from Adult Acrobalance

This week Kaveh has been touring Brrr! again and had two amazing performances at the Albany as well as sell out shows at the Pheonix in Borden. We’ve also been working on Nearly There Yet’s business plan for the next 5 years as well as planning Pinocchio with Mary Swan from Proteus Theatre and Fergus Evans. We did a juggling workshop at the Spitalfields Crypt Trust at the New Hanbury Project working with people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, which went really well and we’ll be working more with them in the future. 

This weeks’ adult class was lead by Floria, where the group worked on some small routines stepping through into a reverse stand on thighs and a sequence going through front angel, back angel, straddle bat and tear drop. Here is an interview with Abi Davison-Jenkins, a regular adult acrobalancer who has been coming to the adult classes for 6 years now. 

How long have you been coming to acrobalance classes?

Hmm, I think it must be almost 6 years! 

Which tricks are you working on at the moment?

We are trying to get sitting up while standing in hands. I'm not sure of the technical term?! This is where the base starts by lying down with the flyer (me) standing in his hands and proceeds to do a sit up. We've cracked it once but it's really hard! Last week we tried ping to stand on shoulders for the first time and nailed it. 

What's your favourite acrobalance move?

Washing machine. It looks cool and it's an excellent workout. 

Do you go and watch much circus work?

Yes quite a bit. I think I've seen all of kaveh's shows (what a suck up) plus others at Jacksons lane, Southbank and elsewhere. 

What's your favourite show/ moment is a show?

I know it was aimed at children, but I've never had as much fun in a show as at "The Party".  That was ace. 

A busy week for Nearly There Yet

Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

Photo by Pamela Raith Photography

Last week was a busy one for Nearly There Yet! We met with Applause rural touring to plan the forthcoming Flying Bazazi Brothers tour. Acrobat Floria da Silva and Kaveh worked with Swing UK on their new swing act. We also had another great class at Jacksons Lane this week, preparing for our show at the end of term. At Spitalfields night market Kaveh taught juggling to passers by with the National Centre for Circus Arts. And Proteus' show Brrr has been out on tour this week! We asked Kaveh a few questions about how it's going. 

Which has been your favourite venue so far?

It's very difficult to choose because all of them have been amazing. We had shows this week at Proteus for Breakout which had a great atmosphere. Froxfield, the first village hall has to be my favourite because it's the first village hall of the tour and they're always so much fun. 

Did anything happen on stage that the audience may not have noticed?

I had a curry before a show, and there is a part where Beryl bird checks Steve the penguin's breath. I wonder if the audience realise how genuine her reaction was!

Where’s the tour going next?

The next London date will be at the Albany on the 20th November and then we will be taking it out to rural venues until 4th December. You can see the full tour schedule here.