Edinburgh Festival Fringe: What I learned from running away to the circus – Kate Malone
I didn’t have the performance skills to appear on stage, but I could work with the amazing people who could, and I experienced some pretty incredible things. I never saw myself being a teacher, a lawyer, nor answering a telephone in a call centre, but I felt at home at the circus.
I may have left school at that young age, but I didn’t stop learning. Spending time with the circus taught me life skills that have stood me in good stead ever since.
When I saw the performers leap from one another in stomach turning twists, I discovered that trusting those you work with is of paramount importance. I realised that you are only ever as good as the support of those around you. Working with circuses for the past 17 years has taught me a lot about how to get the best out of life.
Modern circus is about pushing the human body to fantastic feats of strength and agility. In Australia, we take this art form seriously; in the UK you have music schools and ballet schools where talented children perfect their art whilst also studying all the regular academic classes.
In my country we have over 15 youth circus schools, as well as the National Institute of Circus Arts where you can get a degree in circus!
So why is circus so popular in Australia, you may ask. I am not sure there is an answer, although it may be that our country does feel so far away from the rest of the world and entertaining people of any nation and language is a great way to travel.
We are also people who have a gung-ho attitude to life – chucking a few clothes into a backpack and setting off without particular plans in place is what so many young people do.
We aren’t afraid of taking risks, whether it be not making plans before we go somewhere or balancing upon the shoulders of a couple of colleagues before somersaulting to the ground below us.
And just to prove a point, you may think that we are verging on insanity but Cluster Arts will be bringing eight independent Aussie circuses with 48 performers to the Edinburgh Fringe. Heck, if festivals are making a comeback, why not do it in style?
Lockdown has not been good to art that requires an audience. There are those who have thrown in the towel, and others who lost the towel.
In order to continue, we have had to pivot, adapt, transform – you name it, we’ve done it. The investment required to bring these shows to the Scottish capital is eye-watering.
In spite of funding, each company is taking a huge financial risk. We know from the past that there is no shortage of people wanting to come to see circuses, especially from Australia. That’s why we’re back. The shows are accessible to a worldwide audience and each has something to say that those watching will come away thinking about.
There is no doubt that the main mission of all these companies is to entertain, but below the feather boas (Briefs: Bite Club) and physical comedy (The Anniversary and Chores) all touch upon some relevant topics.
Melon the Human tackles the struggles of connecting in this technological age; the loneliness of being attached to a screen whilst trying to establish friendships and social media validation.
You may not equate circus with environmental issues, but this is a subject that us from Down Under take particularly seriously. Zoë, a UK premiere from A Good Catch, is a show that reflects and responds to the climate crisis: the fact that as a species we seem unwilling to respect the other species with whom we coexist.
Learning how our actions affect the environment should start young and A Bee Story is a family friendly take on environmentalism, sustainability and community. So much of the climate conversation is inundated with despair, but let this bring you out of the climate-anxiety slump.
I have no doubt that gender-equality is bound to be a big subject this year at the Edinburgh Fringe. We have an all femme-identifying group performing a gorgeous dance installation called angel-monster; personal and heartfelt, it will speak of standing up against predatorial behaviour. Even Briefs Factory, known for their signature camp-cabaret fantasy, look at subversive politics with a subtle comment on the politics of the workplace, exploitation and zero-hours contracts in their second show, Sweatshop.
Lovers of circus will welcome back one of the first Australian companies to reap success at the Fringe. Since 2013, Casus have been at the top of their game after debuting Knee Deep to critical acclaim. This year, with Collision, they will prove that they are still one of Australia’s leading contemporary circus companies.
With all our shows, I know audiences will be astounded and amazed. None of these shows are coming to Edinburgh without hundreds of hours of sweat, rehearsal and a few bruises.
The precision and courage of performing these shows comes with total dependence on their colleagues. Like people in jobs over the world, from banking to building and travel to catering, that is what breeds success.
So perhaps, like me, you never got to swing from a trapeze. However, you can run to the circus and learn how making the most of yourself is possible.
Kate Malone is executive producer of Australian arts management firm Cluster Arts
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