Good things come to those who innovate
The last few months have been very chaotic with lockdowns, school closures and ever changing training and work schedules impacting the recording and writing of new content. I thought I’d catch everyone up on what I’ve been doing since the end of last year and give some idea on what we're planning next.
Since March 2020 I’ve been consulting with a variety of different circus organisations on how to operate during a pandemic some of which we’ve had zoom events on as part of this group. One organisation in particular, a new Aerial Edge partner, I’ve been working with them on how to transform their organisation to survive these current times. Their challenge was to change from one based on international tourism providing circus camps to one based on teaching local circus students due to the international travel bans in place. They were also lacking a rigger and counterweight performer for some shows they had been busy creating.
Aerial Edge has always learned to innovate from working with partners in different countries all around the world. From a personal perspective working with different circus innovators in different countries has exposed me to new ideas, new experiences and new ways of thinking that I can then use to solve different problems back home. This time however many of the ways of working are so different I know i'm definitely not in Scotland any more, I can’t wait to see where this takes me next.
Once we had a survival plan in place for Aerial Edge, one that could work remotely for several months, mainly because we have a great team who have a plan. I made plans to see if I could go and help out Bliss Circus. Between various lockdowns and travel restrictions I received permission from the Indian government to travel and work there.
Goa is one of many areas of India that has been devastated economically by COVID-19, In normal times 8 million tourists visit here each year, however there are currently few signs of the virus’ itself here. In the area of South Goa I am in we are able to train, perform and socialise within our local community. Masks are still required if we need to go to the nearby town and are usually worn by all shop and restaurant staff, and oddly, all motorbike riders, with police checkpoints for helmets and masks at major intersections. I’ll write more on COVID-19 and India another time if there’s some interest.
Since arriving I’ve been working with the head of Bliss circus, April Ananda Bliss, on a number of different projects, the first, creating a recreational circus program for local adults and children which is now slowly taking off. We’ve also started an intensive artist training programme for people living in India who want to come and stay here, we are attached to a vegetarian eco-jungle resort which provides the accommodation. We have had a few people so far who have come for personalised programmes for anything from a week to a few months. It’s been a great education for me translating 20 years of western circus building experience into a jungle circus in India but there is a very warm community and a small pool of talented and supportive artists and teachers to work with and learn from.
Before I arrived several different artists had gathered here at Bliss circus with April to train together and due to the restrictions couldn’t leave to return to their home countries, they therefore had the time to work together on creating a new work. This is something we are now performing and are working on developing further with an Indian choreographer and director who has a lot of International experience in dance and theatre.
Another fun project that has been a rewarding experience has been creating circus cabarets with both south Asian and international performers. There has been a tremendous amount of collaboration between all the artists to create new and interesting acts together. It’s incredible to see so much sharing and creativity especially when it all comes together in front of a live audience. We have had many Indian performers, but also Nepali, Lebanese, UK, USA and South African. When 5 artists from 3 different countries come to you and suggest a creepy puppet master act with fire, stilt walking, contemporary dance and body popping, you are never sure how that will turn out (it was one of the best acts in the show!)
Working here is not without its challenges both from COVID as well as being in a jungle. I’ve never had to bring in tree climbing specialists to clear coconuts from the trees above an audience before or burn coconut husks to keep the mosquitos away at dusk. Coming face to face with a big monkey when you are up on top of the rig really makes you rethink your risk assessment. If we add to that keeping cows out of the space and Goan beach dogs off of the stage during performances, I’m finding the problem isn’t getting animals out of circus anymore, it’s keeping them out!
The first week I arrived one of our artists put their foot through the stage which was a sign of things to come as now it has happened regularly. The Hindi word ‘Jugar’ means to patch things together and now I’m getting a crash course in that way of working. however after three monsoons and an invasion of white ants the stage is too fragile to be patched together any more.
So my current challenge has been to learn how to build a stage in a jungle that will survive for many years to come. We have sourced reclaimed matti and jackfruit wood some of which is 100s of years old from a nearby state and are using local specialists and local building techniques to shape this into something we can perform on and that will also be sustainable. Last weekend we ran a fundraiser for the stage where we had a huge showing of local support to help out in raising the money although we have still only covered about half the cost so far. Yesterday we ran our first show on it.
Rigging and managing circus in the UK is never boring and there is always more to learn but rigging, performing, teaching and running shows in a jungle has been a real education and I’d like to share some of those experiences with this community.
So in addition to the professionally shot instructional videos we’ve been creating, and our community created articles on rigging, which we are still working on I’ll be sharing rigging and circus problem solving experiences from here! I’ve been shooting video on our performances and how rigging is done here, we’ll also be running a traditional tree climbing workshop in the next few weeks and I’ve interviews lined up with some unique specialists in running circus shows and organisations in India.
Let me know if this is of interest as well as what you would next like to see coming from this forum and group