The last couple of years have seen Brisbane’s circus profile on the rise, with a large number of circus companies from the region touring shows around the world to much acclaim. In fact, it has even been claimed by the media as the number two-circus hub in the world, outside of Montréal. With many attributing this success to the drive to create more high skill professional shows, we pause to ask the question: Are community shows still relevant and why are they important? We sat down with Vulcana Women’s Circus‘ Artistic Director Celia White to find out. “A community show is an opportunity for people who are new to performing, or who have some experience, or even have a lot of experience to work together to create a full show. They get to be supported by really high quality artists, like musicians, composers, production crew and directors and then present that to the public” White explains. “It is collaborative, but it’s not scary, in that if you don’t know what to do with your ideas, you’re not on your own. You have a community of people to support that process”
Vulcana has a long history of creating community shows with performers that come from a range of communities. The process relies heavily on drawing on the skills and experiences of the group, and allows an opportunity for stories and experiences that are less commonly heard, to make it to the stage. When talking about why community shows are important, White cites these as key reasons,“There are a range of reasons these shows are important. One is, that in the cultural world of performance, there’s a lack of representation of diversity on our stages, and that diversity can be as simple as the number of women on our stages, let alone where those women come from and in the case of our new project, how old those women are. Also, the kinds of ideas that are expressed in these pieces of work aren’t necessarily ideas we see pieces of theatre made about. But the other thing is, the experience of going through a process like that, is enriching for everyone who participates.”
Community circus and theatre often explore ideas that are relevant to the community the show is being made in. For example; in Vulcana’s latest production As If No One Is Watching, the show explores various themes identified by the performers and cover topics such as the expectations placed on working mothers, intergenerational eating disorders, mental health, claiming and taking up space as a woman and walking alone at night, as well as exploring these topics from the view of different age groups. In this particular show, we see performers from age 20 to 70 contributing to these stories.
Past community shows for Vulcana include Small Change, a show that worked across generations of women to examine gender inequality and income, andStrange Creatures, a show that brought the Deaf and hearing communities together. When talking about Strange Creatures, White says the most important outcome was the learning across groups,“For the hearing group, the more privileged group, the learning was extreme, in that they got to have an intimate experience with a group of people that they don’t know anything about, they didn’t even think they could communicate with, and for the Deaf group, they also have an extremely valuable experience to find that there is a group of people outside their community that they can have a conversation with, and exchange ideas with, and exchange physicalities with.”
The newest show for VulcanaAs If No-One Is Watching is being made by a cross section of Vulcana students, and WAW dance, an older women’s dance group. The importance of female- led and performed shows is obvious, with recent statistics showing that women make up only 3 out of 10 positions in the performing arts sector.
But what is the show about, and why does it need to be made? “The starting point forAs If No-One Is Watching is the inner voice that we have inside us all that can help us, but that can also hold us back when we talk ourselves down, have bad thoughts, and as women, we know that that inner voice is pretty powerful. We want to have a look at that inner voice, and what we might be telling ourselves, how we can get that inner voice to support us to express in public what we really urgently need to be saying. To make change, or to be confident, or whatever it is that various women bring to this. We are going to be looking at how we are in private versuss how we are in public. How do we band together in a public space to roar and make a lot of noise, to make ourselves visible, take up space and be confident.”
The perceived danger in community shows is the perception that the focus is solely on the process of making the show, and that the finished product will be less shiny or professional than that of a troupe or company show. We put this question to White to hear her thoughts. “For Vulcana, the outcome is just as important. The reason we put as much resources as we can possibly manage into a project like this, is to ensure that whatever that process is, the outcome is as good as we can make it so that the investment of the group is presented as something audiences want to come and see, and enjoy. That it is a real piece of theatre, by people who may not have as much experience as performers, but have stories to tell, and we want to support the telling of those stories in the best possible way.”
The premiere season ofAs If No-One Is Watching opens at Brisbane Powerhouse, 27th– 30thSeptember.
Main image is from the show Small Change. Photo courtesy of Jen Dainer.