England’s capital is about to see producers, programmers and performers converging for three days at Canvas 2017. The biennial showcase and networking opportunity, hosted by London’s City Circ network from 18-20th, is the only industry-focused event of its kind in the U.K. The 2015 edition supported over 80 artists and was attended by more than 90 national and international delegates across the three days. It was an acknowledged eye-opener to many of the visiting bookers and promoters, revealing contemporary circus’ breadth of style and substance often for the first time.
The work that Canvas presents comes in all phases of development, from ideas-stage pitches to fully realized and tour-ready productions. This year, over 100 delegates have registered to join the throng. It’s rare that so many heads are gathered in one place solely to think about circus work, and Canvas is a promotional coup for the British industry as well as for the individual artists involved. An ‘artsmarket’ strand of events facilitates direct meetings between those who create work and those who present it to wider audiences, and previously these have included speed-date style circulation and farmers market type stalls for browsing.
Producer Flora Herberich explains more about the rich and varied format, “It was chosen to create a condensed event where programmers can experience and see a range of work and make contact with lots of projects. London based festivals usually run over a long period of time and therefore it can be hard to have a focal point – individual companies often struggle to invite programmers to single shows. Creating a sector event makes it more worthwhile for delegates to travel to, as well as being a great opportunity for networking and exchange.”
In addition to showcasing UK-based work, this week’s event is hosting cultural promoters from Catalonia and Finland who will be introducing their own selections of artists to the marketplace. Trapezi festival and APCC, the Catalan association of circus professionals, will be represented, as will the interests of national advocacy organization SirkusInfo Finland, who are partnering with The Finnish Institute in London to bring a group of young producers over to learn more about international circus circuits.
The performances and presentations will be held across four of the City Circ venues: Jacksons Lane, Roundhouse, artsdepot and the National Centre for Circus Arts (one of the U.K.’s two Bachelor level training institutes). The network was formalized in 2009 to share best practice and expertise in presenting circus work across the capital, whilst also supporting practical development of the art form with residencies and bursary opportunities. Although it is no longer a funded initiative, the network – whose core members also include venues The Albany and Statford Circus, and producers Crying Out Loud – continues to push circus forward through events like Canvas and the programming commitments of the venues themselves.
Each evening of Canvas, delegates are invited to join the general public audiences for the shows currently being presented across the City Circ network. International work is represented by French Cie XY’s 20-strong acrobatics ensemble in It’s Not Yet Midnight/Il N’est Pas Encore Minuit,and in Finnish Cie Nuua’s poetic exploration of debasement, Taival.Home-grown productions are Kin, Barely Methodical Troupe’s follow-up to their globally successful debut Bromance, and Fauna‘s debut show presenting at Jacksons Lane. Their self-titled show (i.e. Fauna) won two awards for its premiere during Adelaide Fringe earlier this year.
Alison King is a producer at Turtle Key Arts, and works with Total Theatre Award winning Ockham’s Razor, icons of the British contemporary circus scene. She explains the value of presenting work to large professional audiences: “It is a great opportunity to have the chance to pitch and talk about your company and the work in a showcase where you have many promoters and programmers in a room together. It helps with networking and putting the company and their shows firmly in the forefront of people’s minds. In 2015, Ockham’s Razor showed an early version of Tipping Point. This generated an excitement for the finished work and enthralled the programmers. We got bookings from the event, so the benefit clearly speaks for itself.”
Among their artists this year, Turtle Key Arts are also producing Oddly Moving, a new company formed by aerialist Grania Pickard. She will be pitching her first show, centered around her relationship with autistic brother Sean, He Ain’t Heavy.
“Whilst that’s my main task for the event, I’m really excited about meeting other circus people and seeing what everyone else is up to”, remarks Grania. “I’m looking forward to being inspired and making new connections, with peers as well as with promoters and programmers. When you’re involved in making a show, after a while it gets all-consuming, so it will be great to come and see the bigger picture. I’m seeing this as a chance to understand what is happening in the world of circus in the U.K. and mainland Europe, and to see where I can potentially fit into that.”
According to Grania, registration as an artist was a straightforward process. Whilst there is a form to be completed, Flora is also able to answer any questions that might arise, making the procedure clear and welcoming. As a delegate, the process of registration is equally simple, with an online form available on the Canvas website. Tickets this year cost £40 for a single day, or £80 for the full event, with a limited number of subsidised tickets available for unfunded venues or independent producers.
Last year, in the interim between full editions, there was a one-day mini-Canvas to keep entertainment industry professionals abreast of developments within the circus sector. The full 3-day event itself, however, is a not-to-be-missed opportunity. If you’re unable to attend in person, you can follow the activities on Twitter using the tag #Canvas2017, and be sure to stay tuned for the 2019 edition.