As the world of circus expands, more and more specialized roles are required. One school in the UK has come up with a solution. Budding directors still have a few days to apply for the world’s first MA in Directing for Circus at Circomedia in Bristol, England, before the deadline on 7th July. The program begins in September at Circomedia and is accredited through Bath Spa University, and will combine theory with practice for the inaugural group of students.
One of the lecturers is Charlotte Mooney, who began training at Circomedia herself 15 years ago, before going on to found the pioneering contemporary circus company Ockham’s Razor with fellow graduates Alex Harvey and Tina Koch.
Teaching on the MA program seems a natural progression for Charlotte. When all three founding members of Ockham’s became first-time parents within a year of each other, the two women stepped out of performing to fully direct their highly acclaimed most recent show, Tipping Point.The pair have also just finished teaching a devising module to 2nd year BA students at London’s National Centre for Circus Arts.
“It was a total joy”, says Charlotte. “It was a long module over the course of a whole term, and was an exploration of our own – and others’ – creative processes through a theoretical frame. Going into a research and development project afterwards, I noticed that leading in this way influenced my own practice; I have rediscovered old approaches with the students.”
The Ockham’s Razor team made a commitment that any educational work they would undertake should reflect the way they make work as a group. In addition to technical skills, it is important for them to communicate the metaphorical potential of images and movement. Whilst their circus is thrilling and accessible, it also reaches people on a more abstract level, and all three recognize a responsibility to introduce creative possibilities into any teaching opportunity.
“The more we make, the more comfortable I am with the fact that in creating work we are, to some extent, day-dreaming and there is possibility and grace in not pinning everything down. I don’t know how at odds that is with academia, but I look forward to finding out.”
As part of the MA, Charlotte will lecture on Ockham’s Razor’s artistic process, particularly in relation to scenography and the company’s approach to developing exclusively tailored equipment that informs the whole devising period. The company will also be offering placements for students in the program to work alongside them during their own creation and rehearsal.
The MA program has been a long time in the making. The Ockham’s team were first approached about getting involved a couple of years ago by Circomedia’s Academic & Artistic Director, Bim Mason. Although the company has been based in London since forming in 2004, they are still very much connected to the Bristol circus scene, using rehearsal spaces run by the Invisible Circus and Circomedia, as well as keeping in touch with Bim as a friend and mentor.
In the last year, Charlotte has already given two guest lectures to prospective students at the University’s Open Days designed to give an idea of the course’s range and focus.
“Preparing for the MA has made me think more about where we sit in the context of the progression and history of contemporary circus, physical theatre, live performance and indeed fine art,”she explains. “I’m looking forward to continuing this inquiry and looking with depth and perspective at the choices we have made as a company. It’s fascinating as an artist to have the time to stop and reflect on your own processes and working methodologies, even though this reflection does happen for us as company – as three artistic directors we work very collaboratively and are in fairly constant conversation about how and why we approach and view circus the way we do.”
Over this summer, Charlotte will be leading a 4-day ‘Creating Circus’ weekend at London training centre My Aerial Home. This builds on workshops she ran there last year for emerging performers who had yet to branch out from their training into making work for audiences. Amanda Miles is the artistic director of My Aerial Home, and explains what the developing artists will be up to:
“Every year we try to bring a different, fun way of creating and creativity, and this year is no exception. Morning sessions will be aerial classes expanding repertoire and aerial skills, with the afternoons allowing participants to immerse themselves in the process of devising, with the aim of creating the skeleton of a whole performance piece which can be developed and shown alongside our Essential Aerial Course Pro-graduate performances in December.’”
Working on these sort of projects offers a two-way benefit, and Charlotte tells us how lovely it is to work with the openness of performers who are only just beginning to figure out what they want to make and how. The practical idea that formalizing conversations around directing and writing circus is a way for wisdom to be stored and passed on is a big part of what draws Charlotte to work on the MA, so in the future makers won’t have to reinvent the wheel at every turn. She is also aware, though, of the danger of codifying the form; part of the beauty of circus is that it can be, as she calls it, “a wild mix of family entertainment, live art, burlesque, contemporary dance, physical theatre, street theatre, happenings and so much more.”
Charlotte finds that when people talk, for example, about ‘traditional’ versus ‘contemporary’ circus, the titles can be unhelpful, as they can suggest that the former is outmoded when in reality it is just doing something different with the form. Charlotte is looking forward to being involved in the conversations that come out of this MA as the breadth of 21st Century circus is recognized and explored, but her involvement will remain grounded in practice:
“There is a large part of making that is instinctive and, increasingly, in the heart of the devising I try not to analyze too deeply why I am drawn to ideas and images – there are parts of shows I made ten years ago that I’m only begin to understand now! The more we make, the more comfortable I am with the fact that in creating work we are, to some extent, day-dreaming and there is possibility and grace in not pinning everything down. I don’t know how at odds that is with academia, but I look forward to finding out.”
Details of how to apply for the MA Directing for Circus can be found on the Circomedia website.