Mette Klouman wanted to be an actress, but she ended up being a publisher for a while instead… until the day she felt a need for a change and visited a job coach. The coach must have recognized her artistic side. After a battery of tests, she told Klouman “I don’t really know what to tell you. I think you might want to run away with a circus!”
She took that advice to heart, and a decade later, Klouman was an integral part of Cirkus Cirkör’s success in marketing, international relations and sales, where she eventually got promoted to Head of International Relations. Klouman says, “I have absolutely loved working at Cirkör, but I feel it is time for one more big change. I already joined the circus. This time I’m just running a bit further away with it, as I’m taking a giant leap forming my very own contemporary circus agency. I want to be unbridled, I want to be limitless in life as well as in my work. So the agency’s name is Illimité – unlimited. I hope I’ll be able to do the name justice.” And so just like that, Mette Klouman opened up shop on Sweden’s first circus agency. Well, just like that and with lots of preparation. I spoke to her about what the impetus for the change was and her plans for Illimité, and of equal importance, who her clients would be.
Do you have any partners who will join you in creating this new agency?
I’m pretending I’m Amelia Earheart, as I’m flying solo on this one! But I’m surrounding myself with amazing circus companies, who make me feel inspired and happy and I have a couple of very dear former colleagues from Cirkör, who I will bring in when other expertise than mine is needed. Stefan Karlström, the former technical manager at Cirkör, is one of them.
How did you get the idea to start Illimité?
The thought has been in the back of my head every time I’ve been to a DOCH (SKH – Stockholm University Of The Arts Department Of Circus) graduation or an Esacto Lido student performance. During the years, I’ve watched amazing young companies emerge and I’ve tried to help them as much as I could by sharing ideas and contacts. About a year ago, I fell head over heels in love with Below Zero Company when I saw a work in progress version of PACE. We started talking, and the idea grew stronger. But it was actually Corona that finally made me take the leap and resign from Cirkör. I was working from home, quite liking it, and thinking a lot about how much I needed a big new challenge and a major change in my life. Ever since I made the decision, things have been falling magically into place and I’m feeling thrilled, slightly scared and super happy about this bright new possibility.
What did Swedish circus companies do before you existed? Who represented them? Do they need this?
I hope they need this! So far they have done a very good job of representing themselves, but I want to help them by taking all the PR, negotiation and contracting off their hands, so that they can concentrate on their art. The artists seem to think it’s great that I’m doing this, so I’ll try my best not to let them down.
Svalbard was previously represented by Josefin Rosales, who did a great job, so I’m not the first person in Sweden to do this. But my aim is to form a dedicated agency like Aurora Nova, Pomegranate Arts or Dolce Vita Spectacles, an agency that is in it for the long run and that focuses solely on emerging Swedish circus companies. I want to contribute to making Sweden even more well known as the amazing circus country that it is!
How hard is it to start a circus agency? Easier when you have your background?
Ask me in a year and I might give you a very different answer! But so far it has been super easy. Making the decision to leave Cirkör, the company that was my home and my life style for almost a decade, was the hardest part. Once I managed to make up my mind, it has just been an amazingly smooth and rewarding ride. The artists have been wonderful to me and have encouraged me every step of the way. Above all, I am so grateful that all the artists that really I wanted to work with have agreed to come under my wings, and that they seem to trust that I will do everything that I can to get them the tours that they want.
With that said, I knew absolutely nothing about starting a company, about accounting or making a website before I did this. I’m slightly overwhelmed, but thankful to be surrounded by helpful friends, who have guided me along the way.
What will be your first official act as an agency?
I want to start by making myself known in the circus industry as Illimité Agency, so that I can stop talking about myself, and start talking about my talented companies! I would love to see a future where the name Illimité Agency is automatically associated with fantastic Swedish circus talent. Unlimited talent, just as the name Illimité says.
What’s your favorite circus discipline?
I love all art forms that touch my soul, but I have a special place in my heart for innovative hand to hand acrobatics and all kinds of aerials. If I was 30 years younger, I would definitely be a flying trapeze artist.
Did the pandemic hurt or help the development of this company?
So far I thank the pandemic for giving me the time to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. Already in March it was clear to me that I didn’t want to go back to my old way of living and that I wanted to be part of the change that I think the world needs. I hope we will soon be able to enjoy performances again, so that I can create good tours for my companies. I’m prepared for some difficult times, but I also think the need for circus will be huge once we can all interact and experience performances again.
Will you work with Cirkus Cirkor and DOCH in any official way or more of an unofficial way?
I’m very eager to try my own wings to begin with! But in the future I can definitely see some kind of collaboration between us. I will of course be following the artists at DOCH very closely…
Will you help your clients find residencies or with show creation, or who does that in Sweden if not you?
I will be working mainly as an agent, not a producer, and the companies have their own production managers. But my work method has always been to form close, friendly relationships with theaters, festivals and organizers, so if one of my companies is looking for a residency or need marketing help, I’ll be more than willing to give a helping hand. I will listen very closely to the needs of each individual company and try to do my best to fulfill their wishes, whether that may be a small outdoor tour in France or a big co-production contract.
What about your career so far makes you prepared for running a circus agency?
Everything! It feels like the most natural next step I could possibly have taken. I am an editor and a copywriter, I have done several years of marketing work and I have spent the last seven years selling Cirkus Cirkör’s performances. I know the industry and I know many of the people who work in it. And I’m a very outgoing, sociable person, who hates to talk about myself, but loves talking about the things in life that make me happy.
As a circus agent, what will be your primary job be? What will be some of the hundred smaller tasks that support your primary job or that will help make Swedish circus more well known?
My primary job will be to make my companies well known and famous in Sweden and abroad and to create great tours for them. I want to contribute to the Swedish circus community by helping it grow and flourish like never before. But I’m just starting to realize that I will also have to update my website, Facebook and Instagram pages, send out invitations and flyers, make showcase videos, be my own accountant, keep track of receipts, send monthly newsletters…. Gah! But I can’t wait to travel again and meet all the circus people I’ve missed so much during 2020.
Who are your mentors and examples in the circus world? What agency do you admire the most for their work?
In 2011, when I had just started at Cirkus Cirkör, I went to Marseille to talk about a possible future collaboration. I hardly knew anything about circus back then and the whole thing was quite scary as I had to do a presentation – in French – about Cirkus Cirkör. I met Guy Carrara, Raquel Rache de Andrade and Daniel Gulko during that trip, who were just wonderful and made me feel so very welcome in the circus community. Since then I have made friends all over the world, and I can honestly say that they are all my mentors and examples in their different ways.
As for agencies, I had the pleasure to meet Linda Brumbach from Pomegranate Arts when I visited ISPA in New York in January this year. Linda has been a major inspiration in my decision to form my own agency. Her friendly, generous attitude, her personality and warmth, her professionalism and great knowledge is my guiding light as I venture into this new way of working.
What festival or venue do you want to get your clients in the most?
I have so many different dream scenarios! It would be fantastic if I could get all my companies to perform at the same festival, maybe the biennale (BIAC) in Marseille (hello Guy and Raquel! ) But most of all, I want to be the fulfiller of THEIR dreams, not mine. So if one company wants a big warehouse for a 6 month stretch, I would love to be able to give them that. If another one dreams of performing under the stars for an intimate crowd in Sicily, that will be my goal for them.
Can you share a Swedish custom with us?
My favorite Swedish custom is hugging! People seem to think that Swedes are shy and introverted people, but we often hug when we meet people for the first time instead of shaking hands. I love that.
All photos provided courtesy of Mette Klouman. Feature photo Below Zero Company from the performance PACE, Photo credit: Isak Stockås.