On July 11, 2023, during what is arguably Montreal’s most action-packed week of circus and performing arts, Australia’s Gravity and Other Myths (GOM, to their mates) hosted a Casting Training Jam. Members of the GOM ensemble welcomed artists to Kalabanté Productions’ studio where for three hours, dozens of energetic, skilled, and sweaty circus artists climbed, balanced, tossed, inverted, and flipped their bodies in constantly changing duos, trios, and small groups. Welcome to auditioning for GOM: an evening of acrobats being acrobats, while GOM’s creative team takes it all in. In this interview, Lachlan Binns reveals the company’s thinking about its artistic future… and Jam attendees reveal some of their biggest takeaways from the event.
Stacy Clark (SC)
Tell us about the Acro Jam!
Lachlan Binns (LB)
We like knowing the people that we work with really well. And part of making a great creative process work is having a really amazing close-knit team of people that love each other, that work well together, that enjoy hanging out and having fun like any group of friends would. Casting via email and expressions of interest and resumes and showreels is cold and difficult to really know people in a meaningful way.
Can you share more about why electronic exchanges—digital submissions—don’t work as well for you and for the company?
We’ve done them in the past because we’re limited by space and the situation a lot of the time. I think it’s really easy to put the best things in a showreel—like the one time you get the skill [right]—so it’s hard to get a real idea about the little details and the ins and the outs of a performer’s personality. Sometimes people make really great demos and they put personality into it, and you go, I feel like I know that person. But very often it’s just skills in a training space to a cool piece of music. And resumes are words and numbers on a piece of paper. Although they’re very meaningful and they’re important a lot of the time, we put them at a lower priority than face-to-face.
We have relied on digital submissions a lot because, you know, we’re in Australia and we’re far away from everyone. We’ve worked with a lot of Australians, but we’ve also reached out to people on the other side of the world. And really, the only way you can do that is digitally. We’ll have Zoom meetings, we ask them questions, and we have conversations to try and figure these things out as much as we can without meeting them in person. But sometimes, you never know. And then sometimes it doesn’t quite work and that’s fine.
But if we can do something like this Jam, we get a chance to meet 50 people in one night. And particularly being at Montréal Completement Cirque right now, when everyone’s around and there’s excitement and people have come to see the show and we’ve seen them out at bars and bumped into them. To have an opportunity to train and to exchange a little bit of our process and see the way they work is really important to us.
The acro jam was a blast! I appreciate the casual approach GOM takes when getting to know their potential recruits. Rather than evaluating us by performing our acts or teaching us rigid choreography, they invited us to research acrobatic material based on simple prompts and to explore with people we had never met before. It was evident... they are most interested in watching how you work with others and if you can be a kind, effective communicator when creating circus. [...] Personally, I had a blast hanging out with other acrobats and getting to know GOM a little better via this informal jam/audition; the only thing missing was more time in such a stimulating environment. -Joel Malkoff
You’re casting humans who do acrobatics.
People. Yes. People first and foremost. All of these people, they definitely have to do acrobatics. Although we actually just hired a contemporary dancer who has very limited acrobatics, but huge potential. We loved her style and we loved her personality and she really got along with us, so we thought, we can work with that. The lack of acrobatics, we can train that. That’s something we’re really good at. The personality stuff is much harder to find, so we jumped at the opportunity. But yeah: there’s a certain level of performance and acrobatic experience that we love in the company, but personality matters more.
Let’s dig into the personality piece. If we were to deconstruct that, what are your top three cues or signals to look for candidates?
We don’t need a certain type of personality, per se. People need to be able to work well in groups because we’re a group acrobatics company. We love to joke and play, so people need to have a sense of humor and not take themselves too seriously. That’s really important for us. Apart from that, we like for people to be individuals and to be really confident with who they are so they can inject their own personality into all of our stage shows. So people who are bold and loud and confident really shine through.
But you also want people that are really diligent and caring and quiet and hardworking. And you can see that in spaces like this. You can see the loud ones that take over a space, and you can see the quiet ones that are working hard in the corner, and you can kind of pick out the different types of people that way.
I guess we never want to cast a single type of person, but, particularly if we’re bringing someone new into an existing work, then they have to fit with that existing group. If we’re creating a brand-new group, then it’s even more complicated! We have to get the right mix, the right balance, without knowing exactly who’s gonna be in the group, you know?
A delightful puzzle without the picture painted on it yet.
What are you expecting, then—or perhaps hoping for—from this Acro Jam as an outcome?
There’s no role available right now, but the nature of our company is that there’s five or six of us that have been doing this for ten years now, and we’re getting to the tail end of our careers. We’re a little stiff, a little sore in the morning. And so we’re anticipating, over the next year or two, lots of us dropping off, starting families, spending more time at home, all that kind of stuff. So there’s gonna be lots of movement and changes in the next 12 to 18 months.
The goal here would be to have a big list of names and faces that we know. We know what they do, their disciplines, their skills and training… and we know the people that fit in with the rest of our company. Not necessarily me, because maybe I’m not gonna be there, but the others that are going to be touring. New people need to fit in with those groups. So it’s just information gathering that is the main outcome here. And just maybe building a bit of excitement around GOM and our culture as well. Not just us getting to know them, but them getting to know us.
I had a great experience in Montreal getting to meet and train with some of the cast of GOM and so many other talented artists and acrobats. It was really neat to get insight into the cast’s creative process in terms of how they work as an ensemble and when it comes to creating and trying out new skills and combinations. It was such a welcoming environment and the structure of the training session really left space for so much creativity and play. It was an awesome opportunity to bounce ideas off of others! Everyone at the training jam seemed to come with an open mind and was willing to test out new pathways and movements to create something new and exciting!-Maeve Beck
It’s a two-way relationship.
Yeah. And like I said, we don’t get to Montreal that often. It’s been every five years or so. I think we know of a lot of the students that come out of ENC: they float around and they come past us every now and then, but this opportunity to be here and get to know everyone while they’re in Montreal is too valuable for us to pass up.
As we sit and chat, it’s just one hour in: how are people responding to it?
Good. The big challenge with this one was finding space. We found a space, we put the call out, we got a lot of responses—too many responses. We couldn’t quite cut it down enough. We probably could have, but we were too excited. So we ended up with lots of people.
Navigating the limited space has been Challenge Number One. People seem to have just leaned into it; they’re having a lot of fun and just going for it, which is good. Everyone’s leaning into our style, which is working with lots of different people and diving in and really ripping apart acrobatic sequences and tricks and skills and finding new little exciting nuggets. That’s kind of what we’re trying to do here: to see how people’s acrobatic brains work and [where they] go, “Ooh, that thing, I like that. I’m gonna do a bit more of that,” or “I’m gonna try that a slightly different way.”
All that seems to be happening, and it seems to be a success so far. We’ll go through all of the company languages across the three-hour session: three-highs, bunking, toss, swinging, all the stuff that we like to do in all of our work. Just to get a little idea about the level, how people’s bodies work, how they absorb the technique and learn new things. If someone is amazing at every single thing we think, Oh, okay, they could be a really good fit. And if they’re the right personality and they get along with us, then maybe they’re top of the list… so we’ll do a little bit of that ranking.
There are different kinds of qualities that we organize people by, and they would all have different priorities in our casting process. So it’s not always gonna be the same people on top for different things, you know.
GOM’s circus jam I think is one of the most innovative ways I’ve seen a casting done. Generally, the perception of casting and auditions tends to be intimidating and stressful; however, this was anything but that. Not at any point did I feel stressed as they created such a friendly and fun working environment, which is exactly what they prioritize and how they work so cohesively as a company... What I loved most was that the whole team of GOM were not only there to offer their expertise and help when we needed it, but also got involved with us! So in the end, we had fun… they had fun… and overall it was just an incredible experience. -Zoe Schubert
What can participants expect afterward from you? How do you close the circle after this experience for them?
Like I said, there’s no position available, so it’s not like we’re gonna shortlist them and then have interviews. We have these people in the database now, and we will send a follow-up email to everyone saying, “Hey, that was awesome. These are the things we loved about it. Please send us any feedback if you wanna let us know what you love, what you didn’t like, if you have anything extra you want to add and videos – whatever, people want to send to us.” So just one little follow-up conversation. So the next time there’s an injury or there’s an opening, we have this really well-fleshed-out list. And periodically, from time to time, we’ll do more of these.
Our aim is to do these more often than we have all around the world. So that lots of different people have an opportunity to rub shoulders with us and do this kind of thing. And we’ll periodically reach out to people and say, “Hi, what are you doing at the moment? Are you available? Have you got any contracts? Are you available to do a short stint here?” Depending on what’s happening at the time. So it’s not gonna be constant communication, but from time to time, there’ll be little check-ins, I guess.
Talk to me about your list and the database. How do you actually manage all this on the back end?
Yeah, I don’t know; I wouldn’t be at a high level in that business. [Laughs] It’s a spreadsheet. It’s a reasonably basic spreadsheet, but it, at its core, is the list of names. And then we are constantly adding different columns for different pieces of information that we find valuable: where people went to school, how old they are, what kind of role they suit—base, middle flyer—what party tricks they have, all those kinds of things. And then a bunch of links to YouTube videos and skill reels and everything, so that it’s all one click away from whoever’s doing the casting at the time to go, “Okay, we need the flyers. There’s these six, they’re available. Let’s watch their showreels really quickly. Do I remember them? And having all of our other acrobats here as well is really important because we can go, “Hey, Andre, did you remember this person? Were they good? Did you like them? You’re gonna be working with them. What do you reckon?” We constantly will talk to all the artists and try to get their opinion as well.
One more question for you. So far, have you had any big surprises or any superstars that immediately your eyes gravitate to?
Yeah—-if someone throws up a handstand, it’ll be perfectly still in your eyes and [you’ll] go, Ooh, that’s good. They’re good. So far so good. Yeah. And people that are brave and are throwing things in tight situations or people catching someone that falls over, those are the little details that we really like to see, too. Not just the perfect handstands, but also the good workers, the people that are always talking, communicating.
Attending the Casting Jam with GOM was one of those experiences in circus where I was able to reimagine the possibilities of what my career could hold and what I'm capable of as an artist. Despite not having focused on group acro in the last year and feeling a bit nervous about what I could bring to the table, what I found was an invitation to connect, meet, try, and play. Not only was it inspiring to simply be in a room surrounded by incredible acrobats, but coming back to even the most basic of skills through a lens of experimentation and curiosity, and getting to share in that with fellow attendees and GOM artists, reinforced my excitement for ensemble work. -Rachel Rees
It seems like your company is at a turning point with the founding members starting to move off-stage. This is going to be a paradigm shift for you. How are you preparing for that, to run the company with the same values and everything you have established with new or different people?
A really good question. It’s at the forefront of our thinking at the moment. The short answer is we are not entirely sure how we are gonna do it. There are some strategies that we’ve identified that we’re going to try to keep at the forefront of all of our work. Things like, right now, all of the people that make the decisions for the company are on the road with the rest of the artists, staying in the same hotels, flying on the same flights, doing the same schedule; working the same hours as everyone else. And that really keeps everything on a level playing field.
So, how to replicate that? There’s still gonna be a few directors and leaders on the road. Part of that will be us not just disappearing completely and sitting at home and doing everything from afar, but still trying to bring ourselves on tour in some capacity. Whether that’s directing work, being tour managers or producers or coming with them to various stints of touring, just so that we’re still there and we’re still kind of hands-on.
Exactly. That’s the other part of it: to identify the people, the leaders within the group that we want to grow. While they’re not gonna have the same responsibilities that we do, ‘cause we’re still gonna be running the company, they’ll have responsibility within their teams and within that creative pool of artists.
They’ll be stewards of culture.
Yeah, that’s a great way to say it. They’re some of the people that have been with us for a long time, and hopefully they are on board and they get it. This also a willingness for things to change slightly after we leave. It doesn’t have to stay exactly the same, because it’s a different group of people that are gonna operate in a slightly different way. And we’re open to that, to whatever that might look like. So yeah, that’s a big part of it too, but we’ll see. It’s going to be a slow process, so it won’t be quite such a massive shock.
It’s a big change. Ask me again in a year!
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us during your Acro Jam.
We really value transparency and being really open about how we do things. We have a lot of fun and seem to have a really positive culture. So if anyone wants to know how we do it and what we do, we are really happy to share all that stuff. So thank you.
Gravity and Other Myths
In 2009 in Adelaide, Australia, a group of young artists came together as a company that uses their passions for acrobatics and physical theatre to create sophisticated work that centers on human connection. Fourteen years later, they have helmed six major stage shows and become major innovators in the realm of contemporary circus.
Jascha Boyce –Director, Co-Founder, Producer, Acrobat
Lachlan Binns –Director, Co-Founder, Acrobat
Jacob RandellDirector – Co-Founder, Finance Manager, Acrobat
Martin Schreiber –Director, Co-Founder, Acrobat
Triton Tunis-Mitchel – Co-Founder, Acrobat
Elliot Zoerner –Director, Co-Founder, Composer
Musician Photos by the author, Stacy Clark.
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