“It’s the Mix That Makes It”: Delve Into Young Stage 2023 With Nadja Hauser
One of the most widely recognized platforms helping to propel emerging circus talents into great careers in this day and age, the Young Stage International Circus Festival is almost upon us! Festival director Nadja Hauser helps us get the lay of the 2023 program landscape before the parade begins in May.
Since first joining her local youth circus program as a child, Artistic Director Nadja Hauser has been an avid friend, practitioner, and supporter of the circus arts, within and beyond her native Switzerland. But at the dawn of her professional life some three decades ago, she was dismayed to realize the current shortage of educational opportunities that would allow young aspiring Swiss performers like her to find solid grounding and get a running start on the path toward successful careers. That line of thought would lead Nadja to the show production world and, later on, led her and several of her colleagues to create the world-renowned Young Stage International Circus Festival.
Happening this year in Basel from May 11-15, Young Stage is an annual event that makes it its mission to offer the young up-and-coming circus artists of today something that Nadja never got: a platform on which to launch themselves into their pro careers by putting them in front of the people who can make their dreams happen. Competing artists get the chance to network with and distinguish themselves in front of both their fellow artists and performing arts professionals like agents, producers, and a jury of esteemed showpeople eager to impart their wisdom on a new generation… much like Nadja herself!
To teach us more about the upcoming edition of Young Stage, we recently caught up with Nadja to chat about both what goes into making an event like Young Stage and how we can expect the action to unfold come May. What she reveals is a wealth of ways for competing and non-competiting artists alike to enrich their craft and broaden their career horizons.
CircusTalk (CT): First things first, Nadja, tell us a bit about yourself and your performing arts background. What is your background in circus, and how did it lead you to join the Young Stage team?
Nadja Hauser (NH): Circus has been an important part of my life since my early childhood. I grew up in a neighbourhood where there was a youth circus and took part in it as a small child. My disciplines would later include trapeze, vertical rope, aerial hoop, and contortion/handstand. I spent my childhood in the circus, had all my friends there, and later directed the programme, trained the children and helped run the organization. The Youth Circus is still there today— it has grown a lot, and I am still strongly connected to it, because my son is now a performer there 🙂
I actually thought about becoming a professional artist myself, but at that time—-this was almost 30 years ago—it was not the same as today: there were not yet so many educational opportunities. That’s why I decided to complete an education as a sports physiotherapist. After five years in the profession, however, I had the opportunity to enter the event business. And apart from numerous corporate events that I was allowed to realize, we then also founded the Young Stage Festival, because we knew that such festivals are needed so that young artists can present themselves and get jobs. Switzerland already had a big youth circus and circus scene back then, but there was no festival to support them. So I didn’t join the Young Stage team itself, but I am the festival’s co-founder, and have been running it since the very first edition in 2007.
For many years, I also booked artists for various productions in Switzerland, as well as directed and managed shows: dinner shows, comedy clubs, varieties, circus with symphony orchestra, etc., etc. There is actually little that I have not been able to do in Switzerland.But since the work involved in Young Stage has become more and more and we do other projects within the Young Stage association beyond just the festival, I now concentrate fully on it and do very few other events and shows.
I still love my job—especially the creative part, when it comes down to show production and working with young artists from all over the world.
CT: How has the Young Stage program evolved since the pandemic?
NH: Well, like everyone in our industry, we can only be grateful that we still exist at all after the pandemic. We survived it thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and partners. During the pandemic, we used the empty time to launch the Young Stage Circus Camps: days and summer holidays in the circus for around 200 children.
We also seized the opportunity to move the festival to a new location. For ten years we had been holding it in a tent, and now it will take place in a fixed space, the Messe Basel event hall. We’re working with a circus grandstand that offers seats to 1,200 people per show, about 250 more than before.
The Young Stage programme still consists of the six festival shows, which are designed as a competition for young artists up to 27 years of age. Then, a few days before the première, there is an open-air circus spectacle in the city of Basel, which offers free shows for family audiences by way of announcing the festival. Just like in the old days, when circuses announced themselves in the cities they visited with drums and trumpets and parades… 🙂
And then we offer an exciting workshop programme for the artists and all interested people from the performing arts field. I’ll tell you more about that below…
CT: In what ways does the process of planning a major festival look different now than it did before the pandemic?
NH: To be honest, it’s not necessarily any different than before. It has always been a big challenge to organize and finance a festival of this size. Nor did it necessarily get easier after the pandemic, because other (global) challenges came up immediately afterwards.
What has become a bit more unpredictable, however, is ticket sales. Before the pandemic, you knew exactly what you had to do and when in order to sell enough tickets. And that has changed significantly. It’s not quite clear yet how and where the market will move. That’s why it’s exciting to be part of every day.
And, overall, I have to say that the pandemic has made us all a lot calmer. It was so hard to deal with the pandemic circumstances, not knowing when and if it would somehow continue, and if the festival would even survive it. That’s why I feel that we are much more relaxed about daily challenges and problems than before. We have realized that life goes on, even without a festival, and that’s not such a bad thing to keep in mind.
CT: We’d love to hear about the upcoming edition of Young Stage. What are some of the things you want to highlight in this year’s program?
NH: Oh, the recurring question!
I get asked this so often, and in my role as festival director and artistic director, I can’t and wouldn’t want to single out one artist or act that I think is more exciting than another.
For me, the whole programme is always the highlight. It’s the mix that makes it! It is the mix of different nations, different disciplines, and the different styles and approaches of the artists.
What is striking this year is that we have a total of eight Swiss artists in the competition, the highest number we have ever had; in fact, there have been years without any Swiss participation. It is a coincidence that this is so, but, of course, I’m pleased about it, because it shows that there are more and more young people in our country who want to become professional artists and go abroad for their training. (Unfortunately, there is still no professional education for circus artists in Switzerland).
Then, for the first time in the history of the festival, there are two African artists from Ethiopia, and—for the second time—a Chinese participant. AND we have two great and very poetic clowns with us, who will also play a little story through the show. All this makes the programme very exciting and varied, in addition to the fact that the artistic level is enormously high.
CT: What kinds of workshops and events will be offered at the festival?
NH: From 11-15 May, there will be a total of six festival shows, three of which will be judged by our very competent jury. For another show, a children’s jury will choose their favorite act. All of our artists will perform in every show.
A few days before the shows begin, the Open Air Circus Spectacle will take place in the city of Basel. The companies Les P’tis Bras from France and manoAmano Circo from Argentina will perform; children can try out circus disciplines at the Circus Parcours, and a mobile acrobatic troupe will parade through the city with live music.
And then, I would definitely like to point out our newly expanded professional workshop programme. There are a total of four workshops and panel discussions that you can attend for free. We highly recommend them for young artists:
Friday, 12 May 2023 | 11.30 – 13.00 h
- “Had I Known – Management for Your Rockstar Ccareer”
- by Andréanne Quintal (Canada), Artistin, Producer
Friday, 12 May 2023 | 14.00 – 15.30 h
- “How and Why to Create Something Outstanding”
- by Urs Jäckle (Germany), Artistic Director of Krystallpalast Varieté Leipzig
Saturday, 13 2023 | 11.30 – 13.00 h
- “Changing Perspectives: A Q&A About Show Production”
- by Nadja Hauser (Switzerland), Director & Producer of YOUNG STAGE
Monday, 15 May 2023 | 14.00 – 16.30 h
- “Spot to Africa – The Forgotten Continent in Circus”
- by Sosina Wogayehu (Ethiopia), CEO of Ethio Circus Entertainment & President of the Addis Ababa Gymnastics Federation
- “SPEAK OUT – Together for a Safer Circus”
- by FEDEC – the European Federation of Professional Circus Schools
CT: Which disciplines do you feel are well-represented in this year’s program? What do you wish was better represented?
NH: I think our programme this year is very balanced. But it’s the same every year in terms of the selection of artists. We wonder why so many aerial acts are being trained at circus schools, and where the disciplines like teeterboard, Russian bar, ladder, and comedy are.
All producers have the same problem: there are far too many artists all doing the same disciplines. For example, we could easily do a high-quality aerial straps festival once, with all the straps acts that are out there. But where will all these artists find work after that? I think this is a question that should be much more on the minds of training institutions.
Images in this article originally from the Young Stage Festival official website and Facebook. Image of Nadja provided by Nadja herself....