People are taking the time not just to do circus, but to talk about circus academically as the industry forges ahead. Seminars that discuss and discover the depth and nuances of the field are popping up at festivals and sometimes even as a separate entity. Festival UP is one of the festivals that notes the importance of this type of collaborative inquiry. The festival, run by Espace Catastrophe, will take place at 13 venues across Brussels, offering the public a wide variety of more than 30 shows on March 12th -25th 2018.
One sign that the festival is growing is that Circostrada is hosting a seminar called FRESH CIRCUS #4 that runs concurrently (March 13th-15th in Brussels) and that advocates for the circus sector as a whole by organizing a series of roundtables, workshops and speakers. This professional circus seminar occurs each year at a different circus festival, with a different theme to address topics that help industry persons to keep up with this rapidly evolving art form. Circostrada is a network that “works to develop and structure the fields of Circus and Street Arts in Europe and beyond,” according to their mission statement . “With more than 100 members from over 30 countries, it contributes to build a sustainable future for these sectors.” The network contributes many events, meetings, and projects to the European circus sector but FRESH CIRCUS is one of their most significant and far-reaching.
I had a chance to speak with Laura Gerard, the international communication officer for Circostrada about this year’s seminar that is entitled “MORE THAN CIRCUS!”
Fiona: What is your role at Fresh Circus?
Laura: In my role personally, as international communication officer at Circostrada, I took part in designing the programme, together with my colleagues Stéphane Segreto-Aguilar (Coordinator of Circostrada) and Marion Marchand (International Coordination Officer) and the co-organizers & hosts of the event, L’Espace Catastrophe and Wallonie-Bruxelles Théâtre/Danse. Mostly, what I did was relay information about the event among the network’s members, cultural European networks and the different actors of the circus/cultural community to ensure its visibility and impact on the EU scale.
For Circostrada in general, FRESH CIRCUS is one of the network’s flagship events and it organizes the whole seminar, together with the co-organizers and the internal work group of the network dedicated to FRESH CIRCUS.
F: Tell me about the mission of Fresh Circus. What are you working to create?
L: The mission of FRESH CIRCUS is diverse: it is first a forum and a platform for professionals of the field. It creates the necessary ground and space for discussion, reflection and decision-making among actors of the field, not to mention opportunities to exchange and to forge new contacts, of course. It also embodies a laboratory for new ideas, new experiments, and an artistic showcase (to some extent) as it always takes place in the frame of a festival– so participants can attend shows in the evening. In the case of this edition, the seminar takes place in the course of Festival UP!
Its mission is to gather the sector around the table, to exchange ideas (and not in the sense of the sector just talking to itself but also to engage other actors from other sectors, be it academics, researchers, journalists, artists, programmers, etc.) FRESH CIRCUS seminars are meant to inspire, challenge and help the field to identify needs, deficits, and priorities, so that these three days can provide concrete material which will afterwards (hopefully!) contribute to deciding where to go next? What to do next? With whom? And to what aims.
Photo courtesy of Jorge Fidel AlvarezBefore and during the seminar, there is also a closed-seminar taking place, intended only for EU policy makers (upon invitation). So FRESH CIRCUS is also an occasion to gather these principal actors around the table, in order to advance the case of circus arts at the EU level. This is purely about advocating for, raising awareness and providing support to the circus field. The participants review the state of public policies at the EU level in the different member states represented with the purpose of (later on) contributing to the development of stronger ones, strengthening the circus sector as a whole, through the voice of EU stakeholders. This seminar is set up by the internal Advocacy workgroup of Circostrada.
F: Can you tell me the story of the origins of Fresh Circus? I am interested in how it began and the history of the seminar.
L: FRESH CIRCUS seminars were initiated a couple of years ago by Circostrada (in 2008), which was back then coordinated by HorsLesMurs. The network is now coordinated by ARTCENA – National Centre for Circus Arts, Street Arts and Theatre – (which is the result of the recent merger between HorsLesMurs and CNT – Centre National du Théâtre → French National Centre for Theatre.) The idea behind the creation of FRESH CIRCUS, was that there were too few opportunities for the sector to gather and exchange, and there was no real highlight or landmark moment. The first three editions took place in La Villette in Paris. This edition is the first to be organized outside of France.
Between the two stereotypical extremes of the red noses of traditional circus and the sometimes abstract corporeality of contemporary circus, what is the vision of circus today?
F: This edition of the seminar is entitled “MORE THAN CIRCUS!” What does the phrase more than circus mean to Circostrada and how will the seminar explore this?
L: The idea was to tackle the clichés and stereotypes of circus, and to approach them under a positive light; to show that circus embraces a much greater diversity than it may let on, based on the image people have of the art form. The seminar will explore and question this issue through the three main threads of the programme: “Images and Audiences”, “Artistic paths and creation processes” and “Innovation”. The point is to show the audience that circus keeps reinventing itself and is plural. As Jérôme Thomas, researcher and master juggler says, “It is no longer a donkey and cart, but an enormous bookcase with thousands of drawers.” That is what makes our practices so powerful. They are living and active forces, with innovative perspectives, progressive subject matter, in tune with society, genres and people. Between the two stereotypical extremes of the red noses of traditional circus and the sometimes abstract corporeality of contemporary circus, what is the vision of circus today?
In terms of format, the seminar will be structured around roundtables (Story Rooms), participative workshops (Idea Rooms), informal moments and participants will hear from a wide range of speakers who possess a great variety of experience. You can find the detailed programme of the seminar on the Circostrada website!
F: Who should come to Circus Fresh and why?
L: Everyone should come! Basically, all the different actors I quoted before; circus professionals, artists, programmers, researchers, educators etc. but also cultural actors coming from other disciplines to foster innovative and cross-disciplinary partnerships, and to create links between different art forms. FRESH CIRCUS can help cultural actors to see circus arts from a different angle, to approach it in a more open-manner, which might initiate interesting cooperation in the future.
F: What would you predict to be the highlights of the upcoming seminar? Which speakers are you especially looking forward to?
L: The 3 keynote speakers, as their presence is meant to bring a different voice, to bring the audience elsewhere, to give them food for thoughts on the different themes, to provoke them and more specifically– to inspire them. The keynote speakers are invited precisely to “break the routine/rhythm” of the seminar, to voice a different perspective, and to add some unexpected material to the programme’s content! Of course, the “Time to Act” workshops on Thursday morning should constitute very interesting and exciting moments, as well as more informal times and the public policy makers seminar. Regarding the speakers, we are looking forward to listening to all of them; we are however particularly curious and excited to listen to the keynote speakers’ testimonies.
F: The seminar is attached to a different festival each year. How has each festival and city affected the seminar?
L: The goal is for the seminar to bring more visibility to the city and the country hosting the FRESH seminar. It is a great chance and opportunity for local artists to get spotted given that a lot of professionals of the field will be attending the shows. Programmers may well be looking for emerging artists and companies, for instance. It also contributes to giving a stronger voice to the sector at the local level. If we take the example of FRESH STREET#2, organized last year in Santa Maria da Feira (Portugal), the seminar contributed to the development of a street arts public policy. Representatives of the Portuguese Ministry of Culture officially announced during the seminar the opening of a new budget line for street arts, a first in Portugal, since the issue of art in the public space was introduced only very recently in this country!
MORE ABOUT FRESH CIRCUS #4 Festival Keynote speakers include: Ruth Mackenzie, Artistic Director, Théâtre du Châtelet / Holland Festival (UK) John-Paul Zaccarini - Associate Professor in Circus, DOCH - School of Dance and Circus (Sweden) Ali Thabet (Belgium/Tunisia) The three main themes that the seminar offers are: Innovation, Images & Audience, Artistic Paths & Creation Processes These three topics are broken down into different types of activities throughout the seminar including round tables and participative workshops that encourage exploration and work groups in which participants will produce acts or to help imagine what the future of circus might be. To help tackle the stereotypes of circus that hide within us, interested parties should sign up for FRESH CIRCUS #4 by March 2nd.