La Grainerie is a much admired institution in Toulouse, France that works in conjunction with the wider circus community to help circus artists make their dreams come true–whether that be to create their own show, to identify residencies for creation, to make props for the show or to coordinate their world tour. Part venue, part career counseling or facilitating service, it is an example of the kind of program that can develop with the support of arts funding and collaboration across many institutions. Director of International Relations, Jean Marc Broqua is a soft-spoken but enthusiastic champion of the complicated network of supports and projects that La Grainerie is currently involved in. I had the chance to speak with him last summer in Montreal about the artistic work he is part of as La Grainerie ‘accompanies’ their artists through the process of discovering how to succeed at their work.
Kim: Does Toulouse have a very active presence in the circus world?
Jean-Marc: Yes, it is one of the most dynamic circus communities in France and Europe. In the region, we have about 500 professional artists.
K: Do most of them train at La Grainerie?
J: Not everybody because the region is large. Some people are three hundred kilometers away. There are 500 artists and 120-160 active companies. We have two important schools in the region. One preparatory school that is in Montpellier called Balthazar. Then another school which is one of the three most important schools in France is called Le Lido. They really specialize in forming the artists to be creators of their own shows.
K: You mean they teach people how to form companies and to be directors?
J: Not exactly a director, but people who are able to create their own shows. They don’t believe in the concept of artistic directors. They believe that artists are their own authors and that a group of artists as a collective can be more creative than an artistic director. But it’s not simply being exclusive, it’s more than that. There is a very specific philosophy behind Le Lido that comes from the 1970s. The artist at the end has to be able to create themselves and their own shows or to work as a collective. It is a very specific pedagogic project. The school is not there to say what you have to do. It’s the same philosophy at Circus Incubator (a multi-national circus project), the goal is to help people to ask themselves about their project. We do this with technical courses on how to write a show, dramaturgy, etc. Most of the pedagogic philosophy of Le Lido is that for the first year of school you have to forget what you are in circus, then the second year you rebuild your skills, and yourself, in terms of being an artist on this path. In the third year, then you prepare your project. We share a common belief that if you have a collective project– then we can support you. We can support artists that need three years to prepare and to work on their own project–to trade artistically, economically, and theoretically.
K: It sounds like this is a very effective way to learn how to survive after school because most schools only teach the technical skill and not the other skills you will need to create.
J: Yes! If we think about the results of Le Lido for the artist, you don’t have a lot of super ambitious artists that graduate from this school, but if you look at their path ten years later, they are still here. They have resilience.
K: Tell us about the work Le Grainerie does.
J: We accompany the artist before the co-production and basically provide them resources for creation and training. We have a gymnasium. We have five studios for creation. We have a showroom. We have lots of offices that can be the base of the company. They can use the computers. It’s basically like a co-working place for circus. The idea was to provide a base and then we provide other resources like storage, and material for a tent. Our venue is about 3,200 square meters. We even have a little material to build and to repair wood, metal, for welding and things like that. Our first mission is training, second is helping emerging artists. We work with young artists in continuity with and after Le Lido to facilitate research and creation. With Le Lido we accompany between 4-6 projects each year for three years. We are with them for all of the project building process and all of the dimensions of the artistic process. We also accompany artists, giving them the opportunity to have a relationship with audiences during the creation process.
You work with people that are not on your team, they are coming for one month and then going somewhere else, so we really want to develop the collaborative tools for that–for international cooperation and then to incorporate it into the research process too.
K: In what way do you help the artists have a relationship with the audience during creation?
J: We help them organize things like workshops, works in progress, pre-premiers, and shows sometimes. So we have programming activity throughout the year that is in the continuity of this process of supporting artists that aim to make relation between the creation activities and the local communities. Then we have the social programs.
K: Like social circus?
J: Yes, so there are two sides. How to acclimate the community population to circus and to share knowledge of what circus is now. The other side is to use circus as a social tool. Then we also have the international activities, where we manage 3 or 4 international programs at the same time. Circus Incubator is one. We have a transporter program with Spain that we are beginning and have we have 14 partners there with a 2 million euro budget for three years. Then we have another program about how to integrate collaborative tools into our working process. All the structure of employment is changing in Europe. We used to have a pyramid type organization to businesses and then we had a cultural change of how we think we should work and an economic change too. It’s not that the the model isn’t working, it’s that it’s changing. It’s more collaborative. You work with people that are not on your team, they are coming for one month and then going somewhere else, so we really want to develop the collaborative tools for that–for international cooperation and then to incorporate it into the research process too. So we offer those opportunities to 8 companies to experiment and identify those collaborative tools during their creation process. The budget for this project is around four hundred and fifty thousand euros for three years.
K: How many employees does Le Grainerie have?
J: We have twelve employees. Two are in international activities and then we have a lot of other people who are working culturally with us. There are about forty people working in the network.
K: When you repeat Circus Incubator in 2018, will you use the same kind of structure?
J: Yes, I think the same kind of structure is the idea. In the long term, we want to develop networking with Canada, the United States, and Brazil specifically. We are looking for American partners for that.
K: It is interesting that you aren’t simply teaching business planning and that you are looking to reach artists before they get to that phase in their career. It sort of seems like the Le Lido philosophy but more international.
J: Yes, internationally and more focused on creation, research, and employment during the professional path. So it is after the school phase but the same philosophy exactly. There are some differences because we are not a school so we can not do exactly the same thing. When philosophy meets reality you will have to adapt yourself to it.
K: After the different phases of Circus Incubator are the artists expected to create a project together?
J: No. You are an artist, you want to develop a project. The notion of what a project is isn’t even the same if you are in Brazil as it is if you are in Canada or in Northern Europe or Southern Europe. What we do is incubation of the idea and only that. So you may be one person from your circus collective, or maybe two. There was a Swedish company with 6 artists and we worked with 2 of them. For a Brazilian company we just worked with one artist in the first session and one other artist in the second session, just for example. So you just are here to think and develop the topic of your project. To get more tools, to be more resilient to be able to develop your project. In artistic terms and in peer-to-peer to be able to develop relationships or to touch the other parts of the project. If I want to develop this project maybe I have to think about international connections, maybe I have to think how I will identify economic resources. Where should I look at residencies? Can I have residencies? Because in some countries it’s not even possible. In Brazil it’s really hard to even to find a place to work. How can I anticipate those questions?
K: I see that Circus Incubator is in multiple locations. How can that benefit the artist?
J: It depends on the situation, I will give you different examples. For one of the young artists from Brazil, he realized he could travel for circus. I don’t think he was thinking of circus in terms of projects at first, but in terms of expression. Now we see he is traveling all over the the world. The project guided him in his capacity to connect with companies. It helped by walking step-by-step with him as he found the resources he needed to be able to do what he wanted to do. Another example was a group of 4 artists in Toulouse. Their work was very interesting physically and we wanted to integrate them in to Le Lido for the 3rd year. They were a little bit obsessed with little things and we thought that we couldn’t bring it to Le Lido if they continued with this obsession. We asked them to step aside and something clicked. The same thing happened for a performer from Belgium. She came to Toulouse to have more resources to work but she was not very clear on the project and always asking herself what she wanted to do. This experience helped her to focus and give her more energy. If you are not able to focus you are really not able to help other artists with your vision– but you can’t just tell them this because if you say it they don’t understand. You have to help them to do a process to see it and sometimes it clicks.
K: I see! How many artists have you incubated?
J: 32 total. There were 4 from Sweden, 4 from Finland, 8 from Canada. When I say “from” I mean people “based in”. For example for the French group there are no French people. There’s a Belgian girl, a Spanish guy, and two Israeli artists.
K: So how do artists learn about this program and how do you select them?
J: The communication is not easy. First, the venues have relations within the artistic community. We write an open call that appears on Le Grainerie’s newsletter. Then we use other organizations like the European network Circostrada, and a European network focused on mobility called On the Move. For Europe that is enough, then we have our own personal relationships with the artists. It’s clearly transparent and we can ask artists to apply. Artists can apply as individuals.
All images provided courtesy of La Grainerie. Feature image courtesy of Francois Passerini.