Author Archives: Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing. www.dorothymaxprior.com

Total Theatre Artists as Writers – 2021 Participants Announced

NEWS RELEASE 11 NOVEMBER 2021

We are delighted to announce that thirteen artists have been selected to take part in the Total Theatre Artists as Writers scheme, which will run from November 2021 to March 2022.

The chosen participants will take part in a series of online workshops, and will then work in smaller groups, and receive one-to-one mentoring sessions. Participants will have their work published by Total Theatre Magazine at www.totaltheatre.org.uk 

We will also be commissioning a number of new long-form articles from established artist-writers.

There will be three main strands of research that participants will pursue throughout the programme:

Reflecting on and writing about the artist’s own journey and current practice

Research into the work of other artists, companies, organisations, or artforms/strands of practice (contemporary or historic) that the artist has a particular interest in – with reference to the Total Theatre Archive and/or other archives or resources

Reflection on the diversification of the theatre/performance/outdoor arts/circus sectors, with sessions delivered by guest workshop leaders, and an encouragement to research and create articles written by or about artists of colour, LGBTQ+ artists, artists from working class & migrant communities, and on community responsive theatre- and art-making 

As always, our interest will be on the cultivation of the artist’s voice, with the emphasis on practice-based (rather than academic) research, reflection, and writing.

We have selected a diverse (in every sense of the word) group of people representing different artforms and modes of practice within the Total Theatre sector, with a good geographic spread across the UK; and we have included emerging, mid-career and established artists. We had a high number of overseas applicants, and allocated 25% (three places) accordingly.

The project is funded by Arts Council England and a number of key industry partners: Out There Arts, Without Walls, London International Mime Festival, Polari LGBTQ+ Literary Salon, and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. We thank all of our partners for your support.

A full list of participants in Total Theatre Artists as Writers 2021 follows, with short biogs for each artist.

Dorothy Max Prior

On behalf of the Total Theatre Magazine Editorial Team

Contact Max on: editorial@totaltheatre.org.uk

Featured image (top): Naomi Silman. Photo Juliana Hilal

TT Artists as Writers 2021 – Participants List

Lorna Rees. Photo Jayne Jackson

Lorna Rees

Lorna Rees is an outdoor artist. She is artistic director of Gobbledegook Theatre, a multidisciplinary arts practice who make innovative, national and international touring work, usually inspired by Earth Sciences. Lorna is also an activist, with a long history of socially engaged practice making interventions under the title of ‘Disruption & Joy’.

www.gobbledegooktheatre.com  

Twitter: @thegobbledegook

Instagram: @gobbledegooktheatre

Talita Moffatt

Talita is passionate about diversity, access and equality in their broadest sense and has earned her stripes in the arts industry as a dancer, teacher, project manager then producer. This year Talita has returned to the studio to lead and direct her original concept piece The Paradise Bar bringing together an all-black cast of Deaf and hearing performers to share aspirational stories through a fusion of dance, spoken word, BSL, music and film.

www.theparadisebar.co.uk 

Lane Paul Stewart

Lane’s theatre practice speaks strongly of his northern working class origins and the LGBTQIA+ community, challenging overused representations of these groups and championing the notion of the ‘other’ with material that advocates non-elitist theatre, critiques social inadequacy and is always hopeful for change. Lane completed his masters degree at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and presents work through his company, Facing North Theatre.

www.facingnorththeatre.co.uk 

Instagram: @lanepaulstewart & @facingnorththeatre

Facebook: @facingnorththeatre

Jamie Wood: I Am a Tree. Photo Ben Duffy

Jamie Wood

International Art Clown Jamie Wood is a performer, director and teacher renowned for creating striking and accessible theatre. His work reflects a training in fine art, theatre, clown and dance. Over the last ten years he has focused on touring his trilogy of critically acclaimed solo shows, Beating McEnroe, O No! and I am a Tree.

https://www.jamiewood.org.uk/

Twitter: @jamieofthewood

FK Alexander

FK Alexander is a Scottish performance artist who works with noise music to make action-based live art. The pieces  are often durational, site responsive or unrepeatable. This work frequently involves hammers, strobes, volume, sensation, destruction, and Judy Garland. FK has gratefully received various awards, and has toured extensively across the UK, Europe and America.

Twitter: @fkalexander

Instagram: @f.k.alexander @thewretchedpast

Naomi Silman 

Naomi Silman is a performer, clown, director and teacher with award-winning Brazilian theatre ensemble Lume Teatro. In 25 years of celebrating theatre as the art of the encounter, she has created and performed shows in a variety of languages including physical theatre, clowning, dance, street theatre and large-scale outdoor community-based interventions. Born in London, she trained with Philippe Gaulier and at the Lecoq school before moving to Brazil in 1997.

http://www.lumeteatro.com.br/

Instagram: @lumeteatro @naomisilman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/lume.teatro/

Andrew Simpson

Andrew Simpson is a theatre maker, performer and clown based in Glasgow.

He makes original performance work solo and in collaboration with other artists, working outdoors and indoors. His practice is influenced by a diverse range of artists including Odin Teatret, Jackie Chan and Limmy.

https://andrewsimpsonactor.weebly.com

Instagram: @adrenalismscot

Liza Cox

Liza Cox is a theatre maker, director and puppeteer. She is co-artistic director of Baubo, a new physical/street theatre company rooted in visual design and traditions of clown and bouffon. As a performer-maker, her process is rooted in materiality and play. She trained in Lecoq and is currently undertaking an MA in Performance Design at Leeds University.

http://lizacox.com/

Jonathan Irakiza 

Jonathan is the founder-director of Young Circus Performers company, which is based in Kigali, Rwanda in East Africa. He has worked for 15 years as an artist, circus performer, acrobat, and theatre performer; and as a circus and acrobatics trainer and ‘circus entrepreneur’. He organises holiday camps for vulnerable children, tours to refugee camps, is currently setting up the Rwanda Circus Arts Festival, and is founder of Rwanda’s artistic cycling project for vulnerable children.

Facebook: facebook.com/rwacrobats   facebook.com/youngcircusperformersltd 

Twitter: @rwacrobats

Instagram : @rwacrobats

Lily Norton

Moving and creating from a young age, Lily is an autistic dancer, writer and visual artist who works with both traditional and digital media. As an advocate for disability justice and a proud queer, non-binary disabled artist, Lily is passionate about inclusivity and developing creative integrated methods of increasing accessibility to dance and the arts.

Ruby Burgess

Ruby is a circus and physical theatre artist based in Bristol. She is a graduate of the Circomedia BA course where she specialised in static and swinging trapeze, and now teaches. She is interested in creative accessibility and making absurd comedy about socio-political subjects. She also runs a circus podcast which you can find at notmymonkeyspodcast.com  

Instagram: @notmymonkeyspodcast

Eliezer Kasereka Mbakulirahi

Eliezer is based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2014, he met German theatre director Claus Schrowange, who trained him in Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques. He worked for two years in the Great Lakes region (Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo), learning how participatory theatre could contribute to peace in war-torn regions. In 2016 he co-founded The Rutshuru Amani Kwetu Theatre of the Oppressed group for peace, reconciliation, legality, and equality.

Rowan Prescott Hedley

Rowan Prescott Hedley is a poet, playwright, songwriter, and performer based in Dorset. They use mixed discipline performance with improvisation and audience participation to engage traditional audiences in non-traditional theatre and question their assumptions, biases, and perspectives. They feature queer, neurodivergent, and intersectional themes in their work. 

www.rph-productions.com

Notes for Editors

More about Total Theatre Magazine

Total Theatre Magazine champions artist-led critical writing, putting the practitioner at the heart of the discourse about their own work and the work of their peers. For more than thirty years the magazine, first in print and now online, has played a crucial role in promoting and championing alternative theatre and performance practice in the UK. The Total Theatre Magazine website can be viewed at www.totaltheatre.org.uk  The Total Theatre Magazine Print Archive is at totaltheatre.org.uk/archive 

Total Theatre Magazine also runs a number of other projects, including Total Theatre Talks, presented in collaboration with festivals and venues across the UK; Total Theatre Training & The Writing’s On the Streets, offering one-off or short-course writing workshops; and Total Theatre Artists as Writers, a three-month+ scheme mentoring artists who wish to write about their own and other’s work.

Total Theatre Magazine first ran the Total Theatre Artists as Writers training and CPD programme as part of our Total Theatre Print Archive project in 2019. For that incarnation of the programme, participants reflected on their own practice in relation to artists’ work explored through the archive: See http://totaltheatre.org.uk/archive/artist-writers  This went so well that TTM ran the programme again in 2020 (completely online this time). The third iteration runs November 2021 to March 2022. Articles generated from the programme will be posted on the main website: http://totaltheatre.org.uk 

More about our partners

Out There Arts 

Out There Arts / National Centre for Outdoor Arts and Circus produces the Out There International Festival in Great Yarmouth each September with one of the largest programmes of circus in the UK, as well as producing other large-scale shows and events, including the new Fire on the Water. They also run the Drill House International Creation Centre – a 20,000 square feet complex for creation, training, fabrication, community activity and events working with UK and International Artists and Companies.

Out There Arts is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council. https://outtherearts.org.uk/ 

For more information on Out There Festival 17–19 September 2021, see https://outtherearts.org.uk/out-there-festival/  

Without Walls

Without Walls is a consortium of over 35 festivals and arts organisations that brings fantastic outdoor arts to people in towns and cities across the UK. Since its formation in 2007, Without Walls has developed and toured over 200 new shows by UK companies and supported the Research and Development of over 75 projects. Without Walls commissions have toured widely both in the UK and internationally across 22 countries.

Without Walls is managed by XTRAX, an independent management and production company based in Manchester with over 20 years’ experience in Outdoor Arts:  www.xtrax.org.uk 

Without Walls is supported by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation.

www.withoutwalls.uk.com  | facebook.com/WithoutWallsUK  | @WWconsortium

London International Mime Festival 

The London International Mime Festival (LIMF) is an annual theatre event in London. Its directors are Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan, winners of the International Theatre Institute Award for Excellence.

It was established in 1977 by Joseph Seelig and Nola Rae and it is the longest running event of its kind in the world – a month-long showcase for ground-breaking visual/physical theatre, new circus, object theatre and live art. 

LIMF returns in 2022 with a full programme of shows at venues across the capital from Wednesday 12 January – Sunday 6 February.  In addition to these performances, LIMF will run live and online workshops, after-show discussions with artists, and a new series of short films created by international artists. 

www.mimelondon.com 

Polari

Polari is an award-winning LGBTQ+ literary salon. It was founded by author Paul Burston in 2007, and began in a bar in Soho. Since 2009, Polari have been based at London’s Southbank Centre. They also tour regularly, funded by Arts Council England.

The recent Polari Prize Tenth Anniversary Tour showcased writers long- and short-listed for the Polari Prize book awards for emerging and established LGBTQ+ literary talent, as well as winners from the Prize’s ten year history, dating back to 2011.

https://www.polarisalon.com/

Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance

Rose Bruford College, based in Sidcup, south-east London, is a drama school offering degree programmes in acting, directing, and other theatre arts. The college teaching, learning and training ethos is based on artistry, collaboration, community, discovery, diversity, employability, independence, and professionalism. Students and staff work in collaboration across a number of campuses to make and produce over 75 shows a year.

The College mission is to achieve social and cultural impact by delivering the highest quality vocational training and education. Their teaching covers a wide, innovative spectrum of subjects and delivers proactive graduates who are creative, empowered and employable.

https://www.bruford.ac.uk/

Bouncing Back

The Outdoor Arts sector is back with a bang! Dorothy Max Prior goes to Great Yarmouth for the Out There International Festival of Circus and Street Arts 2021

People out and about – lots of them, in the park, at the town centre market place, and along the seafront. Families, and gaggles of teenagers, and couples young and old (and all things in between). A mash-up of English, Portuguese, Polish and Arabic in the air, reflecting the make-up of the local population. Happy people, strolling, chatting, eating ice creams, watching shows of all sorts. Static and walkabout street theatre shows. Shows set on big circus rigs, circle shows, and fire shows. Shows in shop windows… There’s acrobatics, juggling, physical comedy, dance, live music, DJs. Installations and augmented reality. Art and craft workshops. Pop-up coffee shops and food stalls. It’s all here, and now. It feels so – normal. 

It’s been a while. Yes, stuff has happened over the past 18 months (and not just over Zoom). Yes, the outdoor arts sector has been more resilient to the impact of Covid than venue-based theatre. And yes – as Outdoor Arts UK chair Angus MacKechnie said in a session for the Bounce Back professional programme – the sector has expanded rapidly as venues realised that taking work outdoors was an option. But this is a key moment: the first big, brash, full-on outdoor arts festival post-pandemic.

Which leaves us with a few questions to reflect on. Where is the outdoor arts sector now, after the devastation of the 2020 and 2021 summer seasons? How has the pandemic impacted established street theatre and outdoor artists and companies? How are they recovering and reinstating themselves? And what of those newcomers, eagerly signing up to the outdoor arts scene?

There was plenty of evidence of bouncing back in style after the ‘shitstorm’ (Angus again!) of the past 18 months. Diehards of the outdoor arts scene presenting work at Out There 2021 included Whalley Range All Stars, Dizzy O’Dare, Hocus Pocus Theatre, Bureau of Silly Ideas, The Flying Buttresses, Jon Hicks, Plunge Boom, and Circo Rum Ba Ba.

Whalley Range All Stars: Glock & Beretta. Photo courtesy of the artists

In fact, Whalley Range All Stars (Edward Taylor and Sue Auty) managed not one but two premieres. In Godzillatown, shifted from the cancelled Stockton International Riverside Festival to Out There, audience members are invited to collect and fold a Godzilla mask (with help on hand for those who struggle with card and tape) and then to enter the ‘town’, negotiating a 10 metre by 10 metre maze of cartoonish buildings, whilst trying to avoid collision with fellow Godzillas. One of the delights of the piece is seeing people exiting in their Godzilla masks, wandering off towards the seafront or into the park, which creates a lovely additional performative feature to the piece. I did feel, whilst in the maze, that the town was a little small, and perhaps could be expanded. But then I realised that it was the perfect size for the small children who’d come in behind me, who for once in their lives could feel big and strong. And pragmatically, if the street maze had been bigger (and time in it therefore longer) the long queue of eager Godzillas waiting their turn would have been even longer!

Their other show, Glock & Beretta, How? Why? What? is an absolute delight. Supported by Out There Arts (so this one was always intended to premiere in Yarmouth), it’s a witty piece of Kamishibai theatre – literally ‘paper drama’ as Edward tells us at the start, although pointing out that in this case, the images are printed on PVC rather than paper. Deprived of live gigs, Edward Taylor spent his lockdown drawing and painting for three different projects: two books and this show, which uses a grand total of 65 A3-sized drawings. The effect is of a graphic novel brought to life. It’s delightfully low-tech – just Sue pulling the images in and out of the simple frame-stage wooden box construction that she has built, whilst Edward tells us a tale of ‘destructive children, dogged journalists, military intervention, and nuns’. The images of deserted streets and shopping centres are an eery evocation of locked-down cities – although in this case, people aren’t isolating in their homes, they are stuck in a traffic jam that runs the length of the land. Edward is a good storyteller, taking the audience into his confidence, and Sue is a lovely foil, the two sharing moments of gentle humour. Although this show is a new direction for them, being something that can be played indoors or out rather than specifically a ‘street arts’ show, their experience in making work for the outdoors is apparent in the delivery of the piece and the easy-going relationship with audience.

Dizzy O’Dare: Falconry Dismay. Photo David Street

The same is true of Dizzy O’Dare, whose Falconry Dismay is a far larger and noisier affair, yet shares that same sense of confidence and control, a strong relationship with audience always evident. There’s a great set-up, with our safari-suited host Kevin Tickle revving up the crowd, priming us for a real-life display of majestic birds of prey, whetting our appetite for the encounters we are about to have with these wondrous creatures. And yes, here they are! Malvolio the theatrical vulture, who unfortunately tries to mate with a man in a blue Adidas shirt, mistaking the blue for the plumage of a lady vulture, then foolishly feasting on poisoned food; Princess the owl, who scuttles on to the tune of ‘I’m Every Woman’, and is on the look out for worms (a cue for the audience to waggle their fingers, causing many a small child to squeal excitedly); and – the jewel in the crown – Boo Boo the peregrine falcon, fresh from Dollywood in Texas, with her killer talons and a flight speed of 250mph, making her ‘the fastest creature on earth’. Or in the air, I suppose. I very much enjoy these little educational facts that we are fed, in amongst the fabulous clowning, physical comedy and audience interaction from the four-person team. Great bird costumes too!

Circo Rum Ba Ba: The Box. Photo Pete Morgan

I also much enjoyed Circo Rum Ba Ba’s Box, which features – yes, you’ve guessed – a mysterious box sat on the decking outside festival HQ Drill House. Demonstrating a lovely relationship between music and physical performance, the box comes to life to the sounds of gypsy jazz, swing and tango, as errant limbs and eyes on stalks pop out. As things build, we meet a wonderful succession of strange creatures: beaky birds and big-mouthed fish, people with lobster claws, and headless worms with oogly-googly eyes. All of these fabulous beasts break free from their box and run into the audience, tickling teens and chasing toddlers. The box is also used nicely as a performance podium for the acrobalance, contortion and hand-balancing work from this two-woman team. Clever puppetry and object manipulation, a lovely score, and a great display of circus skills all delivered with more than a dash of humour – this is a show that sparkles with charm and competence.

Over in the park, other circus-skills shows include Italian/Argentinian Duo Musawa’s V.O.G.O.T. an elegant and fluid duet merging circus (acrobalance, hand-to-hand) and dance, which I caught a section of as I passed through the park (and this, of course, is often how it is at street arts festivals – things you’d like to catch are missed, or seen in part, in passing); and the excellent Strong Enough, exploring circus strong lady Charmaine’s personal journey from fat schoolgirl who comes last in the sports day races to successful circus base and demonstrator of feats of strength, all this paired nicely with recorded verbatim stories of strength and resilience. If I Can’t See You, by Living Room Circus, featured a good-size rig on which was suspended a sofa, the site for a witty aerial exploration of isolation and connection, via the power of pop. 

 

Said Mouhssine: Routine. Photo Katherine Mager

In the town centre market place, a large dance stage and a few near-by pitches are used for a new strand to the festival called Extremities – a kind of festival within the festival, focusing on high-energy dance and acrobatics with a strong street vibe and African/global culture influence. This strand of work is supported by Out There partners Freshly Greated. Artists appearing include Morocco’s Said Mouhssine with a show called Routine; and Joseph Toonga with Born to Protest, a new hip hop dance work. I enjoy Born to Protest with its vibrant and energetic choreography for an ensemble of five, four men and one woman. It explores cliches around representation of Black men and women, and I find myself musing on my own inherent racist responses to the sound of loud shouting from Black people, which white people have been culturally programmed to view as aggressive. It is a dance piece set on a stage, rather than an outdoor arts piece per se – there is most definitely a ‘fourth wall’, and I would have preferred to see it set at audience level rather than on high. But there’s room for all sorts in a festival like Out There. Said Mouhssine’s Routine is performed ground-level, on three sides, with a chalked-on back wall that is used very nicely. Mixing Chinese Pole, acrobatics, and physical action/interaction with the space, it is augmented by an excellent soundtrack by Arash Sarkechik, blending music from a variety of cultures with sampled sounds and spoken text in French, English and Arabic. Although it doesn’t feature any audience interaction, the connection with audience feels solid throughout the show, which is an exploration of boredom, tedium, and insomnia, perhaps inspired by the boundaries imposed on young people’s lives by the pandemic. The various props and objects – a mattress-sofa, cushions, clothing, and the pole itself – are engaged with carefully and employing strong dramaturgical logic in a push-and-pull between inertia and energy. A beautiful and inspiring piece of work – Said has a lovely stage presence as well as being a gifted physical performer.

Tall Tales: Square Two. Photo Katherine Mager

All the above are static shows – circle shows, or with a back wall, or on a dance stage. There are also a number of promenade and/or site-responsive works in this year’s festival.

Ghosted, created by Eastenders writer James McDermott and director Marcus Romer for Yarmouth’s St George’s Theatre, follows six Norfolk teenagers as they investigate the disappearance of a schoolfriend whose clothes are found on the beach. The writer’s stated objective is to make a piece of live theatre inspired by TV soaps and Netflix series. (But why, I wonder?) Rather oddly, Ghosted is just part one of what is intended to be an ongoing series. So we don’t get to discover what has happened to the disappeared teen, which is frustrating. The writing is good enough, the acting is feisty, and the journey along the prom – taking us from the overload of neon arcades and noisy bars on one side of the pier to the deserted dunes and shelters on the other – is enjoyable (although it was a little odd to be walked down to a deserted part of the beach then left there). But this is clearly a piece made by people who don’t make outdoor work. The site is used in the most minimal way, and there is little or no physical action in the space – it’s all mostly talking heads. The decision to mic up the actors and put the audience in headphones creates an odd dissonance between audience and actors, as we are more often than not stood in a line staring forward at a framed scene, almost as if viewing a film on-screen – although I do enjoy the between-scenes soundtrack. The only scene that really owns its site features two gay male characters (one of whom is in denial, despite proposing marriage to his boyfriend) that happens outside a seafront bar, drinkers and dog-walkers providing a backdrop, with the sound of The Doors’ ‘Riders on the Storm’ booming out. So, Ghosted  has some nice bits but I left confused – wondering why they didn’t just make a film or TV series if that’s where their ambition lies.

Compare and contrast with Square Two by Dutch company Tall Tales. Also a promenade work. Also placing the audience in headphones. But my goodness, these people know what they are doing and why! We gather in a yard, and are asked to sit on numbered stools, set in a horseshoe. After a small technical hitch (which the performer – company co-founder Harm van der Laan – deals with calmly, with grace and humour), it starts. Sitting facing us he juggles, and talks as he does, explaining the basic principles of juggling, calling out the moves: 411 – 411 – 31 – 31 – 411. This, he notes, could be an algorithm, a password or perhaps a code. He hopefully asks if anybody in the audience is a coder, but sadly none of us are! The piece is based on the mathematical artwork of Dutch visual artist Don Satijn, and explores how codes can be the basis of movement and juggling. As someone who has always enjoyed experiencing the relationship between patterns, sequences and sets in choreography, I’m delighted when we’re invited to stand up in numerical order and follow the leader on to the next site, where we are instructed to find a circle with our number on it (I’m 13 – auspicious!). Here, in the beautifully wild Dissenters Graveyard, a lone juggler is working quietly alongside a metal sculpture, one of the artworks that inspired the piece, the stone walls and ancient trees of the graveyard her backdrop. On the other side of this strange little secret garden, three jugglers now work together. Just outside, whilst our attention is diverted by following along in the right order and finding a circle to stand on, one of the three performers has climbed on top of a building and is throwing higher and higher into the sky, the voice in our ears ruminating on chaos theory, Newtonian physics, and perpetual motion. We are led out into a maze of back alleys and courtyards, each stop offering us perfectly choreographed solos, duets or trios. At one point, we are split (via instructions arriving in our headphones) into three sets to experience three lovely solo scenes – in one, Harm van der Laan is continuing his investigation of numerical sequencing and coding, inviting audience members to change the juggling patterns by swapping over numbered blocks set on a small table. The two men perform a wonderfully gentle and moving contact dance/juggling number. The woman is seen sitting on a chair at the end of an alley, on the cusp of the high street, passers-by looking on curiously. We are instructed to ‘follow our guide’ creeping ever-forward toward her in an odd game of Grandmother’s Footsteps. The soundtrack on our headphones gives us a mix of music and philosophical musings: ‘you have to know the rules to break the rules’ resonates. The ending is a lovely coup de theatre, as we turn a corner to find our three jugglers working away behind glass in a shop window. Beautifully choreographed, elegantly performed, with a great soundtrack and a fabulous use of site. That’s the way to do it!

The Insect Circus/Mark Copeland: The Equidae Retirement Home for Pantomime Horses. Photo Martin Thompson

Also making use of a shop window – in this case the sadly now-closed Palmers department store – and equally fabulous in a completely different way is Insect Circus supremo Mark Copeland’s latest venture: The Equidae Retirement Home for Pantomime Horses. Behind glass, microphone in hand, we see Mark in his latest character guise – Edgar ‘Gar’ Feral, a Country & Western fan, part-time cowboy and would-be care home boss; dressed splendidly in sky-blue fringed shirt and trews, with (of course) cowboy boots and a natty hat. Gar introduces us to Carol the career carer, another fabulous character, played by Sarah Munro. Her costume is equally meticulous – gingham shirt, PVC tabard and white Mary-Jane shoes, plus a blonde bob and a packet of fags for her tea break. Carol fetches Old Paint, the home’s first resident – and the tomfoolery begins. As Gar sells us the charms of the care home, Carol and Old Paint line-dance to the Johnny Cash classic ‘I Walk the Line’; and Carol coaches Old Paint in his gymkhana skills (the poor old dear does struggle a little here). I’m so busy watching all this fabulous horsey nonsense that it’s only as I walk away at the end of the show that some of Gar’s lines hit home: apparently, the pantomime sea-horses will be on the top floor so they get a sea view; and the basement will be given over to the pantomime pit-ponies, who’ll get a reduced rent in return for time on the treadmill generating electricity for the home. In true Insect Circus tradition, attention to detail is everything: the shop window is set up as a sitting room papered in pink horsey wallpaper, with horse portraits on the wall and a shelf unit filled with ultra-kitsch plastic and china pony ornaments. Cheery posters advertising the retirement home’s rates are given pride of place. Old Paint himself is gorgeous – a lovely design, and beautifully inhabited and animated by Persephone Pearl (rear end) and Freya Watson (front). Oh, what a splendid idea. And oh, how joyfully realised.

Pistacatros: Orchesta de Malabares. Photo David Street

Then, there are the ’big draw’ shows. 

Puppets With Guts’ The Lips features a chorus of delightfully deviant divas whose mouths have broken free from their bodies, allowing them to lip-synch and jive to an exhilarating mix of much-loved pop tunes, with a bit of a slant towards hen party karaoke classics: ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘Kiss’… You get the picture. The lyrics roll by above us so we can sing along. The big gang of girls on a night out who are sitting behind me particularly like Beyonce’s ‘All the Single Ladies’, and the two Spice Girl numbers. There’s a few blasts of pyrotechnics – showers and fountains and red smoke erupting out from the ‘lips’ every so often – but it’s mostly all about the tunes. Yes, it’s a one-trick pony, but it works and it’s a genuine crowd-pleaser – I end up seeing it twice in St George’s Park after dark, and both times it’s very well received. It was also presented in a promenade version during the day, and was featured as part of the Friday night Cobholm Island Beach Party, which saw Out There Festival take itself off to a part of the Yarmouth community less likely to come into town for arts activities. 

Community engagement is a key feature of the festival, and the Great Yarmouth version of The Lips includes a lovely troupe of young dancers from Afro Lusa and Broadway Bellas – two local community dance groups – who join in stage-front for the early part of the show, then morph into the crowd, still dancing, as proud parents cheer them on.

Galician company Pistacatro’s Orquesta De Malabares – another of the big crowd-pleaser shows – takes it all a stage further, re-devising and co-creating their show wherever they present it. A core-company of six jugglers perform in front of, and interact with, an amateur orchestra from the host region – in this case, Norwich City Concert Band, who give us a cheery mix of light classical and pop tunes (from ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ to ‘Delilah’). The work by the core team of jugglers is excellent. We get clever solo and ensemble club and ball routines; and lots of lovely physical theatre games, including a feisty Musical Chairs, and various takes on those classic vaudevillian upstaging skits we know from the likes of Abbott and Costello or Morecambe and Wise, each juggler in turn trying their best to steal the limelight (a way of showcasing everyone’s talents). There’s some brilliant clowning as mock fights break out between the jugglers, and between jugglers and orchestra. The core company performers are always generous in their interactions with the local musicians, and everyone works together to give us a hearty blend of physical comedy, music, and skilful juggling. The crowd laps it all up, giving the company a standing ovation at the end of the show.

Paka’s fire sculptures aren’t officially in the programme – it’s more that he is going to be featured in Out There’s coming Fire on the Water festival later in the autumn, and is giving the people of Yarmouth a taster. As metallic saxophones and tubas puff and bellow smoke and fire, there are excited roars and squeals from the crowd. It’s interesting to note how many of the young adult male population are here – the very demographic Out There were trying to entice into the festival with the high-energy acrobatics of the Extremities programme. Fire, that is clearly what young men like and want! 

My time at Out There finishes on a massive high (literally) with UNITY by Gorilla Circus, reflected on here – a really interesting blend of powerful political theatre and extraordinarily skilled aerial circus.

Just three days, but what an action packed three days! A full-on outdoor arts programme. A fabulous professionals day, Bounce Back, which sees an Artists’ Marketplace, and not one but two Total Theatre Magazine events: a Total Theatre Talks addressing Artists at the Crossroads post-pandemic, and a Total Theatre Training session called Script, Score, Storyboard, reflecting on writing outdoor arts, circus and site-responsive shows. And perhaps best of all, a chance to be with people. To meet and greet; to share food and gossip; to see shows together and talk about them afterwards over a drink. 

It’s what we’ve all needed for so long –  it’s so, so good to be bouncing back!

Gorilla Circus: UNITY at Out There Festival 2021. Photo David Street

Featured image (top): Puppets With Guts: The Lips on the streets of Great Yarmouth for Out There Festival 2021. Photo by David Street

Out There Arts / National Centre for Outdoor Arts and Circus produces the Out There International Festival in Great Yarmouth each September, as well as other large-scale shows and events, including the new Fire on the Water. They also run the Drill House International Creation Centre – a 20,000 square feet complex for creation, training, fabrication, community activity and events working with UK and International Artists and Companies. 

Out There Arts is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council. https://outtherearts.org.uk/

Out There Festival took place across Great Yarmouth 17–19 September 2021. 

See https://outtherearts.org.uk/out-there-festival/ 

Fire on the Water takes place 21 October–6 November 2021. It is funded by The Norfolk Strategic Fund (NCC), Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Interreg Experience, Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Out There Arts. For further details, see https://outtherearts.org.uk/event/fire-on-the-water/   

The Whole Earth and Nothing But the Earth

Just what do we mean by environmental art? Dorothy Max Prior reflects on work seen at Symondsbury Estate on the second weekend of Inside Out Dorset, a biennial outdoor arts festival commissioning and presenting performance and installation work that engages meaningfully with the landscape in which it is sited

Environmental art-making is on the up. In the light of the deepening climate crisis, and other looming ecological concerns, more and more artists and theatre-makers have taken to the stage or gallery to express their concerns in plays or performance pieces or installations – and, we presume, to attempt to change the way people live. 

But for some of us, the fact that these shows take place within a theatre/performance culture that encourages the constant carting of large amounts of kit across the country in trucks, then using ecologically unsound buildings to show the work for very short runs before heading off to the next town, rather defeats the message. Especially as so often costumes and set are made from scratch and ditched at the end of the show’s run.

For many artists with an interest in true environmentalism, decisions were made (even before Covid forced their hand) to step off of that treadmill, and instead make work that was not ‘about’ environmentalism, but was truly environmentally conscious in its approach: sited outdoors in the landscape or a found site, responding to that site in the devising process and using very little in the way of ‘set’, instead making use of the natural environment as the staging. 

Inside Out, presented in Dorset biennially by Activate Performing Arts, has been promoting such an approach for many years. In this edition, there was a particular emphasis on work that engages with the land, and support for artists working in environmentally sound ways, with three special commissions from Red Herring Productions, Lorna Rees, and Dave, The Shouting Mute.

Red Herring Productions: The Whistlers. Photo Tony Gill

Red Herring are led by Paschale Straiton – who reflected most eloquently in an article here on Total Theatre Magazine on the notion of hyperlocality, a recent buzzword that can mean many things, but surely one of them is a focus on working close to home, exploring and making artistic use of the local environment. 

Their latest work, Whistlers, is an absolute delight. A clever theatrical wheeze is set up at the start. We meet at an information tent on the edge of the woods, and learn all about The Whistler Conservation Society, who are apparently here in Symondsbury following the sighting of a couple of ‘Whistlers’ – a little-known human tribe who live in close, symbiotic relationship with songbirds and communicate by whistling. We are then joined by a khaki-clad jolly-hockey-sticks anthropologist called Lynne Passerine, who tells us that she is director of the Whistler Conservation Society. She issues us with headsets and marches us off to a campfire in the woods, where we hear her enthusiastic stories of trips to the Georgian Caucasus and other far-flung places in a quest to find Whistlers. Imagine, then, her joy at spotting a female Whistler in these very woods! We are invited to follow her deeper into the woods, on an expedition to hear, and perhaps if we are very lucky, see a real live Whistler. And so off we trek… 

We stumble up and down steep red-earth paths, trip over roots, and crouch Ninja-style when a distinct and unusual bird whistle is heard. We pass trees decorated with interesting symbols and markings – some look South American, others reference European folk art. I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I tell you that we do, eventually, make Whistler contact – and are subsequently brought into a number of lovely, and often very funny, Whistler rituals. Water and twigs, wooden bowls filled with feathers, and a delightful pair of leafy wings are all employed. I particularly enjoy the small child next to me resolutely chewing on a twig-worm a Whistler has given him, despite his mother’s concerns about him eating dirt and twigs….  All three (female) performers are excellent, the folkloric costumes lovely, and the use of the natural environment for props, with the landscape and the lovely tree installations as the ‘set’, is perfect. The soundtrack of bird and human whistles is great – the aural build as we come closer to the Whistlers’ hang-out works particularly well. I do wonder about the use of the headsets, which give a disconnect with the environment – but end up realising that this is probably so that the real birds aren’t overly disturbed by bird recordings and human whistlings!

Lorna Rees: Geophonic. ‘Chalk’s lament for a billion micro-organisms’.Photo DM Prior

Animal, vegetable, mineral? When we think of our relationship with the ‘natural world’ often it is animal or plant life that comes first to mind. But for performer, musician and sound artist Lorna Rees, creator of Geophonic, it’s the mineral world that has caught her attention…

Geophonic is a site-responsive performance piece and sound walk, encouraging audiences to listen to the geological processes of the Earth. ‘We’re interested in the physical narratives of rock, sci-fi and geology on a human scale. It is a work hugely bound up in notions of custodianship of the natural world’ says the artist on her website.

At the start of what turns out to be a pretty long walk along country lanes, we are issued with ​lovely hand-spun aluminium ‘geophones’ (available in purple, copper or blue) that are rather like a child’s take on a traffic cone, and encouraged to listen to sounds natural or human-made at different points on the journey, these moments indicated wordlessly by our guide, Adam Coshan. He introduces the walk with a note on the three types of rock: igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary. That didn’t really sink in at the time, so for your elucidation (and mine), here’s Wiki: ‘Igneous rocks are formed from melted rock deep inside the Earth; sedimentary rocks are formed from layers of sand, silt, dead plants, and animal skeletons; metamorphic rocks formed from other rocks that are changed by heat and pressure underground.’

So, off we march, encountering tableaux and performance vignettes along the way, these enacted by a ‘rock group’ (ha!) –  a troupe of five performers (including Lorna herself) who don magnificent whole-head masks to become, say, ‘Coal’ or ‘Quartz’ or ‘Chalk’. Some of the pieces are silent ensemble movement pieces, some are solo acapella (‘Chalk’s lament for a billion micro-organisms’), some are whole-group music songs (one a fabulous local folk tune augmented by field recordings). In one of my favourite moments, Lorna/Coal stands still, silent and alone in the centre of a a field as we walk by. The five performers use bicycles to get from one location to another. I enjoy the performers’ ritual removing of rock masks and donning of bike helmets – and there are also some lovely moments en route as we and the cyclists are passed by other road users: at one point a horse-riding lesson goes by, and at another a blushing farmer drives a tractor through a guard-of-honour of audience members lining the track.

A small quibble: our guide had asked us at the beginning to stay together in one group, but he walks rather too quickly – so the eldest and youngest in the group (including me!) end up straggling behind, meaning we often experience the tail end of the tableaux or performance pieces sited in the fields to the side of the paths. I suspect because it’s such a long route, and there’s a constant need to get to the next location. 

Another vital element – working alongside the visual pictures, live music and physical actions – are pre-recorded soundscapes incorporating, literally, the sounds of the earth: Icelandic volcano eruptions, lava flow in Hawaii, sounds from local coves and rivers in Dorset, sounds from coal faces in Wales and Kent. These are sometimes in a pure state, sometimes worked into a sound art piece (by Laura Reid and/or other contributors). The sound recordings are presented nicely, emanating from coloured metal boxes containing Minirig speakers which are sat in fields or by the roadside – but again, I feel hurried, and don’t get enough time to take in the sound art work. 

Another favourite moment is the fabulous ‘Hutton’s Unconformity Scottish Reel with Intruding Quartz’ which sees four of our fab five jigging around in folksy set-dance harmony whilst Quartz (played by China Blue Fish) vogues, catwalks and poses like crazy. So along the way, we’ve morphed rather marvellously from slightly po-faced ‘art’ (tongue-in-cheek, I do believe) to full-on silliness. There is a joyous ending as we are all brought into the dance with The Temptations’ ‘Standing on Shakey Ground’ – a reminder that ‘even rocks don’t last forever’.

Luke Jerram: Gaia. Photo Sue Lancashire

From humans and birds to rocks to – the whole world! Gaia in her entirety! Having previously brought us The Museum of the Moon, artist Luke Jerram has subsequently turned his attention to the earth. Measuring seven metres in diameter, and featuring 120dpi detailed NASA imagery of the earth’s surface, Gaia is indeed an awesome piece of work – particularly as seen in the extraordinary setting of Park Copse, part of the Symondsbury Estate. It can be experienced daytime or evening. I opt for evening, and join a group that goes on an adventurous post-supper trek by torchlight past farmland and into the wilds of the woods, rough and steep tracks winding up to the top of a hill, then curving down into the secret location. There is a gasp-worthy moment as we see the sculpture gradually emerge from behind the dense forestation, finally finding ourselves in a circular glade surrounded by enormous trees, Gaia suspended in the middle of it all, inviting us to view our world from a different perspective. I can see that everyone around me is similarly in a daze as we look and listen. The soundscape, by composer Dan Jones (founding member of Sound and Fury Theatre Company) weaves together words from astronauts viewing the earth from space, with other found sounds and composed ambient music – the soundscape and sculpture together exploring what has been called ‘The Overview Effect’ which highlights ‘a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment’. We could say that in this case it is more of an ‘underview’ rather than ‘overview’ effect, as we walk below the sculpture then all around it, but viewing Gaia in such a stunning location is indeed an awe and wonder moment – a perfect match of artistic concept and location. 

Dave, The Shouting Mute: Partnering with Earth. Photo Mike Petitdemange

Meanwhile, back at base camp – the gardens just outside Symondsbury Estate’s lovely cafe and shop – Partnering with Earth, by Dave Young (aka Dave, The Shouting Mute), asks: ‘If the earth could speak, what would it say?’. Gaia is now personified as a pregnant woman, an Alice wandering through an upcycled Wonderland accompanied by a quizzical Queen of Hearts and a Mad Hatter cum bumbling Prime Minister. Two sets of dining tables and chairs, beautifully reworked by designer Sophie Fretwell, offer us a place to listen or join in on the reflections on politics and the ecology. One table, focusing more on the problems, is painted black and features bin-bag upholstery and a heap of toy cars. The other table, focusing on solutions, is painted green and decorated with flowers. Here, we are invited to take up chalk and contribute our thoughts on what we are going to do for the world. There is live dialogue, but also a pre-recorded soundscape (by Jonathan Leitch) which incorporates Dave’s interviews with local farmers, scientists and activists about their relationship with the landscape in Dorset, and their views on climate change. This merged with poetic text written by Dave. Costume designs – like the set/installation, all made from recycled materials – were created by the Arts University Bournemouth’s project Costumes for Change.

I enjoy the piece, with some reservations. I love the visual elements – costumes and installations – and the sound work, but balk a little at the rather polemical nature of the piece – the exhortations to recycle and use cars less feels a little like preaching to the converted (although, naturally for an event in a countryside setting, the car park is full – so perhaps not? It’s going to take a lot to get this audience to abandon their cars, I fear!) I also find myself musing as I watch and listen that there are some – including the more hardcore elements of the Extinction Rebellion cohort, now working under the Beyond Politics or Burning Pink banners – who feel that putting the emphasis on individual responsibility is pointless when actually it is a handful of companies worldwide who are causing most of the polluting…. But I park that thought for another day!

Across the way, in a grass bowl to the front of the house, another piece takes an ecological stance – this time, it’s a word-free dance work, Rodadoras, by Becky Namgauds. Set to a score of Neapolitan folk music, and performed on a bed of soil by three women dancers, Rodadoras explores ecofeminism. I miss the first half of this 24-minute piece, so I don’t know how it starts, but at the point at which I come in, I witness an intense choreography in the José Limón /Doris Humphreys style: lots of reaching, bending, slamming into the ground; playing with weight, and exploring the rhythms of falling and recovering balance. The three women toss back long manes of hair, and roll ecstatically in the earth. The message here is a purely physical and visceral one: the female body free from the restrictions of the male gaze, and the constraints of polite  society, just being herself – wild and free. Another view of Gaia, perhaps?

Becky Namgauds: Rodadoras. Photo Mike Petitdemange

Featured image (top): Lorna Rees: Geophonic. Photo Mike Petitdemange.

Dorothy Max Prior attended the Inside Out Festival Symondsbury Estate programme on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th September 2021.

Biennial outdoor arts festival Inside Out Dorset, postponed from 2020, ran 17–26 September 2021, celebrating the county’s natural landscape and sense of place, transforming it with art and performance in both rural and coastal locations, including: Poole, Christchurch, Weymouth, the Moors Valley Country Park and Forest, and the Symondsbury Estate. All events were free to attend. insideoutdorset.co.uk 

Inside Out Dorset is funded by Arts Council England and presented by Activate Performing Arts. Activate exists to promote, support and produce performing arts projects in its communities. For over 30 years it has brought world-class events to unexpected places, such as town centres, village squares, beaches and hilltops. activateperformingarts.org.uk 

Circus Resurrection

Circus, circus, circus! Three thrilling shows – UNITY, Luminosa, Passagers. One outdoors, two indoors. All seen September 2021 and reported on here by Dorothy Max Prior

Well, it’s been a tough couple of years for all of us. Theatres closed, festivals cancelled. Actors, musicians, dancers, technicians all twiddling their thumbs at home, wondering what’s going to happen next. 

But if there’s one branch of the performing arts that has been slammed harder than any other, it is surely circus. If circus artists are not able to train, they are adversely affected in a way even more fundamental than the difficulties faced by dancers: it is not just that they need to be fit to do their work, if they don’t get to train safely, they are potentially putting their lives at risk. Working with other circus artists and/or with their specialist equipment is vital. Denied that, they can become dangerously out of kilter with the demands of their work. And earning a living through teaching circus skills became a complete nightmare this past year, with new rules demanding that you have twice as much equipment (silks, ropes, whatever) as usual to-hand so that there is no touching and sharing.

There have been small oases of sanity in amongst the Covid madness. Whilst some circus artists and schools have been totally stymied by venues, local authorities or educational institutions taking their spaces from them, or making operating in them nigh-impossible with an ever-more complex set of rules, a number of venues and arts organisations have gone out of their way to enable circus artists to continue training and making work, finding ways to open up their spaces to them. These include Out There Arts in Great Yarmouth and Jacksons Lane in London. 

Out There Arts have had numerous circus artists in residence over the past couple of years, including the legendary Circolombia, working in their lovely Drill House creation centre. The organisation has resolutely kept the centre open and available to artists – and of course if artists and companies are operating as a bubble and testing regularly, than there is no reason why not. It is a mystery why more venues and arts organisations have not done the same, rather than staying closed, with furloughed staff having their livelihoods secured whilst artists languished. Fair enough if audiences can’t be allowed in, but there is no justification for the lack of initiative in allowing artists in to theatre/arts spaces to work.

The Outdoor Arts sector has provided some outlet for circus artists whilst theatres have been closed – throughout 2020 and 2021, festivals and outdoor events have gone ahead, including the Greenwich and Dockland festival in London, for example – and it is great to see that good work continuing. But now, thank goodness, we are also seeing the re-opening of theatres and the reinstatement of touring shows, both national and international. So here, we highlight three great shows seen in the past fortnight: one outdoors, an indoor show from UK-based companies, and a large-scale international show. Believe me, it is great to be writing this! 

Gorilla Circus: UNITY at Out There Festival, Great Yarmouth. Photo David Street

Outdoors first. In programming the Out There Festival of Circus and Street Arts (September 2021), the organisation have been rigorous in honouring commitments to artists booked for the aborted 2020 festival. They’ve also picked up the slack and booked artists whose premieres at other festivals were cancelled. Gorilla Circus, for example, whose show UNITY should have been seen at the cancelled Stockton International Riverside Festival.

The show closed the Out There Festival 2021 on a massive high, both literally and metaphorically. An enormous rig – sky high, but also long, in three sections separated by large pylons with platforms – becomes the site for a thrilling piece of circus-theatre. As lights sweep across the sandy beach, casting shadows and patterns, and a cracking electronic soundtrack by Peter Buffery builds (shades of classic Ninja Tunes here), the set becomes slowly peopled by a fabulous team of four humans – together with a number of mannequins, causing many a double-take! Nothing is hurried. We are allowed to experience each visual picture, and given time to hear and appreciate the soundtrack of poetic text (by Liverpudlian writer/actor Ellis Howard), who delivers a determined plea for political change: ‘Is this the best we could have done? Is this who we want to be?’  he asks. ‘Are we all in the same boat?’ Hardly. Cronyism and corruption is rife. Shared laptops and bad internet mean missed school, and meanwhile millionaires are engaging in a pointless space race. The voice continues: ‘The poorest of us will pay. We are in the worst mental health crisis of our lives. This system is broken. The only possible answer is to change everything.’ Meanwhile, the physical performance highlights include solo trapeze plus a gorgeous hair-hanging journey along the wire by Delia Ceruti, who has a wonderfully wriggly physical presence; and a shockingly scary chair balance and tightrope walk by Ellis Grover. There’s a lovely, positive finale as the four (human) performers spin around in a Mexican-style high carousel (there is possibly a name for this structure but I don’t know it!) as Ellis Howard speaks of a hopeful future in which humans forget egotistical journeys to the stars and work together to improve life on earth for all. A really interesting blend of powerful political theatre and extraordinarily skilled circus.

Jacksons Lane/Lost in Translation: Luminosa. Photo Alex Brenner

Meanwhile, down south, Jacksons Lane have kept their finger on the circus pulse in numerous ways throughout the terrible 2020–2021 season, which has coincided with the venue undergoing a massive redevelopment. They’ve made their spaces available for training, created a ‘building site’ show, made circus films, and taken circus out onto the streets of North London (on one occasion, in tandem with Christmas parcels and dinners for local elders). In recent months, they’ve created a brand new circus cabaret  show called Luminosa, which re-opened the venue in September, this produced by Jacksons Lane with Lost In Translation Circus, and supported by Upswing Aerial Theatre and Extraordinary Bodies. Luminosa features a core-cast of seven circus artists plus special guests each night, with live music from Peter Reynolds, and is directed by Ade Berry (artistic director of Jacksons Lane) and Massimiliano Rossetti (director of Lost in Translation Circus).

As a cabaret format show, Luminosa features a series of acts not a whole-show linear narrative, but there is a feeling of it being a cohesive whole, with the rigging and kit change-overs built into the show very nicely; for example, when performers move in up the aisles with ropes wound around them, or shouldering trapezes and clutching carabinas. Interludes between acts are also filled beautifully with quirky songs performed live (with vocals, keyboard and accordion) by Peter Reynolds, who many in the circus world will know as NoFit State’s musical director. There is also a great twist on the classic floor-based clowning work that is a crucial element of any circus show (allowing for a contrast with the aerial work and, of course, a re-jigging and re-rigging opportunity), with tongue-in-cheek acrobalancing by Lawrence Swaddle and Tilly Mae.

As everybody onstage is in multiple roles as ‘act’ or ‘support’ or ‘crew’, there’s a great decision to have the cast clad in grey boiler suits, peeled off to reveal their specific chosen costume when it’s their turn to do a turn; the jumpsuits then re-donned to help out with the next number. We get a whole host of gorgeous acts. Tasha Rushbrooke gives us precise and controlled hand-balancing, whilst Zaki Musa gives us a burlesque take on flying pole – a near-naked male body, stripped down to a sassy sequinned jock-strap, sporting an extraordinarily fetishistic pair of high-heeled black patent boots that squeak enticingly as they rub up against the pole. And there’s foot juggling! Rarely seen in contemporary circus, so a lovely surprise – and delivered with great humour and panache by Val Jauregui. Aerial work includes a fabulous side-by-side aerial hoop duet (from Danielle Summers and Upswing associate artist Joana Dias) that takes an ebony-and ivory black-and-white theme through decoration of hoop to costume. Sometimes they are in tandem, sometimes one or other takes the spotlight, and eventually the black/white hoops are swapped – a gentle message on integration whilst retaining one’s own identity, perhaps? – all delivered with beautiful precision and artistic cohesion. There’s a thrilling aerial straps number, replete with awe-inspiring splits and drops, from Holly Downey, who is also one of the three-girl gang of trapezists; and a Russian Cradle finale from Massimiliano Rossetti and Roisin Morris that makes good use of the greatly increased head-height on the redeveloped Jacksons Lane stage.

It is thrilling to see such a clear example of how far British circus has come in the past couple of decades – we are no longer the poor cousins of the circus world.

Oh how we’ve grown! Twenty years ago, our national contemporary circus community was just emerging from the extraordinary experience that had been the Millennium Dome Show – which had seen the training and professional development of scores of UK-based circus artists, leading to a revolution of the artform in this country, this led by what was then called Circus Space (now National Centre for Circus Arts) with support from Arts Council England and others. This combined with the parallel initiatives taken by companies/training schools such as NoFit State in Cardiff and Circomedia in Bristol to lead off a game-changing era. All three of these venerable institutions have trained up and nurtured the performers seen now in Luminosa

The 7 Fingers: Passagers

But two decades back, when seeing the phenomenal level of skill, artistry and professionalism from visiting companies from countries such as Canada/Quebec and Australia, we could only dream of a future in which British-based circus artists could reach such dizzy heights. One such visiting company, on the brink of its 20-year anniversary, is Les Sept Doigts de la Main (aka 7 Fingers). A Montreal based break-off from Cirque du Soleil, Les Sept Doigts stunned the world with their extraordinary integration of the highest level of circus skills with a theatrical sensibility. Their first show, Traces (or at least, the first to be presented in the UK – seen originally at the Edinburgh Fringe) totally changed the circus landscape, with its integration of circus skills with dance and spoken text, mining the possibilities of using autobiographical material in circus. 

So, many years later – and post-pandemic – how are they doing? Passagers, which comes to Brighton Dome as part of a six-venue tour across England, does not disappoint. They are still at the top of their game. It is not a brand-new show – it was created and toured pre-Covid, but has been re-launched with a nine-strong cast (although only eight are present, including some original and some new members).  As with many other of the company shows, Passagers is written, directed and choreographed by Shana Carroll – although, as with other shows, it is clear that devised material from the original cast is a crucial element.

The show is an ode to train travel: “Departure vs. transit vs. arrival. Chance vs. choice vs. destiny. Stillness vs. acceleration. Reflection vs. transparency. Familiar vs. foreign. Private vs. public. Confinement vs. border-crossing. Bright headlights vs. tunnel-darkness. Past vs. future…’

It is an oddly – although we presume deliberately – old-fashioned work. In the post-show discussion, an audience member asks the company if they know the work of Theatre de Complicité, which draws a blank, but I’m with that person in seeing a constant stream of Complicité (or perhaps it is Lecoq in general) tropes and images onstage. Most obviously, rows of chairs as train carriages; but there’s also all the hero-and-chorus groupings and swayings, the greetings and leave-takings, the rhythmic walkings and crossings of stage space, and the endless playing with piles of brown-and-blue leather suitcases.  Actually, I know what it reminded me of – Gecko Theatre’s work. Now, this is not a bad thing. It’s classic physical theatre tropes, is what it is. Fine by me. It is also augmented by a very beautiful and sophisticated lighting design (lots of straw-and-steel and moody blues) and a great use of projections, both stills and moving image. On the back wall, we see passing landscapes, silhouettes of  bodies to-ing and fro-ing across station forecourts, electricity pylons, and the gorgeous roofs of wrought-iron stations. In one shot we see a tight-wire walker – I presume this is missing company member Brin Schoelkopf. 

Enacted in a limbo between leaving and arriving, many aspects of ‘journeying’ are explored. The classic 7 Doigts device of performers grabbing a mic to deliver a morsel of text is in full evidence (an autobiographical story of loss and moving on; a musing on the plights of refugees crossing borders; a reflection on the nature of time in light of Einstein’s theory of relativity). It feels very familiar these days – but I remind myself that when Les 7 Doigts first did this, it wasn’t. A company has the perfect right to use the theatrical devices it has pioneered and made its own!  

As for the circus skills employed: a fabulous array, as we’d expect from these world leaders. Acrobalance, aerial hoop, hula, contortion, Chinese pole… Every single act is superb, so it feels a little mean to single any one out, but my personal favourite was the wonderful doubles trapeze (on a big fat double-sized bar) delivered by Marilou Vershelden (base) and Sabine van Rensburg (flyer), beautifully supported and augmented by whole-ensemble floorwork and hand-to-hand – so that, for example, Sabine jumps down into waiting arms, walks across a row of hands, and is then tossed up again to be caught by Marilou. Absolutely stunning work. Sabine also delivers one of the best silks/tissue act I’ve seen, an act that eschews pretty posing for pure power and strength in her twists and drops. I enjoy Argentinian Pablo Omar Pramparo’s clubs juggling – mostly because the integration of dance, physical theatre and object manipulation in this scene is so brilliant. And I must mention the Russian cradle act by base Samuel Renaud and flyer Louis Joyal (a company regular) whose swings and throws take on a phenomenal momentum and force as this metal contraption rocks back and forth. It’s odd – I think of Russian cradle as a rare circus discipline, and here I am seeing my second act in just one week! 

It is so wonderful to see that international touring has once again resumed, and all kudos to everyone who has made this possible, including the Dance Consortium theatres who have worked together to bring the UK tour of Passagers to fruition. Un grand success, bravo!

The 7 Fingers: Passagers

The 7 Fingers: Passagers was seen at Brighton Dome, 30 September 2021. Tour continues across the UK, supported by Dance Consortium. See  https://7doigts.com/ 

Jacksons Lane/Lost in Translation: Luminosa was seen at Jacksons Lane theatre 22 September 2021. See https://www.jacksonslane.org.uk/circus/ 

Gorilla Circus: UNITY was seen at Out There Festival, Great Yarmouth, on 19 September 2021. See https://outtherearts.org.uk/out-there-festival/   

Total Theatre Artists as Writers 2021

News Release – 15 September 2021

Total Theatre Artists as Writers – developing new critical writing

Success in Total Theatre Magazine’s Arts Council England application! The third incarnation of this innovative scheme will start November 2021

Total Theatre Magazine is delighted to announce that, following a successful application to Arts Council England and with the support of a number of key industry partners, a new edition of the Total Theatre Artists as Writers scheme will take place from November 2021 to March 2022.

The Total Theatre Magazine editorial team will offer a series of online workshops and one-to-one mentoring sessions for a new cohort of twelve contemporary theatre/ performance artists interested in exploring writing about their own and other people’s artistic practices.

Participants will have their work published on Total Theatre Magazine, at www.totaltheatre.org.uk and we will also be commissioning a number of new long-form articles from established artist- writers.

The programme will be led by editor Dorothy Max Prior and associate editor Beccy Smith, alongside a number of guest mentors and workshop leaders. We are keen this year to continue our support for critical writing about still-neglected areas of practice such as outdoor arts; to support cross-artform and innovative performance practice; and to reach out to potential artist-writers from neglected or less well represented communities.

Editor Dorothy Max Prior says:

‘Total Theatre Artists as Writers is at the core of our work – celebrating and supporting contemporary theatre and performance, and prioritising the voice of the artist. In our 2021-2022 programme, we intend to include as diverse a range as possible of both emerging and established artists; and our quest is to find participants from all corners of the UK, and all sections of the community.’

Total Theatre Magazine will be appointing suitable mentors/workshop leaders in accord with our aim to diversify the team, and in order to meet the specific needs of chosen participants. – including artists of colour, artists with disabilities, migrant and working class artists, and LGBTQ+ artists.

The call-out to potential participants will go live on Thursday 16 September, with the deadline for applications Monday 18 October.
See: http://totaltheatre.org.uk/total-theatre-artists-as-writers-2/

Our partners in this project are: Out There Arts, Without Walls, London International Mime Festival, Polari LGBTQ+ Literary Salon, and Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. We thank all of these organisations for their support. We also thank Arts Council England, and National Lottery players, who have made this project possible.

Dorothy Max Prior (editor)
On behalf of the Total Theatre Magazine Editorial Team

Contact the Total Theatre Editorial Team for further information:

Dorothy Max Prior, editor max@totaltheatre.org.uk Tel/WhatsApp + 44 7752 142526 Beccy Smith, associate editor, reviews@totaltheatre.org.uk Tel/WhatsApp +44 7977 511556

www.totaltheatre.org.uk | @TotalTheatreMag | https://www.facebook.com/TotalTheatreMag

Notes for Editors:

More about Total Theatre Magazine

Total Theatre Magazine champions artist-led critical writing, putting the practitioner at the heart of the discourse about their own work and the work of their peers. For more than thirty years the magazine, first in print and now online, has played a crucial role in promoting and championing alternative theatre and performance practice in the UK. The Total Theatre Magazine website can be viewed at www.totaltheatre.org.uk The Total Theatre Magazine Print Archive is at totaltheatre.org.uk/archive

Total Theatre Magazine also runs a number of other projects, including Total Theatre Talks, presented in collaboration with festivals and venues across the UK; Total Theatre Training & The Writing’s On the Streets, offering one-off or short-course writing workshops; and Total Theatre Artists as Writers, a three-month+ scheme mentoring artists who wish to write about their own and other’s work.

Total Theatre Magazine first ran the Total Theatre Artists as Writers training and CPD programme as part of our Total Theatre Print Archive project in 2019. For that incarnation of the programme, participants reflected on their own practice in relation to artists’ work explored through the archive: See http:// totaltheatre.org.uk/archive/artist-writers This went so well that TTM ran the programme again in 2020 (completely online this time). The third iteration runs November 2021 to March 2022. Articles generated from the programme will be posted on the main website: http://totaltheatre.org.uk

More about our partners:

Out There Arts

Out There Arts / National Centre for Outdoor Arts and Circus produces the Out There International Festival in Great Yarmouth each September with one of the largest programmes of circus in the UK, as well as producing other large-scale shows and events, including the new Fire on the Water. They also run the Drill House International Creation Centre – a 20,000 square feet complex for creation, training, fabrication, community activity and events working with UK and International Artists and Companies.

Out There Arts is funded by Arts Council England and supported by Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council. https://outtherearts.org.uk/

For more information on Out There Festival 17–19 September 2021, see https://outtherearts.org.uk/out- there-festival/

Without Walls

Without Walls is a consortium of over 35 festivals and arts organisations that brings fantastic outdoor arts to people in towns and cities across the UK. Since its formation in 2007, Without Walls has developed and toured over 200 new shows by UK companies and supported the Research and Development of over 75 projects. Without Walls commissions have toured widely both in the UK and internationally across 22 countries.

Without Walls is managed by XTRAX, an independent management and production company based in Manchester with over 20 years’ experience in Outdoor Arts: www.xtrax.org.uk

Without Walls is supported by Arts Council England as a National Portfolio Organisation. www.withoutwalls.uk.com | facebook.com/WithoutWallsUK | @WWconsortium

London International Mime Festival

The London International Mime Festival (LIMF) is an annual theatre event in London. Its directors are Joseph Seelig and Helen Lannaghan, winners of the International Theatre Institute Award for Excellence.
It was established in 1977 by Joseph Seelig and Nola Rae and it is the longest running event of its kind in the world – a month-long showcase for ground-breaking visual/physical theatre, new circus, object theatre and live art.

LIMF returns in 2022 with a full programme of shows at venues across the capital from Wednesday 12 January – Sunday 6 February. In addition to these performances, LIMF will run live and online workshops, after-show discussions with artists, and a new series of short films created by international artists. www.mimelondon.com

Polari

Polari is an award-winning LGBTQ+ literary salon. It was founded by author Paul Burston in 2007, and began in a bar in Soho. Since 2009, Polari have been based at London’s Southbank Centre. They also tour regularly, funded by Arts Council England.

The Polari Prize Tenth Anniversary Tour showcases writers long- and short-listed for the Polari Prize awards for emerging and established LGBTQ+ literary talent, as well as winners from the Prize’s ten year history, dating back to 2011.

https://www.polarisalon.com/

Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance

Rose Bruford College, based in Sidcup, south-east London, is a drama school offering degree programmes in acting, directing, and other theatre arts. The college teaching, learning and training ethos is based on artistry, collaboration, community, discovery, diversity, employability, independence, and professionalism. Students and staff work in collaboration across a number of campuses to make and produce over 75 shows a year.

The College mission is to achieve social and cultural impact by delivering the highest quality vocational training and education. Their teaching covers a wide, innovative spectrum of subjects and delivers proactive graduates who are creative, empowered and employable.

www.bruford.ac.uk