Research Methodology

The following short, somewhat disjointed, essay is culled from my notes for a lecture I presented at a Duo-Acrobatics Symposium in Stockholm a couple of years ago. I was delighted to find that almost all that I spoke about turned out to be at least as applicable to that field as it was in my own experience within juggling. And of course many new and duo-acro specific concepts and ideas arose and were discussed. Special thanks to Celso and Francesca for organising that meeting: the circus world needs more geeks like them!

Special thanks also to Jay Gilligan, Ben Richter and Erik Åberg. It was the several-year spanning Manipulation Research Laboratories that helped me clarify my own thoughts somewhat on all these themes.

And the process is ongoing, and the research continues and changes each day anew.

Luke Wilson: Cologne, 23.06.2012


“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”
Richard Buckminster Fuller.

Jugglers tend to think a lot about juggling.

Why is that? For one thing, it is simply a huge scene, consisting in large part of many hobbyists with time on their hands. There were over 6000 jugglers in attendance at the 31st European Juggling Convention in 2008 (Karlsruhe, Germany). Many people in this scene are of a mathematical or scientific bent, which has led to the fast development of that particular side of juggling. In addition, we jugglers have less physical responsibility than other disciplines. We can train longer. We don’t need to spend so much time warming up, building muscle, or at the physio. So we have more time and energy to invest in other aspects of the work.

Our theme now is research. And there are two things that we can research in circus (be it within juggling, acro, aerial, lion taming, etc…). We can research tricks (easy and fun), and we can research what the tricks are good for (hard and fun).

In other words, we can make new tricks, and we can make new applications for tricks.

Application is always and only to create an emotional reaction in the audience. Whether that reaction is amazement and applause, or tenderness and tears. Aesthetic or awkward.

This process feeds back in on itself. We can make tricks that are better for specific things, thus improving our success rate at conjuring applause or tears. Or, coming from the other direction, we can first find out what the trick is good for and exploit that knowledge. This may also help define what the discipline as a whole in itself is good for.

There are three aspects to the work, and once we have defined them we can begin to plan the research. This often leads to many questions, but perhaps not to many answers. Which is just how I like my work (or any creative work) to be.

1. PHYSICAL: inc. new tricks and performance / theatrical aspects (“theatre” being used in its loosest possible sense).
2. MENTAL: inc. what the trick is good for, the actual internal moment of execution, and also the “why?” of what we are doing.
3. SCIENTIFIC: inc. the research aspects of our work (and most of the questions that we will find!).

All the work we do is research: every hour in the gym and every minute on the stage. But often we either see it as long term and unfocused, or we do not even notice it as research, simply viewing it as part of the organic training process. So a target we can set ourselves is to be more efficient with this ongoing and ever-present research. We do all the work anyway, but perhaps we can compress and clarify it.

To break down the three aspects more clearly:

What are the physical elements of the work?

At least (but maybe not exclusively) the following:
i. Body
ii. Prop
iii. Environment

What are the mental elements of the work?

For example:
In training / on stage? Differences and similarities?
What is special about the skill (props, people, space etc)?
Why that particular discipline?
What is the discipline itself particularly good for?
WDYDWYD? A very zeitgeisty concept: Why Do You Do What You Do?
Why circus? Originally perhaps it was to show what could be. Maybe now it serves to show what is? Almost the exact opposite development of most (visual) arts!

What can we do about these factors?

Research preparation:
1. Identify the question
2. Define the elements
3. Design the experiment

Research application:
1. Perform the experiment
2. Explore/define the findings

I believe in fast creation: set the experiment, and take no more than 5-15 minutes to execute it / explore the identified concepts.

We must learn to trust our opinion of what is “good”. By taking fast decisions of artistic content or technique, we practice and reinforce trust in ourselves.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s