The Making of Beta Testing

Beta_Testing_logo

Why make a show?

Luke Wilson was a teacher, colleague, mentor and friend. He inspired me to set up Circus Geeks in March of 2011. Circus Geeks started out as a blog set up after a particularly late night conversation between myself and Luke. Although memories are fuzzy from the night’s events, the definition of juggling, art and how to make the perfect pizza were all discussed. As well as this, a mutual agreement was reached on the lack of information, ideas and connection circus artists manage to share with each other and the wider world. So I set up a WordPress blog, bought the URL and Circus Geeks was born.

At the time, I was performing my solo act in various venues around Europe and was getting a bit down about the idea of working in venues for long stretches away from home or venues in London which offered audiences that were more up for a night on the town rather than seeing a piece of circus.

I graduated with the act in 2008, so by 2012 I was no longer getting the same excitement I got when I first performed it. The solo with the silver cups and balls in Beta Testing was based on the feelings I had doing my graduation piece over and over again.
To be good at juggling (or anything) requires a massive amount of repetition. Typically this attitude of repetition has been continued into the artistic practices of some of the best jugglers of all time. Many have performed 7-10 minute numbers in cabarets, music halls, variete and circus. Their acts didn’t vary too much, perhaps a change of trick once in a while or a new costume but pretty much set pieces to be performed 100s of times, finding different audiences for each performance. Luke wrote an interesting essay on the subject of repetition which you can find on the Circus Geeks blog here: https://circusgeeks.co.uk/2011/09/04/repetition/

After reading Seth Godin I realised that I needed to make an active choice to constantly create new work, find people who were interested in my work and share it with them. Upon reflection I realise it’s what Gandini Juggling do so well (a company I have worked with intermittently since 2008 and has had massive influence on my juggling and views on art).

I knew that performing interesting, new circus work in the UK can be hard as audiences are not aware of what circus (perhaps ‘alternative circus’) can be. I’d always been obsessed by TED (in 2009 I had watched every TED talk there was) and wanted to give my own. I thought that making a show somewhere between a TED talk and a circus performance would be something I’d love to see and making it about juggling would help audiences in to a world very alien to them. It would be an interesting challenge.

I also knew I didn’t want to make a solo.

I met Matt and Jon in the early to mid 2000s at juggling conventions. We became friends and saw each other at juggling conventions. Matt graduated from at Circomedia and Jon studied as an electrician’s apprentice (we still get the occasional story from Jon about how he was electrocuted or how he ruined some poor clients kitchen by drilling holes in their ceiling by accident) but he dropped out, moved to London and made the shift to professional juggler. Matt went onto found his own circus company, PanGottic.

In October of 2012 I asked Matt and Jon if they were interested in Beta Testing, they were both up for it. Each has their own solo shows, so for the first version on Beta Testing we supplemented a small amount of new material by borrowing from their existing work.

We went on to be awarded the Propellor Prize in March 2013, which enabled us to make more material and a more cohesive show, which was premiered at the Roundhouse CircusFest in April 2014.

Beta Testing Inspiration

I like recommendations from sources I trust – almost everyone does.
Here is a list of stuff that have influenced the show and stuff we love:

TED talks
– All of Seth Godin’s TED talks – Arron quotes him in the solo scene where Arron is juggling and talking at the same time. – https://www.ted.com/speakers/seth_godin
– Jay Gilligan – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB_sfnwbgvk
– James Randi – http://www.ted.com/talks/james_randi
– Rodney Mullen – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEm-wjPkegE
– Richard Dawkins – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxGMqKCcN6A

Juggling
– DROP – Luke Wilson
– Red/Blue – Luke Wilson -http://www.renegadesignlab.com/diversions/redblue.html
– Smashed – Gandini Juggling – http://smashedjuggling.com
– Water on Mars – Tony Pezzo X Patrik Elmnert X Wes Peden – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ppgy_9yx5-w
– Flowerpot – Clockwork – http://juggling.tv/171
– Anatoli and Viktor – http://juggling.tv/121
– Anthony Gatto – http://anthonygatto.com
– Dieto – http://juggling.tv/633
– PeaPot – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wO3Ua1lmrU
– The Qian Brothers – http://juggling.tv/1541
– Sean McKinney – http://www.seanmckinney.com
– Robin Gunney – http://juggling.tv/5023
– Kris Kremo – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzkoZH1JKmo
– Ball Sticks – Guy Heathcote – http://juggling.tv/2042
– Pomp, Duck & Circumstance – Donald Grant – http://juggling.tv/1798
– Alexander Kiss – http://juggling.tv/343
– Bobby May – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6ZUoqxWwMo
– Sam Veale – http://juggling.tv/906
– Steve Rawlings – http://juggling.tv/2504
– The Two Marks – http://juggling.tv/257
– Ty Tojo – http://www.tytojo.com
– Bob Bramson – http://juggling.tv/364
– Jay Gilligan – http://www.fourthshape.com
– Erik Aberg – http://erikaberg.com

Books
– The Lynchpin by Seth Godin
– The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.
– 4000 Years of Juggling – Volume I & II- Karl Heinz-Ziethen
– The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (Radio plays over books every time)
-Steal Like An Artist- Austin Kleon

Random
http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/01/two-truths-about-juggling.html
– Stewart Lee – http://www.stewartlee.co.uk
– Robin Ince – http://robinince.com
– Penn & Teller – https://circusgeeks.co.uk/2013/03/19/public-fan-letters-penn-teller/
– Steve Jobs – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-jKKp3NA

Week by week break down: https://circusgeeks.co.uk/?s=beta+testing+-+creation+week

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The show

Scene break down

Endurance
The idea of Jon juggling as the audience arrived came from watching the DVD of Anthongy Gatto setting the world record for 7 ring juggling as an audience around him ate their dinner. Anthony juggled 7 rings for 15 minutes and 6 seconds finishing with a 5 ring pirouette.
In Beta Testing(BT) Jon juggled 5 balls for 5mins, which is hard to do under pressure. We did some training for it 6 months before the show and Jon was managing close to 20 minutes. It’s interesting to see how showmanship can be used or ignored to manipulate how an audience will react to a trick.

Keynote
The opening idea for the show comes from a piece I made about learning 5 ball back crosses. The piece grew from a performance I did at Jacksons Lane as part of a Lab:Time showcase in June 2012. Since then I’ve tweaked the slides and script but ultimately the key themes of the piece have remained the same, showing an audience the process a juggler goes through to learn a trick.

Jon’s Ring routine
Originally set out to remix and reference jugglers of the past with accompanied projected visuals but after initial testing we decided to scrap that aspect. Instead we have a really nice routine that helps lift the show after its initial text-heavy piece.

The Dreaded Question
This monologue comes directly from an early and popular post on the Circus Geeks blog. Steve Ralwlings helped us connect the scene with the lead in of the heckles, helping set up the tone for the piece.

The Lexicon
Again this scene started from a popular post on the blog, written by Erik Aberg. When we first showed it to an invited audience we received mixed reactions. But after scrapping some material, reworking and clarifying intentions with Steve we arrived at a scene which is very fun to perform and normally well received.  Our review from the Evening Standard says this scene alone is almost worth the ticket price.

Red/Blue
The idea of the colour change and playing on my colour blindness came after I was looking into colour theory and ways it could be used in juggling. I wish Luke could have seen me perform it.

Gentlemen
Matt and Jon both had sequences and tricks with everyday objects so it was logical to tie them together. Chair juggling was something I’d wanted to try for a long time, so we spent a few interesting (and scary) days throwing furniture at each other.

Act Art
This scene changed little as I went through the creation of BT, so there’s not much to be said. The original act can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMTvvphbdVU

Ring Passing
Originally the idea was to explore drops, setting up the idea of apologising for each drop, as the drops went on the apologies would get grander and increasingly ridiculous.
But after various experiments we came to the version in BT, it’s more a window into a world that only jugglers normal see. The truth is myself and Jon can easily perform the trick, at first we didn’t have any script or set material but the more times we performed it the more things we found to improvise around. Setting a structure allows us to guarantee (some degree) the piece isn’t too flat but isn’t too strict so we can be sure the piece stays fresh for us and in turn the audience.

Chop Suey
Chop Suey came very late on in the creation period, only 10 days before we premiered. Steve Rawlings pushed us to create a scene that was a bit lighter than some of the other scenes and fill it with juggling. It was refreshing to be a bit silly on stage.

Fish
The original concept was looking at risk and consequence. If a high-wire artist falls off they die; if a juggler drops, it’s a bit akward. Even when juggling seemingly dangerous items like fire torches the consequence of something going wrong is usually a lot less than the perceived risk. We thought it would be interesting to make a real understandable consequence.
Throughout various showing we experienced with the amount of attempts, juggling balls, music and even size of fish. The optimum is the version on the video. On the last night of our premier run at the Roundhouse we had the salmon and rainbow trout cooked up for a celebratory feast!

Big Balls
We spent 2 weeks in La Breche in France working with Howie Bailey to develop the ‘big ball’ scene. It comes from various Lab:Time work I’ve done with Howie before, working with 3D mapping and projection. The juggling in the scene is not the most technical but the prop, lights and pressure of hitting cues make it a very hard scene to get right.

 

What next?
Circus Geeks are currently applying for funding from Arts Council England to support a tour of the show in small-scale and rural venues across the UK. Fingers crossed!

Supported by:

lottery_png_black1Jerwood Charitable Foundation Logo

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