The Making of Beta Testing

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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

Beta Testing – Creation week 8

Studio Theatre, Roundhouse. Easter weekend. Go. Go. Go!

Jon_Graph

Howie came to help us run the custom cueing system that we had made for us, allowing us to run the show cues from onstage. We ended up using extra cues from Tom and Adam of the Roundhouse (both top guys) but are in good stead to run it all ourselves when we come to start our rural tour (hopefully) next year.

Howie was constantly making tweaks in the system and accommodating our ever increasing demands to tight deadlines, while we were running scenes and final touches.

On Monday 21st April we did a dress rehearsal for a few friends who could make the week of shows. It was a little odd in term of atmosphere but we were technically solid and  trusted that when we had a full audience the show would sail.

The next day we performed <Beta_Testing>.

5 days later the week and year project came to an end*.

If you want to read a more in-depth account of how we made the show please e-mail freebook@circusgeeks.co.uk

Many thanks to all those who came and supported us.

 

*but it didn’t really. We aim to tour from the start of 2015, get in touch if you are interested.

 

 

BETA TESTING – CREATION WEEK 7

Back to the artistic space formally known as Circus Space (and  called National Centre for Circus Arts) for a week of final development.

CreationMess

We spent 3 challenging days playing with scenes and reordering the show. The legendary juggler Steve Rawlings came to be outside eyes. Making some insightful suggestions and helping clean the show. Steves first hand understanding of juggling meant he could see what we we’re trying to say with each scene and helped us get to that.

One afternoon ReadySaltedCode came to visit and we showed them some bits of the show, particular interest was the Big Ball scene – which uses Kinect 3d technology.
CreationStudio_April

We ran the show a bunch of times and are ready to attack our time at the Roundhouse.

BETA TESTING – CREATION WEEK 6

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We spent 5 days in the theatre space at Jacksons lane last week, working towards an invited showing of a close-to-finished Beta Testing at the end if the week. Nice to reflect that just under a year ago we were there working toward our initial showing, which spurred us on to apply to the Propellor Prize.

The first couple of days seemed particularly tough, first working days back after Christmas with little true creativity to be had. It was more of a case of slotting various bits we had already made together and looking at the technical constraints and transitions.

Howie came to work with us on Wednesday, walking through his superb visuals and custom cueing system which allows us to run much of them show on stage. The constant reach for self reliance is a habit I have inherited from studying and obsessing the most successful classic variety acts. Something I will have to let go of at some point down the line but for now I cling to it like a clingy thing, possibly a sloth which has just had a double espresso from Prufrock. As it turned out the marvellous Jules of Jacksons Lane 2.0 helped us out with a few extra lighting states and cues.

Giraffe1

Matt devised a cunning way of dropping in a scree which made us all very happy and even worked in the showing, unlike most of Matts hair brained ideas – talking of which, Jon Udry was on top juggling form despite seemingly spending most of his time on luxury cruses in the Caribbean.

The showing went pretty well and we got some valuable feedback and new ideas, it seemed like the audience enjoyed it and some showed interest at the possibility of booking it in the future, watch this space_ We were happy with the results and are looking forward to making some changes for our official premier of <Beta_testing> in April.

Exciting times.

BETA TESTING – CREATION WEEK 5

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The 5th of 9 weeks of residency awarded by the Propellor Prize and our first in the Creation Studio at Circus Space National Centre for Circus Arts.

I’ve been lucky enough to use the Creation Studio for a few previous projects so it feels comfortable to be in the space. For a project like Beta Testing it’s perfect; good size, light, sound and WiFi. What more could a juggler ask for?

We spent 3 days recapping material we had produced up till now. It was our intention to work on a new scene as well, focusing on juggling all the furniture in the show. Unfortunately we got a little sidetracked relearning and cleaning previous work, we had a showing at the end of the week and wanted to present some close to finished material so we side tracked a little.

Mid way though the week we had a photoshoot in a functioning school science lab, it was a cool location to shoot on, if not a little strange. Jon reverted to a cheeky school boy in front of my eyes, strange what architecture and memory does to us all. Matt took one for the team putting some free (thanks to the monger on the right in Dalston market) fish in his mouth.

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 Back in the studio the chair juggling turned out to be pretty demanding and a little scary at times, we thought it would be pretty straight forward to create a slightly classic style act with furniture but this time we were a little ambitious.

Matt and Jon managed a brief cascade, while it may not be the most inventive thing we’ve come up with it certainly adds a different dynamic to the show, I hope we can work it in.

We also worked on a short everyday object duet with Jon and Matt, it promises to have a different feel to other bits in the show. It was fun for me to be outside eyes.

On the penultimate day we had a showing for some of the staff at Circus Space. The showing itself went well- we’ve produced a new 20 mins, add that to the material we already had and we are well on track to our premier in April.

However the next day was supposed to be spent working on more chair juggling but after a full week and focus of a showing it was pretty difficult to get back to making and throwing.

But with the vast majority of creating time over we’re happy and excited with what we have. Next up we have a private showing at Jacksons Lane, email me if you are interested in attending.

Beta Testing – Creation Week 4

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The 4th of 9 weeks of residency awarded by the Propellor Prize and the second week in a row at La Breche. For the last four days myself, Jon and Matt were joined by video visual specialist Howie Bailey. I’ve know Howie for 14 years, from the days when he was a professional Yo-Yoist and juggler. More recently I’d worked with him in his current line of work on two Lab:Time projects, investigating various projection techniques with juggling.

We spent the fours days reworking the routine, optimising it to be seen with the live projected visuals. We spent hours running the routine, over and over. We would do a run through, Howie would give notes and make changes to our choreography or his programming, and then we’d run the routine again. A rather efficient if not exhausting feedback loop, in total carried out around 60 times.

Lauren from The Production Shed joined us for the last couple of days to see what we’d been up to and On the 3rd day we did an informal showing for some local students. The showing was a great chance to test the piece and gain some valuable feedback and answer some questions. The final morning was spent running sections of the routine so we could film them. Then in the afternoon we spent some time changing the size of the space so we could be confident of performing the piece in different spaces.

The two weeks we spent in La Breche were extremely challenging and tiring, spending all our waking hours creating, juggling, discussing and watching the occasional episode of Bear Grylls. But our residency also felt massively productive, exciting and inspiring. We created a collaborative piece that we are proud of and look forward to performing it in Beta Testing and hearing what you think.

Beta Testing – Creation week 3

We find ourselves in Cherbourg at La Breche one of the best buildings setup for circus creation in the world. We have our own space – a permanent big top and the mission of creating a tight routine set to music, pretty far from what we were working on in the previous weeks – all spoken word.

Myself and Jon had a few days head start on Matt, working on some raw new patterns which would then make more exciting when Matt arrived. As a plan it seemed to work out pretty well and we now have the sketchings of a 5 minuet routine. We’ll try and smooth it out in the next few days while we work with visual artist Howie Bailey on some projections which will compliment the piece.

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Beta Testing – Creation Week 2

The week started with packed days spent working on various scenes which were constructed in the first week. Trying to tie down ideas and begin to set a couple of the sketches.

Every day we worked on our solo juggling and group technique, which will hopefully go into the final show. Juggling takes time to solidify and become familiar so we’re trying to put the hours in at this early stage of the project.

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We had an unsuccessful prop hunting trip to IKEA  but will send Matt back next week armed with his van and unusually short-sharpened pencil. Talking of Matt, he spent a couple of hours in his workshop making the first drafts of some exciting props and set for us- more on this later…

Myself and Jon spent the end of the week working on our work-in-progress showing at Out There festival in Great Yarmouth. Matt already had commitments so Jon and I had to rework a couple of old bits and present a couple of new ideas. Under the watchful eye of Matt we managed to slot a rather unusual show together.

The showings went fairly well (I forgot my lines a couple of times, learning speaking parts is still fairly new to me) and we received some kind feedback and ideas on how to improve bits later down the line. Onwards and upwards or just sideways, hopefully not backwards.

Now I’m spending my few days back home soaking up some culture as it’s London Design Festival and there’s lots of inspiring work to be seen.

Next week we’re off to La Breche. Exciting times.