BETA TESTING – CREATION WEEK 5

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.

LEECH_20131128_96348

 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.

Cirque du Soleil Clown Interview

Thanks to our new Tumblr account we stumbled upon this interview with Cirque du Soleil clown/character John Gilkey from A Fool’s Idea.

The interview covers a lot of ground, focusing around John’s history and thoughts on Clown and his career.

If you’re not familiar with Gilkey’s work you can see one of his numbers below.

John Gilkey

An average day 2

A year ago I recorded an average November day, here’s an update…

I’m currently touring with Smashed in France so things are a little more hectic than my average London days -mainly lots of traveling and very few good coffees to be found. :-/

My 16th of November 2013 was reasonably standard for a touring schedule, perhaps a little heavy on the travel side:

7:00 Get up
7:15 Taxi to train station
8:06 Train 1.5 hours
9:45 Coach 2.5 hours
11:20 Car pick up – drive to hotel
11:35 Hotel – Juggling in my room, read.
13:00 Lunch in a local restaurant
14:00 Hotel – emails & rest
16:00 Theatre – juggling practice
19:00 Meal local restaurant
20:00 warmup & set
21:00 Show
23:00 Hotel – sleep

I wonder how my day will look in a years time…

101 Lessons

101_film_school

101 Things I Learned in Film School ®‘ by Neil Landau & Matthew Frederick is a beautifully concise book which caught my eye when browsing the Tate Modern gift shop. I thought it would be nice exercise to go through the book and apply some of the lessons to circus. I’ve picked and adapted 39 lessons which I think could easily be applied to circus performance.

1) Start strong

Prompt intrigue

Suggest the central theme

Revel back story

2) Start late

Cut the first 30 seconds of a piece.

3) Show, don’t tell

4) Three stages of show making

Pre-production – meetings, fundraising, planning etc

Production – rehearsing

Post-production – selling the show etc

5) Audiences want to be as close to the action as possible.

6) Conceal the action.

Creates curiosity and intrigue

7) Story telling -> Beginning – Middle – End

  • Act 1 – Establish the problem
  • Act 2 – Complicate the problem
  • Act 3 – Solve the problem

Establish • Complicate • Solve

8) Practice the perfect pitch.

High concepts can be explained in one sentence.

9) A good title says what the show is.

10) Create memorable entrances.

11) Create a show on different scales.

12) Every scene must revel something new.

13) What can the human eye process?

14) Set rules early, clearly and simply.

15) If it can be acted why do it with circus?

16) Make the setting a character.

17) Define the relationship to the 4th wall.

18) Beware working with children & animals.

19) Have a plan but enjoy the detours.

20) Signs of novice circus.

It’s a dream, all black costumes, sequins, bare feet, m

Amely sound track,

21) Leave breathing room.

Both theatrically and practically.

22) Place figures in uncomfortable proximity.

23) Ensure everyone is making the same show.

24) Have some show stoppers.

Big tricks, tear jerkers, hilarious jokes etc.

25) Every show is drama, conflict and suspense.

26) Dig deeper.

Do fewer things better.

27) Good writing is good rewriting.

Write->leave->revisit->rewrite->repeate

28) When you receive a no write back thanks.

29) Different spaces, venues, audiences might be better for a different kind of show.

30) Rhythm / Tempo

Larger pace created by the show / pace of scene or act

31) Don’t cast by looks.

32) Actions speak louder than words.

33) If you want to make circus, see circus.

34) Work in the trenches.

Take less than ideal gigs, learn around your subject / ultimate goal.

35) Let it go already.

Make->assess->move on->repeat

36) Play well with others.

37) Make it shorter.

38) Don’t over use cliches or coincidences.

39) “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Circus Hackathon

NOLA Hackathon 2011
NOLA Hackathon 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve been reading a bit about new ways technology is allowing people to collaborate, things like Google Drive, GitHub etc. It seems as usual circus has a bit of catching up to do!

In Wired a while ago I read an article about Hackathons and thought it would be great to see/take part/organise a circus equivalent. Hackathons are a chance for coders to meet up, work like crazy in small teams and produce a sketch version for a new service or product.

Earlier this year when I was in Montreal I spotted Impro Cirque, something quite close to my idea. Unfortunately I left before it took place but from video it looks pretty fun…

I’d love to see a more informal version done in the UK, perhaps no ‘public’ audience. No one gets paid- All it would need is some interested circus artists and some space (perhaps some pizza and beers at the end of it). Perhaps two days manic work and a fun showing at the end of it? Best team performance judged by a panel wins a years supply of Apple products (or not)?!

Just a thought….

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Propellor Prize

In April Circus Geeks won the Propellor Prize.

The Propeller Prize is a partnership between the Roundhouse, Circus Space, Jacksons Lane, Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Seachange Arts and Le Brèche in Cherbourg.

The prize awarded by Jerwood Charitable Foundation provides a budget, support and space to develop Circus Geeks show which was presented at Jacksons Lane earlier in year. Residencies start in September and lead up to the premiering of our show Beta Testing in April 2014 as part of CircusFest. Dates and more detail to follow.

Exciting times.

Arron

Luke Wilson – My Jedi Master

You may have noticed that this blog has been updated a little sparsely over the last few months, namely because over the summer most circus artists are (hopefully) manic with work and lack a little of the time and energy needed to concentrate on a blog. Unfortunately this is not the sole reason.

Luke Wilson, known online as Cubecheat (referring to his love of the Rubik’s Cube and cheating/magic) was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus at the start of the summer. Throughout the summer he underwent treatment but ultimately lost his battle with cancer and past away today.

Luke was a close friend and I have many fond memories of time spent with him but I think I’ll save them for another place and time. In this post I’d like to remember his amazing teaching.

In 2003 at the British Juggling Convention in Brighton I watched a workshop on modern club juggling. There were many great jugglers sitting and watching a skinny, charismatic, excited man explain juggling detail and variation in his already slightly odd british-german accent. He explained ideas and processes in such a brilliantly logical way that it was both beautiful and clear. I asked Guy Heathcote who the man was and he informed me it was a gentleman by the name of Luke Wilson.

Years later, when on the degree at Circus Space I was lucky enough to experience Luke’s teaching first hand. Everything about his approach to teaching and learning was perfect. He had lessons planned down to the minute, almost second. He would literally give you a task for 6 minutes and 45 seconds and then onto the next with 1 minute and 35 of thinking time. Always in a tight fitting t-shirt, watch around the right front belt loop of his jeans (he claimed it was because he didn’t like to juggle with a watch on his wrist but I suspect it was because his wrists were to thin to keep a watch on! Always in jeans because he found them best for kickups, an area of juggling which Luke excelled at. You can view a tutorial we made together on the triplex kickup here, it gives a great insight into the effort and detail Luke went to in anything he did).

Luke had tried and tested methods and tasks but also experimented with new ideas and exercises in class. His classes had a brilliant combination of building up confidence in technique, as well as pushing creativity using defined parameters and matrixes. Overall pushing your understanding of what juggling is and could be.

I’ll never forget having to do 3 ball penguins whilst being asked what the capital of capital of Chile is, what’s six times seven and being poked in the back all at the same time. Or the sequence 1,12,123,23,3,31,312,12,2,23,231,31,1

Lukes thoughts on juggling, circus and art in general massively influenced the way I think and approach work, when I shared a flat with him for 3 months we would often stay up till early morning discussing and debating our views on circus and juggling. He had very clear thoughts on what circus and juggling are and how to define them. Not believing in the relevance of the ‘contemporary vs traditional’ debate which seemed to be so important to some in the 80s and 90s and even today. Luke viewed and defined work as good or bad, original or ripoff, ethical or not.

His views on progressive steps forward for the art form were clear, using the internet to share work and ideas (which included some magnificent posts on this very blog), constantly creating new aesthetics, drama, performance and ultimately tricks.

Constantly pushing himself, seeking out new inspiration and ideas, Luke taught at juggling conventions and circus school all over the world, inspiring 1000s of jugglers. Competing in international circus competitions, performing in sold-out theaters, sharing his art with the world. Living the dream.

Despite Luke coming from Portsmouth and myself coming from Southampton, we always had a great rapport which turned into a close friendship over the years, we shared many of the same interests and passions. When I was in school we would often joke that I was his Padawan learner. I suppose it would only be fitting to include…

There’s so much more I could say about his teaching, never mind his performing or his friendship but it can wait.

For now I need to be still and sad, a friend is gone forever.

Luke Wilson Memorial Donations

Bella Kinetica funding

It has long been an ambition of mine make my own mark on the ‘circus theatre’ scene – to put together a full length circus show with a strong narrative and theatrical drive. And to make life more interesting I wanted it to be entirely on roller skates. And in the air...
We are aiming to start R and D for the project this autumn and have the support of awesome arts venues Jacksons Lane and Circomedia, as well as a brilliant cast lined up, all we need now is the cash to make it happen!
The campaign is being run through a crowd-funding website called Indiegogo, which works by lots of people donating small amounts to reach a final target – in our case $7,000 (roughly £4,500). We need this money to fund our show, and in return we can offer lots of unusual rewards.
It would be much appreciated if you could contribute to the campaign. Any small amount will help us greatly and a bigger contribution would really help the show take off the ground (literally!).
I am so lucky to know so many awesome, creative and generous circus geeks, and I will be forever grateful for any contributions!
Even if you can’t contribute, it would still be very helpful if you could share the campaign so that we reach as many people as possible. Facebook, twitter, email, word of mouth, links on website – it’s all good!
Please help support new circus!

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:

1. PHYSICAL:
What are the physical elements of the work?

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

2. MENTAL:
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!

3. SCIENTIFIC:
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.

—–

Morbid Fascination

A few days ago I performed with Gandini Juggling in Bergamo, home to some of the best pizza in the world, inventor of Stracciatella ice-cream and the resting place of one of the greatest and most influential jugglers of all time, Enrico Rastelli.

Arron at the grave of Enrico Rastelli
Arron at the grave of Enrico Rastelli

Even though it was only a short trip to Italy we managed to fit in a visit to Rastelli’s grave, a first for me and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

As an atheist it felt a little odd to wonder through a grave yard so heavily entrenched in religious symbols. But it was a fitting time and location to reflect on Rastelli’s achievements. While I don’t believe his spirit was looking down on us as we placed the flowers by his feet I’d like to think that if Rastelli were alive then he’d appreciate the gesture.

It was nice to know I was treading in the footsteps of other jugglers who had been to the grave before me. It also reminded me that I really must get round to visiting Cinquevalli‘s grave in South London.

Perhaps as jugglers we care more about pioneers of our art than other circus performers or perhaps we’re just more pompous. I’ve never heard of aerialists or acrobats visiting the grave of someone who pushed their particular discipline, but I could easily be ignorant of the facts. I hope so.

If you’ve ever visited the grave of a famous circus performer or proprietor I’d love to know more, leave a comment below.