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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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 Ã…berg. 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.