CASTING OFF by A GOOD CATCH
Casting Off features the super talents, minds and muscles of:
- Spenser Inwood – Circus Oz, Womens Circus, Flying Fruit Fly Circus
- Sharon Gruenert – Cirque du Soleil, Circus Monoxide, Dislocate, Circus Oz, Full Cream Circus
- Debra Batton – Circus Oz, Legs On The Wall, Full Cream Circus, Batton & Broadway + many more, as well as being a highly sort after Circus Director, Teacher & all round legend – if you don’t know Deb do some research 😉
Their Blurb reads:
This is not your typical circus yarn.
We talk too much… what a great place to begin!
kNit is 29, Pearl is 40 and Slip is over 50 (but under 60). Biologically, socially and psychologically they differ markedly. However, they share circus, a similar collaborative ethic and belief that devised performance requires a democratic process. They find joy in each individual’s strengths, they challenge weaknesses while supporting new possibilities. They disagree, but they seek understanding and hopefully they are changed with new knowledge. These factors create the show.
In physical terms they set out to catch, support and throw each other, to work with dynamic acrobatics and spotting techniques, to re-invent the chair stack, to create a cradle act that will fit in a Spiegeltent, to do a 3 high, and to use the whole space, not just the stage.
They put these aims, lists, skills, words, stunts, conversations, tricks, releases, neuroses and politics together… while knitting their costumes.
This is not your typical circus yarn.
Admittedly I came late to the party to do this interview and I’m sure its the last thing they wanted to deal with whilst getting a new show up but I slung them some questions which Debra graciously answered – awesomely, Thanks Deb!
Also I had the pleasure of seeing these three perform together at the Mullum Circus Festival and was bummed I couldn’t catch this show, so at least I wanted to hear about it!
The interview takes you into the process and thoughts behind the show and how it came about, as well as what its like to be an artist in this country.
Whats the story behind the show and you three working together?
The work was an investigation into 3 different generations of women in circus. It’s not often you see the depth and breadth of ages in circus anymore. Biologically, socially and psychologically our needs and concerns differ, but we share circus and all that circus has given us. It was also a commitment to trusting process and dedicating ourselves to serving the show as it emerged. We wanted to approach the work in an intrinsically female way; we criticised ourselves for talking too much, then decided that talking was a great place to begin.
What drew you to work together and what do you love about it?
The three of us worked together at Circus Oz, I was the touring show director and Sharon and Spenser were in the cast. We shared many thoughts while on tour about circus and process, both Sharon and Spenser have always made me feel like my experience is valuable and I think that they know how much I appreciate their experience and dedication and bloody amazing skills. One of the things I loved about the process of making Casting Off was that we were able to be honest with each other about the work, we were able to quite quickly say “ I don’t think that bit works” and ‘that bit’ was not seen as the person. I loved seeing our ability to say lets reinvent the chair stack and not really know what that meant but we did it.
Can you describe the show and the themes your playing with?
We honour the complexity of being women, the mental load we carry and the unhelpful attitudes we often disguise as coping. We give voice to our feminist politics, we celebrate how much we can do and we embrace emotional content. We allow the personal to be political and the fury to be fun. We work with text without any pre recorded music. In physical terms we set out to catch, support and throw each other, to work with dynamic acrobatics and spotting techniques, to re-invent the Chair Stack, to create a Cradle Act that will fit in a Speigeltent, to do a 3 high, and to use the whole space, not just the stage.
What did your creative process look like getting the show together?
Quite early in the process we asked ourselves What is our experiment? We returned to ponder this question several times and enjoyed many potential manifestations of it. We made our problem – We talk too much, the solution! Lets talk. We all had things we wanted to do, such as Spenser and Sharon tenaciously pursuing a cradle act that could fit in The Melba. To reinvent the chair stack , to run and jump and fly and catch. We laughed a lot, and completely softened to love each others strengths and weaknesses.
A part time process creates time constraints that are difficult. However we always needed a good catch up prior to seriously beginning work. We would debrief whatever domestic, relationship, or work issue that was causing frustration or delight. And we also discussed the politics we were listening too or reading about. Sometimes we would seamlessly begin training skills while continue to talk. The acts accumulated in response to the personal. We had to rehearse part time over several weeks, and we needed to finish the show 2 weeks prior to production week due to availability issues. I was teaching / directing at NICA and Sharon and Spenser began full time rehearsal with Oz in Stacks On. This was fortunate because just prior to this I jumped from a reasonable height when I thought we were falling – not wanting to bring three chairs and the other 2 down – I landed ok, but bruised my heels quite badly,
At one stage we considered performing a 30 minute work twice for the same audience, once with text only and then the second time with music only. We thought that this would be an interesting experiment. Then we tried to work out how to measure this. Then we made 45 minutes of material and dropped that. We are also aware that the text means the work is more difficult for non English speaking audiences. We are still thinking about making the show with a soundtrack and no text….just to see what it becomes.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show? Is there a over riding meaning or message your trying to get across?
A greater understanding of the complex emotional domestic and intellectual life of women. That we have the ability to scream cry and laugh while parenting, working and cleaning. We hoped to cast off the stereotypes of the crone, the mother and the innocent or sexual versions of young adult and older women.
Do you describe your work as feminist circus? And how important is it to keep pushing how women are represented in circus & the gender balance in the artform?
Yes we are happy to call our work feminist because it is inherent in who we are and in the project. We are proud of this term and understand how much we benefit from feminism as a social movement. We also see the need to continue talking and presenting women in the many variations of who we/they are. It remains very important to continue to dissect how women present themselves or are presented in circus, how we expect to be seen and treated.
Circus might be sexy and empowering but to really begin to find authentic empowerment we must be aware of the versions of ourselves that we have adopted just to ensure we are accepted, safe, liked…..
Have you worked with a director or outside eye on this project? If so who and what has that process looked like?
Yes we knew that an outside eye was necessary and needed to find someone who would be comfortable with acrobatics, choreography and text who could come and go at different times. We asked Alexandra Harrison and she has been enormously helpful. It was important for us to work with one person in this role so that they invested in the work with us and became like a fourth member. We were quite determined to allow the work to evolve and to resist too many opinions. Alex was a performer in Legs on the Wall with me (Deb) for several years. She lives in Melbourne now and balances her artistic work with motherhood. We did a couple of showings which were also invaluable.
What are some of the challenges making independent or new work and getting it out there in this country?
Its hard, making and performing work is one thing then producing it, selling it is quite another. Earning an income and having time to train and constantly develop as an artist compete. Most of the time when we make new work it is unpaid, to invest in work that is not an ‘easy’ sell means that you do not really expect get a return on this investment. In fact after making it more and more hours of unpaid time is needed to attempt to sell it and find a presenter for it. Circus remains the art form that most festivals present to entertain, to reach the audiences that might think of it as accessible because the meaning is obvious and the spectacle is entertaining. To make new work that is challenging the art form and the audience is a struggle. We are slowly building a more courageous audience that is willing to support alternative styles of circus. Having said that, the challenge is even greater for those who are not white or have a disability.
How important is a festival like this to the circus scene in Australia?
When I first heard that an experimental circus festival was happening, I was as surprised as I was thrilled. Firstly because this label immediately suggests that circus artists may challenge themselves to create work with new approaches and uncertain outcomes. And secondly because it is very difficult to market work (in an honest way) that is not meeting the general public’s idea of what circus is. To be able to present work under the umbrella of Sidesault at the Melba, provides an opportunity to expand on what is possible within the art form of circus. We (A good Catch) felt the ability to really enjoy the experiment without fear of alienating an audience, we have been able to commit to the experiment and see what happens because the context supports us. This is invaluable. Although I am part of this festival with Casting Off I would be just as excited to be in the audience. I seek work that is challenging, more so than work that is successful / familiar, however often this work suffers from not having a platform or the resources to support the ideas. Also it is often difficult to find in a market place swamped by those with budgets to sell their product, or to get to due to very short seasons. These are some of the reasons why, having Circus Oz as major organisation, funded to provide this opportunity is incredibly helpful. And if anyone remembers the 70s Circus Oz was a significant force in the experimental circus and theatre scene, so it is also highly appropriate.
Deb you’ve been around and done some stuff 😉 – What are some of the issues around being a more ‘mature’ artist in this art form? Can you talk on that – Career Pathways etc & how that could be improved in this country?
Wow! ask some easy questions!
Circus tends to suggest youthful athleticism, it also requires on going commitment to training and practice which is perhaps why more younger people are out there doing it. I guess I am suggesting they have more time and less responsibilities to others (such as children and ageing parents) Of course they struggle to get a foot in the door and must slowly get to know who is who and how the industry works, some of these issues are addressed via the emerging artists opportunities.
The issues for a mature artist include the inability to take opportunities such as residencies and touring due to children or ageing parents. Overcoming prejudices that the work will be conservative and irrelevant. Realising that the work you have contributed has no real shelf life and most of the younger people have no idea of it.
I don’t really believe there are career pathways as a circus artist. I think you have to become a producer or administrator if you want a career pathway. Even Artistic Directors are mostly tied to a desk and criteria.
The most hopeful future is the living wage for all. To be able to know you can have a roof over your head and food on the table means that the resourceful artist (and most are) can gather resources to make their art. It also means we might have more diverse audiences able to buy tickets.
As a mature artist I can juggle teaching, directing and performing, still I struggle to make ends meet sometimes, but I have got to the stage where I don’t think I have anything to lose and I am more unashamed of what it is I want to make and perform.
I know you’ve touched on it but how important is age onstage?
It is as important as colour, disability and gender, we are living with a large demographic of older people and our stages need to reflect that. Besides the older adults of (50 – 70 yrs) were children of the 60s and 70s, they are interested in the radical and unafraid of confronting work.
What advice would you give new performers just starting out in this industry?
Go for it, but don’t think that the arts owes you a career. There are a lot of talented people and to be an artist requires more than talent.
Work toward finding your authentic work and never stop learning.
What advice would you give your younger self – now you know what you know?
Accounting looks good!
Go to the Australian Circus Festivals, get to know this fantastic community who will nurture and challenge you. Make and perform acts and shows with whatever you have, there are many ways to make work explore and experiment. Don’t wait to be discovered.
What does the future hold for the show and working together?
A Good Catch is Spenser and Sharon’s company, I hope that they develop producing skills or find a producer who can support this company. I would love to see Casting Off tour, and to see A Good Catch continue to make new work and become one of our well known groups. Their other show ‘Bridges’ needs another development too.
‘Casting Off’ runs from the 8 – 11th Nov at the Melba.
You can Buy Tix – HERE
I hope you enjoyed that and got an insight into the artistic process or got some snippets of advice.
Thanks so much for a great read Debra!!
Side note -Spenser, Sharon & Debra also happen to be fully patched members of Carnival Cinema helping this magazine to survive and grow so huge respect and appreciation!
Peace & Respect to All,
If you too are interested in supporting this Mag by becoming a Carnival Cinema Member head to the Patreon Page – HERE
Sidesault At The Melba
‘Showcasing emerging and established circus artists in the mirrored splendour of The Melba Spiegeltent. The Festival will present works that challenge and push the contemporary circus artform across a range of disciplines from sideshow stunts to adrenalin charged acrobatics, and styles and approaches ranging from feminist to freakshow. Raw and unexpected, this is an opportunity to experience work at the forefront of the circus arts’ – Circus Oz Website
Sidesault is Presented by Circus Oz and supported by The City of Yarra.
The main Photos used in this post are by great photographer Rob Blackburn, make sure you check his work out – http://www.blackphotography.com.au/