By Richard Watts, 1 Mar 2023.
The Brisbane Circus Centre, the new home of youth company Flipside Circus, has officially opened its doors.
The custom-built Centre, constructed from shipping containers and prefabricated materials, is expected to be a valuable addition to the already-strong Brisbane circus sector – a much needed space both for training and rehearsals, as well as the presentation of new circus productions.
Flipside Circus CEO/Artistic Director, Robert Kronk describes the Brisbane Circus Centre building as being almost like a piece of circus apparatus in itself.
‘The Centre combines form and function, design and utility, to create an iconic building that is uniquely circus … it is a modern industrial circus sculpture that our artists can climb, jump and swing from,’ he explains.
‘The building is engineered so that acrobats can use it as a climbing structure. There are rigging points built into the building and some lovely cantilevers that would be architectural flourishes, except for the fact that we made sure they’re also rigging points, so that we can dangle acrobats and aerialists from them,’ Kronk adds.
The Brisbane Circus Centre was originally due to open its doors in 2021 but construction was delayed by the pandemic.
‘What we just did not anticipate at all was a global shipping container shortage when we were building a building out of shipping containers … and supply chains were also interesting,’ Kronk says.
Strengthening the circus sector
Located at Northshore Brisbane, a former maritime precinct now under development and earmarked to host the athletes’ village for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the new facility and the opportunities it provides ‘are going to change Brisbane’s circus scene in so many ways,’ according to local circus artist Jesse Scott.
‘It’s such a beautiful space that they’ve created there, certainly with the theatre space and then the training space – so much height for aerials, so many different kinds of facilities within the space itself,’ he tells ArtsHub.
‘Brisbane has always had such incredible companies and artists come out of it, but we’ve always had a bit of a struggle with space… We’re always looking for somewhere, like “Where can we train, where can we create?” And this space will definitely just bring up the Brisbane circus scene another notch, even though it’s already so far up there,’ he explains.
Scott, a co-founder of Casus Creations, has a long association with Flipside Circus, including using the company’s facilities to co-create a number of previous Casus productions including Knee Deep and Driftwood. He has also been a Flipside trainer in the past.
‘Flipside has always been such an open-armed company, welcoming in so many different people, so I think this new Circus Centre will really just continue that and help up-and-coming artists, emerging artists, and also companies like Casus Creations to have a place to get to make work, and I’m super excited that they’re opening it up to everyone,’ he says.
Training at Flipside Circus. Image: Supplied.
In a statement released to mark the opening of Brisbane Circus Centre, Queensland’s Minister for the Arts, Leeanne Enoch, congratulated Flipside Circus.
‘The Palaszczuk Government has supported Flipside Circus to realise their vision for the Brisbane Circus Centre, providing funding of $290,000 for the first stage of construction, along with investment of $640,000 through the Organisations Fund 2022 – 2025 to support the company’s core operations,’ she said.
‘This new facility gives Flipside Circus room to grow as an organisation, boosting its reputation for exceptional physical theatre, and providing career pathways and training space for young people to develop their circus skills.
‘Queensland is recognised as a global leader in ground-breaking circus performance, and the Brisbane Circus Centre is testament to the success of the circus and physical theatre arts industry in our state,’ said Enoch.
Additional investment was provided by the Federal Government, which contributed $1 million towards the development of the Brisbane Circus Centre through the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development’s Community Development Grants Program.
Circus is for everyone
Members of the public are invited to explore the Centre this week following last Friday’s official launch.
This Sunday 5 March, Flipside is hosting an Open Day at the Centre including introductory workshops in circus skills such as trapeze, mini-trampoline, hula hooping and juggling. The sessions start at 3pm and 4pm and are intended for young people aged 5-14.
The Open Day also includes an hour-long Sensory Friendly Workshop for young people with special needs at 1.30pm.
Audiences seeking a less hands-on experience can attend the new circus show From Little Things, a collaboration between Flipside and Casus Circus, which runs from 2-11 March and celebrates the way circus skills are passed from one generation to another.
Scott, who is one of the co-creators and co-directors of From Little Things, says: ‘Growing up in the circus I knew how important it was to pass down knowledge from generation to generation. Circus has always been a collaborative artform. We really thought we could showcase that, not just as directors and trainers, but as performers in the show as well – to assist in the upbringing of the next generation.’
Coupled with the Open Day workshops, the presentation of From Little Things also demonstrates exactly what the young people participating in Flipside’s youth workshops will learn, Kronk says.
‘I was talking to a parent yesterday who was interested in enrolling their child as a student and they just weren’t sure what to expect from a circus school. So it was wonderful to be able to go, “Well there’s a show on this week. Come and see the show and see what we do, and then come along to the open day on Sunday”,’ he laughs.
Flipside anticipates that the Brisbane Circus Centre will provide training for more than 55,000 participants annually, as well as support continued delivery of programs to regional and remote communities, which became a significant activity for the company during the worst years of the pandemic.
Having previously operated out of a pop-up space while the Centre was under construction, Flipside has already seen enrolments increase by 25% since moving into its new home.
‘It’s wonderful just having space where students can join classes that were full previously, and that we can run four classes at once instead of perhaps one and a half at once,’ Kronk says.
Cultural benefits and alliances
The new facility, which is expected to welcome 110,000 visitors a year, is now Queensland’s largest circus centre. Other circus training facilities in Brisbane include those operated by Circa, operating predominantly out of the Judith Wright Arts Centre, and Vulcana, which operates out of studios in Morningside, across the river from the Northshore precinct.
Celia White, Vulcana’s Artistic Director, describes the Brisbane Circus Centre as ‘impressive and high and [with] lots of potential for both training and presentation’.
Its construction ‘is a significant achievement for Rob and the team to achieve making that dream a reality,’ she tells ArtsHub.
‘We hope that the Centre is open to collaboration and support across the sector and that Flipside continues to support independent and emerging artists. The privilege of holding space is well understood by us and we welcome any developments that mean more artists have access to space in Brisbane,’ White adds.
She also notes the close proximity of Vulcana and Flipside, with the two company’s homes separated by the Brisbane River.
‘We have talked about installing a flying fox across the river between each other’s venues,’ White says, ‘but if Brisbane City Council is listening, another ferry stop would be almost as much fun!’
The rapport between Vulcana and Flipside emphasises the collegiate nature of the circus sector, says Kronk, who hopes to see the Brisbane Circus Centre become ‘a clubhouse for circus artists’.
‘We’re already seeing fantastic numbers of artists coming in and training in the space. There seems to be three shifts of activity emerging during the day. In the morning and through the middle of the day we have professional artists training and working and creating, then our classes kick off in the early afternoon and roll through to early evening, and then, with the show opening, we’re starting to see that kind of show and event activation happening at night-time. So that’s really exciting,’ he concludes.
Richard Watts is ArtsHub’s National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre’s volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards’ Facilitator’s Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts