Australian circus companies herald new beginnings

By Celina Lei
ArtsHub
9 July 2021

Opportunities for circus artists, including professional development and a new training centre, have recently been announced by companies along the east coast.

Circus Oz, the Mullum Circus Festival, and Brisbane’s Flipside Circus, have all announced new initiatives that collectively will benefit the circus sector nationally.

The biennial Mullum Circus Festival, established in 1991 by magician and clown Tony ‘Macaroni’ Rooke and held in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, is rebranding as the National Circus Festival.

As in previous years, the Festival’s program consists of two distinct streams: a four-day National Training Program from 20-23 September (during which circus performers are invited to train, learn and collaborate with fellow professionals) and a public program of performances over the weekend of 24-26 September.

Performances will include Collision, an intersection of contemporary circus and street dance by Brisbane’s Casus Circus & Mad Dance House; comedy romp Werk It from Circus Trick Tease; and the new Spaghetti Circus troupe Bails of Hey! Independent performers will include hula-hoop artist Anna Fisher, trained gymnast and graduate from the National Theatre Ballet Alex Mizzen, and Jake Silvestro with his Australian debut December, honouring victims of Black Summer.

The Festival will be hosted by Kamilaroi man and 2019 NAIDOC performer of the year, Dale Woodbridge-Brown.

National Circus Festival Director Alice Cadwell said, ‘This year’s festival will truly be a celebration of circus for everyone with world-class shows, a broad training program featuring highly-skilled teaching artists … and so much more.’

The National Circus Festival will be held from 20-26 September at the Mullumbimby Showgrounds.

Also following a path of reinvention is Victoria’s Circus Oz, which recently underwent a 20-month long internal review.

Executive Director Penny Miles said in a statement: ‘Given the considerable uncertainty post COVID-19 and based on the significant shifts in the Australian circus sector since Circus Oz was established in the 1970s, we acknowledge we need a new operating model that is responsive, flexible and scalable.’

A new experimental program named the Circus Arts Incubator will utilise Circus Oz’s Collingwood headquarters to provide facilities and support to the next generation of performers. The Incubator includes five 6-month Fellowships (each with a $40,000 stipend to support the development of leadership and practice) and an Associate Program to facilitate experimental collaborations at Circus Oz’s headquarters at Collingwood Yards. Expressions of interest for the Circus Arts Incubator close on 12 July.

Circus Oz is also on the lookout for a new artistic lead to support the next chapter of the company’s development, having been without an Artistic Director since the departure of Rob Tannion in June 2019.

‘Our aim is to lay a new cornerstone that will attract the right person to be part of our change and be open to what the future may hold,’ said Miles.

In related news, Queensland’s largest youth arts company Flipside Circus will welcome students in early 2022 to its new training centre situated in the Brisbane suburb of Hamilton.

Construction of the new training centre officially started on 29 June this year. The project received $1 million from the Australian Government’s Community Development Grants Program and $290,000 from Arts Queensland’s Strategic Infrastructure Fund as well as support from Economic Development Queensland (EDQ).

ArtsHub previously reported on plans for the new circus centre in August last year, at which time it was expected to open in early 2021. The ground-breaking ceremony was only able to take place last Tuesday due to supply-chain difficulties induced by COVID-19.

Once completed, Queensland’s largest circus centre expects to attract 110,000 visitors and over 55,000 training program participants annually.

Flipside Chairman Hamish Clift told ArtsHub: ‘We will be able to launch with a pretty substantial set of programming and bring more circus to Brisbane. We are really excited because Brisbane is such an important city when it comes to circus, not just for Australia but around the world.

‘It’s exciting for a youth circus and a young person’s circus because of the opportunity for our youths and our troupes to not only watch that evolve and produce that work, but also see the career pathways that are available. It’s really important to us from an existential perspective,’ Clift said.

Flipside Circus currently hosts their regular programming from a pop-up location at 33 MacArthur Ave, Northshore.