Five venues, three days, and shedloads of circus pitched, performed and percolated amongst those in a position to make things happen… The Canvas showcase of UK contemporary circus, held in London last month, was a big event in more ways than one, with over 65 companies presenting their projects and productions to a delegation of over 100 movers and shakers within the UK performing arts industry.
Aimed at programmers and bookers for festivals and static venues, Canvas is the first time this volume of circus work has been presented to the established arts industry in a convenient package, and is a vital step towards a greater integration for circus arts within current organisational establishments. I lost count of the number of times I heard shock and awe among the delegates at the sheer variety of work on offer. This is what we’ve been doing people, come and look! And, more importantly, book, support and nurture these artists, enable them to share their work with audiences who will feel that same awe!
Canvas, produced by Flora Herberich, grew out of a smaller showcase event, Circus Now, held in 2013*. Back then, alongside the artists’ work, the event also featured a number of keynote speeches about the programming and production of circus outside of its historical context of the touring tent business. This year there was so much work to be pitched, performed and progressed that, outside of a panel discussion on marketing and promotion, there was very little to distract from the vast quantities of ideas on offer.
It’s easy to forget that I spend a lot of time in and around a minority group within the UK – that which understands that circus can be more than just the big top images that nostalgia presents us with. Canvas has provided an opportunity to expand that circle, to stretch people’s perceptions of what circus offers in the 21st Century. In fact, I would have liked to see more of a presence from established tenting companies too, providing delegates with an even broader understanding of the range of work on offer within the UK circus sphere, and dispelling outdated preconceptions.
The work we were introduced to comes from across the gamut of developmental stages, from pieces just blossoming out of initial ideas to fully tour-ready productions; my notes fill 43 pages. There was a growing sense from the visiting programmers that, regardless of your venue’s requirements and stylistic angle, UK circus has something to offer that will fit the bill.
The host venues (Jackson’s Lane, The Roundhouse, ArtsDepot, National Centre For Circus Arts, and The Albany) were all part of the City Circ initiative, established in 2009 as a network of London venues supporting circus work. Although no longer a funded venture, the City Circ legacy lives on with continued collaboration between its original members, resulting in events such as this speciality showcase.
The directors and representatives who welcomed us to each venue were also keen to point out to all visiting delegates how essential the support function that venues can offer is, in order to develop new talent and build a strong body of work within the UK.
The circus word is spreading, and moving out amongst new audiences who perhaps had not previously realised circus could be for them. The value of this increased recognition is a stronger support system that can sustain our artists to continue to work within the UK, rather than searching for their opportunities elsewhere; developing an ecology where an understanding of quality will be at the heart of any discussion about circus.
For a fuller flavour of what went on, and who was involved, check out the event’s Storify here.