Posted by Meredith Benke Bell
I write you from the site of the WA Circus Festival. The festival takes place every Australia Day weekend near the Southwest village of Karridale. But before the festival is the last of the Lunar Circus training weeks with artist-instructors from all over Australia and overseas. Teaching classes all day long, everyday. And that is what our Sandfly Circus group is here for – 9 of us, age 8 to adult, plus two parents helping in our group – fairy godmother and godfather of dirty clothes washing, snack provisioning and a few other thankless tasks. We train amongst other youth circuses, youth and adults from other training institutes – the Fruitfly Circus and NICA, and industry professionals as well, who travel long distances to be amongst friends and like-minded individuals, to focus on skill areas they know well, and those they don’t. To see the performance work that others are making.
Just to paint the scene. Because you don’t often see anything like it. A large rolling paddock, mostly mowed. A very small dam, fitted with a very high diving platform. Only a few ‘permanent’ structures, but this is easy to forget because there are so many other structures that seem so permanent in this context. There are multiple circus tents – red and white and pink, a ‘rocket ship’ with bunting strung from its centre to far reaches of the property. Everywhere you walk, you’re likely to see something unusual: There is a boat sunk into the ground, as if it came aground in a rogue storm amongst the neighboring grazing cattle (We’re about 10kms from the sea). There’s venue rigged for aerial apparatus that’s made up of old buses. There are shipping containers with murals and quirky handpainted signs all around. Sculptures nestle amongst garden beds – two new ones were just erected an hour ago. Sofas offer respite under shady trees. In the middle of everything, there’s an enormous flying trapeze rig. You hardly see it after a while, because other things there are more colorful, more dazzling. On one side of the property, there’s a city of tents that some people have called home for nearly a month. That’s where we sleep, during windy cool nights, with tent flaps popping and snapping.
On a tour around the grounds you are likely to see performers training every circus apparatus known. There’s graffiti art on bathroom doors, on building walls, on every table at the outdoor cafe. Passionfruit vines with clusters of fruits smother the bathroom walls (the gardening secret was revealed two years ago, when it was discovered that the nearby septic tank had overflowed and had to be dug out.) There are magic lessons in the bar – kids clustered around a small table trying to exercise something besides their sore muscles. Giant wearable balloon creations moonwalk around the festival site – I’ve seen a larger than life catfish and a large cluster of grapes. Any number of aerial apparatus hang from points indoor and out – there’s the Lollipop Big Top, the Skybar Rig, the Flying Rig, the Children’s Station, the Lunar Sensation. You see every sort of fashion statement and every sort of hair do, all remarkable given that people are living out of suitcases and out of small tents (‘everyone’s hair here is so cool!’ purrs one of our kids). People move from space to space via unicycle.
There are coffee fueled bodies everywhere. ‘I tried to wake up this morning but I was so tired I spilled my coffee, and now I have no chance at all of ever waking up today!’ mourns Jai, the melodramatic waiter. The coffee addiction is no surprise because everyone trains from 9am to 5pm, and then there are tech runs, rehearsals, meetings, public talks, an evening cabaret, and would you believe there are people awake, warming up, collaborating and doing their own training by 6:30 in the morning?
Each training day is finished off with Captain Fatso’s handstands class. He sings along to his own handstand eukelele tune for the duration of the class (it’s been the same as long as this training week has been running), and believe it or not, it makes the long handstand holds much more bearable. And the big top is absolutely packed with bodies doing the class. The forty-five minutes go by in a flash, I swear. (Well, Iwas swearing by the end of the third 90-second handstand.)
No one misses the nightly cabaret that is a part of this training week. Everyone packs into the bar area – it always seems to just barely fit everyone – some at stools by the bar, some in chairs, some in sofas on the far end, and the rest on the carpeted floor. It feels like home, everyone is welcome on stage, even the housekeeping announcements make everyone laugh. And then of course, the performances are top notch. Often but certainly not always, acts are pulled from existing shows, they are a sneak peak of the festival offerings. The real treats – the best bits – performed for peers in the industry. Every night such diverse offerings that display years of training, skill honing, perfecting.
And it inspires us all to try that trick again, to get our own skill even better, to keep working on our craft. Because the beauty of well-executed performance is that you are left with the impression that for a brief few moments a bit of the divine entered the room – something beyond what any normal person could do - and everyone there was able to breathe it in, to digest it with the senses. And that is pretty special - and incredibly inspiring. I hope our kids feel it too.