Richard Watts  | www.performing.artshub.com.au  |  Saturday 17 May, 2014

The two national schools have signed a Memorandum of Understanding designed to strengthen career pathways for circus students.  

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) has been signed between Melbourne’s National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA) and the Wodonga-based Flying Fruit Fly Circus (FFFC), Australia’s national circus school for young people.

The newly-signed MOU will see both organisations working together to promote excellence in contemporary circus arts training and performance in Australia, and represents a significant new direction for both organisations.

Richard Hull, Executive Director Flying Fruit Fly Circus, said the signing of the MOU was highly significant for both institutions.

‘Both of our organisations are funded through the Commonwealth to some extent, so I think it’s very important that we have this strategic partnership that allows us to work together more closely and start building some joint initiatives and develop a closer working relationship. And at the heart of this is our students: what we’re able to offer young people who want to get training and progress through to a career in circus arts.’

Rose Stephens, Program Manager, NICA said that while the relationship had existed informally in the past, there wasn’t a lot of substance to it. ‘So we thought it would be a good idea just to see what our synergies were, how we could work together, how we could cooperate with each other, so we formalised it, basically,’ she said.

The MOU is the first step towards developing a national framework to support young people in the progression of their training, education and future careers in the circus sector. Both organisations recognise the link between school-age circus arts students up to year 12 accepted at FFFC and older circus arts students accepted at NICA, and hope to strengthen this pathway for aspiring circus artists.

Currently only a small number of students progress from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus school in Wodonga to NICA, a situation which the MOU should help improve, Hull explained.

‘It is a small number and in a sense one of the issues that we’ve had is that there hasn’t been this clear pathway. Our young people when they leave the Fruit Flies are generally trained to a very high level. And when they move into what would be the Graduate Degree course at NICA, the three year course there, it means that the first year is probably more basic than our younger artists want to spend a year revisiting. So that’s always been a bit of a sticking point for our kids and so they tend to look elsewhere, not wanting to – as they would perceive it – waste a year. So that is one of the things we’re talking to NICA about; is there a way that we can get some prior learning accreditation put into accessing that course; that would be a very big step forward for us,’ he said.

‘And the other thing that NICA is already doing with us is accrediting some of our trainers, getting our trainers qualified so that we can next year offer a Certificate 3 in circus, which is a higher qualification than we’ve been able to offer here, and that would also then benefit them moving into NICA. It will take a bit of time, and also it’s about NICA being able to sell the advantages and promote what’s on offer there, which is extraordinary really – Australia is so lucky to have an institution like NICA for circus, and we need to start selling that better to our young people and the advantages and the benefits of going to somewhere like NICA.’

Stephens added: ‘In the past NICA has not been in the position to be able to grant credit transfer for the work that those students have done. Under this new relationship I think that the graduates from the Flying Fruit Fly Circus are certainly eligible for credit transfer which should make it a much more attractive proposition to come down to Melbourne.’

NICA and the Flying Fruit Flies have also agreed to work together to create diverse and high quality student performance opportunities and, where possible, share costs and resources for engaging international expertise or other potential joint projects.

Stephens said: ‘Both organisations spend money inviting international guests or national guests to do workshops with the students or put on various events, and it’s must more cost effective – and also good for Australian circus training – to share those resources around … Bringing an international artist to Australia, because we’re so far away, is an expensive exercise and sharing those costs will be beneficial.’

The organisations will make joint project submissions wherever applicable, and are very much looking forward to working together in a national capacity.

‘I’m looking very much forward to continuing and developing the relationship and working in areas such as staff exchange too,’ Stephens told ArtsHub. ‘I think it would be fantastic for staff up there to come down here and vice versa, and share their knowledge and skills across the two organisations. It’s a very healthy relationship, we’re making headway, [and] I’m really, really looking forward to it coming to fruition.’

Image via the Flying Fruit Fly Circus