Written By Richard Watts  |  ArtsHub  |  Monday 11 November, 2013

The Victorian circus sector presented a united front on Friday at the first of a series of national meetings organised by ACAPTA.

Victoria’s circus artists and organisations dispelled any rumours that their sector was not a united one on Friday, at the first of a series of industry events organised by the Australian Circus and Physical Theatre Association (ACAPTA).

Held at the Abbotsford Convent, the sector meeting was attended by approximately 60 people, including representatives of the National Institute of Circus Arts (NICA); Australia’s national youth company, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus; Circus Oz; Westside Circus; the Women’s Circus, and a number of independent artists.

Visitors from Tasmania and New South Wales were also in attendance, as were two representatives of the Ministry for the Arts, who flew down from Canberra for the event.

Featuring a broad-ranging series of discussions, provocations, presentations and round-tables, attendees also heard updates on Circus Oz’s purpose-built Collingwood headquarters, due to open in early 2014; details of the Fruit Flies’ plans for their 35th anniversary in 2014, including Borderville, a vaudeville-themed festival weekend in October; a briefing from NICA’s Program Manager, Rose Stephens, about the institution’s secure future; and a discussion about the scarcity of suitable venues and studio space for Australian circus artists, presented as a performance by independent practitioner, Rockie Stone.

Rumours of an Australian Circus Festival, to be held at Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the 2014 Melbourne Festival, also circulated among the crowd.

ACAPTA Director Gail Kelly, the co-organiser of the event, said the day was an extremely positive one.

‘I think today has gone brilliantly. The whole sector was there and they all engaged and there’s a lot of great discussion that’s come out of it. I’m very happy,’ she told artsHub.

NICA’s Rose Stephens agreed. ‘I think it’s been a fantastic day; a great sharing of information, a great sharing of intellectual conversation, and generally, what I’ll take away from this is a great feeling of collaboration in the sector. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that when I started out here this morning,’ she said.

Simon Clarke, CEO of Westside Circus, said: ‘The word of the day really was collaboration, and I think that, for someone like me who is new to this industry and new to this environment, knowing that there is a willingness to collaborate and converse is essential, and really productive for the way that we take the circus in Westside.’

As with many such events, some of the most valuable discussions took place informally, between attendees over lunch or coffee.

Richard Hull, Executive Director of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, said: ‘I think a lot of really great sentiments were expressed today, and aspirationally I think it was really good, but from my perspective there were probably two or three really key conversations I’ve had today that I think will have a very material impact on the way the Fruit Flies do things and what we’re able to offer our students through improved connections to Circus Oz and improved pathways through NICA.

As a direct result of the forum, Hull added, he would be meeting with NICA at the end of November to discuss opportunities ‘for a closer working partnership’ between their two training institutions.

Mike Finch, Artistic Director of Circus Oz, said that one development he hoped to see grow out of the day was the sector’s further ratification of ACAPTA as its peak body.

My vision is that the whole industry completely ratifies a document that’s absolutely in support of ACAPTA,’ he said. ‘Ideally ACAPTA should be funded three times over. It’s basically two people part time, largely funded by the [Victorian] state government, even though it’s a national peak body, but it does genuinely represent this big vibrant sector that’s booming, and it’s being staffed by 80% of a person, or something like that … so yeah, the wild vision would be that ACAPTA’s funding is tripled in three years,’ Finch said.

As previously reported, ACAPTA will be staging additional sector meetings in every capital city in the coming months, with the aim of developing a national circus strategy, Kelly told artsHub.

I think that we’ll eventually get some strategies together in terms of what we need in terms of resources, funding, infrastructure, development, and I think we need to determine that agenda, not the government, and I think we’re moving in that direction. So I’m hoping that a national circus strategy will come out of it. I think it might take us a couple of years, because we have to travel around the rest of the country, but I certainly think we could have a Victorian document ready for Arts Victoria in about a year,’ she said.

While several of the day’s outcomes will take time to come to fruition, the most immediate aspect of the day was the unity demonstrated by those present, observed Richard Hull.

I think it was Mark Gordon from the Ministry for the Arts … who said he felt he’d been at a watershed meeting, a watershed moment for the sector. Because the big criticism is that we don’t quite work together, we’re all sort of competing, and I think that’s probably been partly overblown but there’s a lot of truth in it too; and I do think this is probably a watershed moment that will improve the position of everyone, the key organisations in the sector but also all those individual artists and freelance performers who work with circus arts,’ he said.

Gaily Kelly agreed. ‘I think probably historically, ten years ago, it appeared that – particularly in Victoria, which is the home of contemporary circus – it was a divided community. There was a lot of discussion about core business and who had the right to do what, and it was a very small sector then. Ten years down the track I think we’ve grown up; I think we understand that we need to work together … and certainly it’s been the message of ACAPTA that together we’re stronger. We’ve looked at the dance sector for example, and we’ve taken lessons from them and said “We need to work together”.’

ORIGINAL SOURCE: www.performing.artshub.com.au

Image: Flying Fruit Fly graduate class 2013. Photo by Ben Simpson.