Richard Watts | Arts Hub |  Tuesday 3 February 2015

Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to integrating circus performers with a disability, but that may be about to change.


Adelaide-based circus/cabaret performer Lachlan ‘Loki’ Rickus started his career as a dancer and gymnast before beginning training with Adelaide’s Cirkidz, but broke his neck aged 18.

‘I grew up with a circus and gymnastics background and then when I was 18, I fell off an aerial hoop and broke my neck; I’ve had a big arts background growing up and performing since being in a wheelchair … I don’t see myself as a disabled artist; I’m an artist who happens to have a disability … My art isn’t disabled,’ Rickus said.

To date, opportunities for circus artists with disabilities have been limited in Australia.

As Gail Kelly, Director, Australian Circus and Physical Theatre Association (ACAPTA) puts it: ‘I don’t want to “dis” our history – we’ve had a lot of really great community projects with disability, and I know Vulcana Circus have worked with the deaf community in Brisbane for probably the last 10 years; and in fact out of that there’s the impetus in Brisbane for a professional deaf company that does physical work. But having just recently come back from New York and the American conversations; we are so far behind.’

A new initiative, driven by Rickus, is set to rectify that. The Fairground Project, a professional development project supported by Circus Oz and ACAPTA, aims to create opportunities for able-bodied and disabled artists to collaborate – creating world-class art in an accessible, safe and nurturing environment.

As Rickus says: ‘We know there are professional circus and physical theatre artists with disabilities creating high calibre work in Australia but there is a lack of suitable rehearsal spaces, professional development and performance opportunities for these artists. This project aims to pool that collective knowledge, create new opportunities, and break down the barriers of segregation – embracing the human body in all of its guises.’

While artists with disability are being integrated into dance and theatre in Australia, it’s not happening with circus to the same degree as in Europe, the UK and the USA.

‘One thing that me and a couple of friends and colleagues have seen happen overseas, and it’s happening in Australia with dance and theatre but not so much in the circus community, is artists with disabilities being integrated into companies, or artists with disabilities being given the right type of space and support to be able to develop their artworks. So one of our major aims is to be able to provide that space to artists,’ Rickus told ArtsHub.

Following a fundraiser at the Circus Oz Spiegeltent this Sunday 8 February, the initial phase of the Fairground Project will run from April 2015 based out of Circus Oz’s Collingwood premises.

Kelly and ACAPTA are extremely positive about the Fairground Project’s future.

‘My vision, I guess, for the project – and I’ve had a lot of conversations with Loki about it – is that we then find some seed funding for Loki and a crew of artists to work together to actually set up a professional development project where performers can come in – and this is why the partnership with [Circus] Oz is important – they can come into the space, they can explore techniques and work together and investigate their skill sets as well as the art form. So I’d like to see that happen. And that’s what the fundraiser’s really for, to start that project in a practical way,’ she said.

One of the long-term aims of the project is to ensure an equal playing field for artists with a disability.

As Rickus puts it: ‘Our goal isn’t just to put one company out there; our goal is to create artists that can go into any company … to work with different companies, to make some of them more accessible both on-stage and off-stage; so that down the line, participants in our professional development program can go into any company worldwide or in Australia.

‘It’s about getting it into the mainstream; it’s not about having a pigeonhole to say “Okay there is this disability circus and physical theatre company”. It is about creating spaces where artists with a disability can work alongside, on the same playing field, with the same wages, everything equal, as their able-bodied counterparts,’ he concluded.

The Fair Ground Speakeasy 
The Melba Spiegeltent, Collingwood
7:30pm, Sunday 8 February

IMAGE: Fair Ground Project coordinator Lachlan ‘Loki’ Rickus, image via Arts Hub