Richard Watts | ArtsHub |  Wednesday 1st April 2015

Mike Finch has announced that he will finish up with the company at the end of June.

Circus Oz Artistic Director Mike Finch: photo by Rob Blackburn

Having overseen the company’s recent relocation to its purpose-built Collingwood headquarters and the development of a range of new activities, including Strong Women and the Indigenous development program BLAKflip, Mike Finch today announced his resignation at Circus Oz’s Artistic Director as 17 years in the role.

‘This has been an incredible 17 years, immersed in a close-knit, collaborative and highly supportive circus culture … In my mid 20s I joined the company as Artistic Director because I was drawn to the values of Circus Oz and 17 years later those values still match,’ Finch said.

His last day with the company will be Tuesday 30 June 2015.​

With the one-year anniversary of the company’s move to Collingwood coming up, and knowing that its new programs and initiatives were now secure, Finch said he felt that time was right to move on.

‘The Spiegeltent is completely up and running, we’re running Comedy Festival and Fringe Festival seasons in there; with the BLAKflip program we’ve … [had] success after success with integrating Indigenous connection. All of the other satellite programs, such as the beginning of the disability program that Loki Rickus is doing, the Classics program that Batton and Broadway are doing, all of the classes and the open training program – a lot of that stuff, as you know, the start-up of each thing can be a lot of work and it can be a huge distraction for the central artistic goal of the company, and so we feel like we’ve done all of the hard yards to put those things in place.

‘And so it just feels like the sweet spot where the pendulum comes back to just being on the cusp of being ready for the next phase of the company, the next tack of the pirate ship – back towards the art, and it’s great,’ Finch told ArtsHub.

Under Finch’s artistic leadership, Circus Oz has performed to more than 1.7 million people in nearly 150 national and international locations, including tours from Arnhem Land to New York, and from the Kimberley to Madrid.

Last year the company moved into its new purpose-built home in the Collingwood contemporary arts precinct with the assistance of the Victorian Government, representing the culmination of a shared vision and a decade long effort to build a vibrant hub of artistic activity and a secure base for a sustainable future.

Wendy McCarthy, Circus Oz Board Chair, congratulated Finch on his many achievements as Artistic Director.

‘Mike has lived and breathed the values and creativity of Circus Oz for over 17 years.  It has been a compelling and exciting contribution to the growth of the company.  Coming home to Collingwood into this fabulous building has been part of the dream for Mike and the company members. I thank him for his commitment, contribution and vision. And I’m looking forward to watching the next chapter for Mike Finch,’ McCarthy said.

Gail Kelly, Director of the Australian Circus And Physical Theatre Association, also paid tribute to Finch, saying: ‘Mike has made a mighty contribution to the artistic output of Circus Oz during his time as AD. He has had  many triumphs but perhaps the finest moment for Mike, the team at OZ and the Australian circus arts sector was when Circus Oz’s new home finally became a reality and the ribbon was cut! It was a long, hard battle because the circus arts is pretty much ignored in terms of investment by funding bodies but Mike’s determination along with the support from the sector finally made it a reality.

‘The great thing about Mike is that he does truly understand and love the artform of Australian contemporary circus. Perhaps his new career could be as Australia’s first minister for circus – don’t laugh, Belgium has one, seriously!’ Kelly added.

Finch said he had no immediate plans for the future. ‘I’ll have a little bit of a lie down in July. I’ve got lots of offers and scribbled ideas and possible projects in the pipeline but there’s absolutely nothing that I’ve said yes to. I’m trying to say no to as much stuff as possible until I find the thing that feels right. But I’m more than happy to hear any suggestions,’ he laughed.

‘I was hoping to get Kon [Karapanagiotidis] from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to run for the Senate and then I’d run his campaign for him, but that’s just one of the ideas.’

While he recognises that 17 years is a long time for one individual to stay in a creative role, Finch rejected suggestions he may have overstayed as Artistic Director.

‘I think if I had stayed even a week longer I would have way overstayed. I think in an Artistic Directorship that’s more focused in a conventional way on just producing a show or a season of shows, or making just the artistic choices, I think I would have overstayed; I think that would be true.

‘But I think what happens here at Circus Oz, because of the nature of the Executive structure, because we are all multi-skilled, we cross over in all sorts of different areas – in a way my role has spanned production design, building design, a whole lot of the integrated part of the company as well as the actual process of making the art.

‘In this role it’s about continuing to refresh with the ensemble as the creative members; they are the lifeblood of the company and so bringing through new performers, in a devised theatre environment, is similar to bringing in new blood at the top. The whole process is sort of upside down in devised work. It’s a real valid question though. Put it this way, it’s a really exciting time for some new blood to come in,’ Finch said.

Recruitment for the next Circus Oz Artistic Director will commence later this year.

‘Turning the ship and that tack is big for the company, and it’s something we’ve been talking about for six months at a governance level. The process of continuing the artistic custodianship of the company will just continue as usual. Tim Coldwell is continuing on as a senior circus artist, we’ll be bringing in a guest show director to work on the next show; we’ll have a continuing set of collaborations,’ said Finch.

‘That all feels great, and there’ll be some new blood in there. There’ll be a longer term search for a new Artistic Director that will kick in in the second half of the year, but there’s no specific plan right now for a person; we’re in the process of putting it out there.’

The return Melbourne season of But Wait…There’s More (opening on 17 June at Birrarung Marr) will be Finch’s farewell season as Circus Oz Artistic Director.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Circus Oz Artistic Director Mike Finch: photo by Rob Blackburn