[Robin Laurie] Parliament? It’s a Circus!


[Robin Laurie] Parliament? It’s a Circus!

We thought we’d start Spruik online, ACAPTA’s new monthly rave on Australian Circus, by harking back to our first ever Spruik! from 2009. Held as part of the Melbourne Festival, Spruik! had the the circus and carnie folk of Melbourne throwing ideas like knives into the stratosphere. Armed only with a microphone and 20 images, artists tackled the politics, the poetry and the passions of life from inside the circus ring. Robin Laurie has been kind enough to let us reproduce her hilarious and still poignant Spruik from that night below. Enjoy!

From ACAPTA’s Inaugural Spruik, Melbourne Festival 2009
[Some images re-worked 2015]

Hello.  Welcome. Thank you for coming.

I’m interested in what people mean when they say, “Parliament? It’s a Circus!”

They mean its chaotic, its uncivilised, it’s a disgrace to upright citizens, a blight on the community, not what we expect, an insult, full of liars, embarrassing – full of clowns!!

 Robin Laurie clown 1

Are parliamentarians clowns?

Clowns’ job is to mock the pompous, to subvert authority and the normal rule of things, to find the wonder in the world. Clowns lie, but not maliciously; they are cunning and sneaky, shapeshifters. Sometimes even cruel.

Robin Laurie clown 2

Clowns and circus performers are related to the trickster god, Hermes; thieves and messengers from another world. A world that is dirty, dark, with piles of bones in the corner (that may be from a meal, or a fight, or a ritual slaughter), the ashes of a fire where meals might have been cooked and scary tales told, people huddled together in fear of wild beasts and malignant spirits.

Clowns laugh at death while they shit their pants.

Robin Laurie clown 3

The trickster, the circus performer, and the clown are all explorers of forbidden boundary; crossings into other cultures, other classes, the underworld, the imagination, the denied, the hidden.

We are the fabulators, the explorers of the charming, playful lie.

Politicians lie, but solely for their own advantage; to maintain their own power. So they are not real clowns they are just self-seeking liars. Though some are fools – Barnaby Joyce recently visited Christmas Island and said people were very happy and some even had their multi-vitamins with them!

Robin Laurie clown 4

Parliament is unfortunately not a place of wondrous possibility though it can seem to be a place of frightening chaos.  Its not a portal to another hugely different world of race or class or sexuality. You can’t even breastfeed your baby!

Robin Laurie clown 5

Nor is it a place of extraordinary human feats and split-second timing.  Its more bland and predictable, more like naughty school kids. Nothing is at stake – the speaker sends them out of the room if they are too rude. They stand in the corridor for a while.

Robin Laurie clown 6

So is parliament uncivilised?

Extremely if you think they sign off on arms deals that are used to kill civilians, that the major national trading economies are arms, sex trafficking and drugs, that even at the UN the major export of several permanent members of the Security Council is weapons.

In medieval times someone being executed was paraded through town in a cart while the residents jeered and threw things. Then they were executed, possibly by being hung drawn and quartered. I was reminded of this when that convicted pedophile was harassed, hounded and threatened by mobs recently. He’d done his time, been punished.  No politician stood up for him.

When politicians retire they keep their huge pension, no means test, and can still take other jobs on boards of companies, then they lobby their old colleagues for the big polluters.

Robin Laurie clown 7

So politicians are in thrall to lobbyists and make secret deals with the big polluters, the brown coal and the aluminium industries, and the private health and private schools. Meanwhile we mightn’t burn, we mightn’t drown, and our children and grandchildren mightn’t die from the consequences of climate change, but millions of others in poorer countries will.

If politicians are clowns then we should be running the country!

['WE!3! - Clown scalpers' taken from www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya1dsbe-21E]


Margaret Atwood is a Canadian writer.  She tells of a book about 2 economies – the gift economy and the money economy.

She says we have been fooled into thinking that the only method of transaction is buying and selling.

The money economy is through the bank. It carries no obligations, no bonds of love. The gift economy is reciprocal and emotional, it comes from the heart.  All societies have both but some give one economy more weight than the other.  ”In cultures where the money economy dominates there is stagnant wealth and spiritual death.


Monkey 1

Look at the chain. These are animals taught to perform by being hit with a plank if they get it wrong, given a snippet of food if they do it right. Agents and producers help us cross money economy and gift economy boundaries.  But sometimes I think there are invisible chains that are pulled by the corporate gig givers. We need to do the gig, we have to tread that precarious line between art and eating but if we aren’t careful, as we learn what’s expected the chain feels softer, is more and more difficult to see until we lose our sense of our audience, ourselves, and what we want to say and do and be in the world.

Monkey 2

(But of course this is animal acts in the street; poor families, often landless, with only their bodies and skills to sell are the bedrock of our circus history.

 Monkey 3

Physical skill and prowess was also ritualised as tests of initiation, pushing the range of the humanly possible and general entertainment. Atilogwu by the Igbo in Nigeria, jumping over two meter high walls covered with spikes and pointed bamboo on Nias island Indonesia, gigantic human pyramids in Spain…..greasy pole climbing by waiters in Lygon St, Pacific Islanders diving into the sea with a carefully measured vine attached to their foot.)

Monkey 4

Art, imagination and creativity are part of the gift economy.  Creativity cannot be bought. It cannot be commanded and without it the work is not alive. Elizabeth Gilbert in her TED talk on Creativity says a creative thought comes from the genius spirit in the corner or floating about. All you can do is turn up every day and hope the creative genius will choose that day to pop in. Circus performers are good at turning up every day.  We’re good at practice. We just need to be able to hear what we are listening for.

Margaret Atwood says she makes art about things that worry her. I worry about climate change and injustice and refugees. I also know that despair is paralysing.  We need the energy of laughter, we need to find ways to be more inclusive, to be less fearful of difference and change.

Tim Robbins was recently quoted as saying – this is not a time for political satire but for bringing people together.

In 1925 George Wirth, patriarch of Wirths Circus said, “I am proud of the position I have attained as a circus proprietor, for I think there is no better calling under the sun than that of honest showman. While many struggle selfishly for wealth, often depriving others of their fare share of this worlds goods, honest show people toil to bring laughter to young and old. In their hurrying career, they make men, women and children forget their sorrows causing smiles instead of tears and bringing joy instead of pain so that theirs is truly a goodly life well spent!”

Margaret Atwood talks of the importance of ‘what if’ scenarios. What if we continue down the road we are on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving graces?  Who’s got the will to stop us?

Some of us are good at performing the physical ‘what if’ like in the recent Cirque du Soleil production where the Chinese women stood on point, on light globes, and did a three-high with a one arm handstand on the top!

Maybe circus performers need to be daring and generous enough to perform more of the ‘what if’ that worries us.

Unfortunately we can’t rely on those politician bad clowns. 

Jean Cocteau

[Jean Cocteau taken from alchemistrecords.com/alchemical/2011/05/]