Circability: Reimagining circus for a quarantine
Contingencies for a global pandemic are rarely in the planning of an event; so, when Covid-19 caused a nationwide lockdown a great deal of flexible thinking was needed to reframe a three-day Youth Week event by Circus Arts Charity Circability.
Luckily flexibility is in the very nature of Circability, a centre for circus and physical theatre that offers innovative circus arts programmes for all ages and abilities. Their youth ambassador panel demonstrated their creativity was up to the task of a major pivot.
One of the focuses for Circability this year was to host a Youth Circus event in May. Held over three days in Auckland, the event would be the official opening of Youth Week 2020 and feature free circus arts workshops and performances to those of all abilities aged 13-25.
“Thanks to our 2011-13 research we know the benefits of more youth engagement in a community in a social circus context,” says Circability Creative Director Thomas Hinz. “To progress on that agenda we wanted to bring the youth circus scene together in one big event,” he says.
Planning began straight after their end of year performance in December 2019 and was ramping up considerably in the first week of March. A youth representative network had been created to advise and guide the event and marketing initiatives were prepared for rollout.
Then events started scaling back numbers attending due to Covid-19, and conscious that parts of the Circability community are immuno-compromised, it was quickly decided the event would not proceed.
Instead, Youth Circus Event Manager Sara Kidston enlisted the help of the youth ambassadors to brainstorm what could replace the event while the whole country was in quarantine and not knowing what level we would be at during Youth Week (9 - 17 May 2020).
The panel came up with Cirque de Quarantine, an online video competition for all abilities 13-25-year olds to submit creative circus arts performances within the boundaries of lockdown.
The word was spread with a Level 4 promotional video shot and assembled by the youth panel for social media distribution.
“Cirque du Quarantine not only enabled our young competition participants to maintain engaged and motivated throughout Covid-19,” says Kidston. “The youth reps working on the project pulled together and worked beautifully despite difficult times and distant communications with strangers on screens to do what most of them had never done before.”
“They split the different roles and responsibilities between them, easily communicating over promo clip design to editing,” says Hinz.
“I think that Cirque Du Quarantine was a good way for circus youths to keep their circus training up, and it was perfect for the current situation - it financially supported circus teachers who had no work, it encouraged people to keep training even while it may be hard to find the motivation, and the winners got to be taught one on one! For free!! Plus, I loved working on this project!” Daniel Elias, Circability Youth Representative
But events like Youth Circus are just a part of what Circability does, with their main focus to provide in person circus theatre workshops for all abilities.
All through the summer and planned through to early April tutors were also running weekend Circus in Parks events all over Auckland. These programmes and classes involved close physical contact between people and were cancelled very early on.
During the lockdown Circability wanted to continue classes in a way that posed no risk, and like for many, Zoom provided an interactive space for this.
“Our tutors were very creative in the way they fashioned props to use in classes from everyday objects found in any home,” says Hinz. When Level 3 started Circability offered free online classes to the whole of New Zealand until 1 June.
“When classes in person return online classes will continue to be available and that’s a huge win for us to come out of this,” says Hinz. Making Circability accessible to a wider community of people and an even more diverse range of abilities is the positive challenge they are ready to take on.
As for the youth ambassadors, their work continues with plans to host regular ‘circus brunches’ to discuss developments within the sector with senior management.
“Whenever the first Youth Circus in New Zealand happens it will be off to a great start in terms of youth participation and leadership,” says Hinz. “It’s clear the next generation of circus artists and community circus practitioners are ready to take future developments in their stride.”