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The new direction of circus

As circus schools the world over are reaching the consensus that ‘tricks for tick’s sake’ is no longer sufficient, Circomedia’s MA poses the question: what is possible in circus direction?

Photo by Ben Tansey.

Circus as a style of performance has a rich history and tradition, which is well established, despite fluctuations in trends; circus as an artistic medium however is not so clearly defined. An audience member who has never experienced what we call contemporary circus might not expect a show with themes, characters and narrative in the way they’d expect it from a play or an opera or a piece of dance, yet there’s no reason why those elements cannot be incorporated.

The new circus movement of the 70s and 80s sought to challenge the idea that circus was simply daring feats of human endurance and physical skill, devoid of artistic depth. When the precursor to Circomedia, Fool Time, opened its doors in 1986 it offered a revolutionary programme of education that included mime, physical theatre, clowning and improvisation, alongside acrobatics, juggling and aerial. By integrating theatrical performance techniques with circus disciplines, Fool Time gave its students not just the skills needed for the artistic environment of the day but equipped them to become creators and originators in their own right.

To this day Circomedia maintains this broad and empowering approach and, in September 2017, it launched the world’s first Masters in Directing Circus. For Artistic and Education Director, Dr Bim Mason, creating the MA was a ‘really exciting development not just for Circomedia, but for circus everywhere’. 

The majority of circus education concentrates on the performer and developing their skills. What sets this MA apart from other courses is its exploration of social contexts, styles and dramaturgy, as well as contributing to the critical and academic writing about circus, of which there is still very little compared with other artforms. Research is both text-based and practical. MA students are given the time, space and resources to experiment with different approaches to circus direction; they have the freedom to play and explore, devoid of industry pressure or expectations, allowing them to concentrate fully on the process. 

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