‘A Collection of Circus’ // CIRCFest Meanjin

‘A Collection of Circus’ was original.

The Ron Hurley Theatre in Seven Hills is quickly becoming a home for independent artists to showcase their work. Once an arts learning centre, the theatre was later named after Goreng Goreng and Mununjali man, Ron Hurley. Throughout CIRCFest Meanjin, the space is being used for its original purpose – to give a platform for new work – and ‘A Collection of Circus’ was no exception.

Supported by Cluster Arts, ‘A Collection of Circus’ showcased three independent artists’ original works, which were all in different stages of development. From an almost completed work, to a work without any acts and a work which had a strong skeleton in place, it was an interesting night for audience members to see the process that goes into creating an independent piece of circus theatre.

The first act, titled ‘Let Them Eat Cake’, was a visual feast that centered around the young life of Marie Antoinette. Performed by Ela Bartilomo from Arc Circus, the entire piece was quite polished for a work that is still in development. Bartilomo showcased her incredible skills through acrobatics, contortion, dance and impeccable comedic timing. She was equal parts circus performer and actress, creating a work that made audiences both laugh and jaw-drop.

Designer Maria McRae had clear vision in all elements of the production design. From effective lighting changes, to narrative-appropriate props, all elements were clearly considered and curated. There was a theme of inanimate objects becoming characters of their own with the dress causing mayhem to a frame pushing Bartilomo around the stage. All elements were well-utilised by directors Robbie Curtis and Lizzie McRae and well-executed by Bartilomo.

Era-appropriate music by Robbie Curtis played a key role in the comedic elements of the show, with the operatic masterpiece between two socks a particular highlight.

The segment in which Bartilomo manipulated cups of water may have dragged on a bit too long, however, all other elements of the production were well-paced and decidedly impressive.

If you ever see ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ on the bill of a production, make sure you go along to see it!

Second act Dale Woodbridge-Brown, entered the stage wearing a bejewelled tank top with equal parts Pride and Aboriginal flags. The wildly talented comedian and circus performer wowed audiences in an all too brief act that showcased his knack for clowning, acrobatics and baton twirling. Woodbridge-Brown then cut the lights and entered the stage not as the circus performer but as the circus developer.

With the aim to develop a 50-minute production aimed at 12+, Woodbridge-Brown spent the rest of his act explaining the concept for his newest show ‘Camp Culture’. Drawing on both his effervescent campness and cultural heritage as a Kamilaroi man, the production will take the form of a summer camp, with fire-breathing, audience interaction and a talent quest. Audiences were wishing they had the opportunity to see a sneak peek at the Ron Hurley Theatre, however everyone will just have to book their tickets when the work is produced.

Shannon Vitali closed out the evening with a work about her journey through mental illness. The talented performer was able to combine her skills in dance, acting, stunts and her Bachelor degree in Circus Arts into a jam-packed 45 minutes.

With a powerful theme and a bit of cheeky mischief, Vitali’s show has good bones for further development and experimentation.

A particular highlight was Vitali’s use of the aerial hoop at the beginning of the show. It was a powerful few minutes that displayed Vitali’s control and skill in her profession. Lighting choices were similarly powerful with the use of directional light, blackout and small lights on the ground that could be controlled by touch.

Throughout the development of the work, more focus could be placed on creating a clear through-line within the performance. While acts were impressive in their own right, audiences were sucked in and snapped out quite frequently. Sometimes the most powerful moments do not need to be explained in words.

It is exciting to see where Vitali could take this work. With themes that need to be amplified and the incredible gift of movement, the sky is the limit for this production.

It is no easy feat to get up on stage and present a work that is not finished, to open yourself up for feedback and to put your passion on the line in a very exposed way. Bartilomo, Woodbridge-Brown and Vitali deserve every kudos for stepping out and giving audiences a raw expression of who they are as artists.

‘A Collection of Circus’ performed until Saturday, 30 April 2022 at Ron Hurley Theatre. For more information on upcoming CIRCfest Meanjin shows visit the CIRCfest Meanjin website.

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