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RT post: Circus & hope

Catherine Fargher

Dear Editors

I was lucky enough to attend the Sydney opening of Circus Oz’s show this January in a new tent, but still with a small dusty foyer area with a folding table set up to sell merchandise and tickets. At first I felt some culture cringe…didn’t it feel a bit daggy after the lush marketing of Cirque du Soleil, with the specially designed floor mesh that covered the entire foyer area, the enormous display of sponsors’ merchandise, the funky drinks area? I felt as if I was back in the 90s (the last year I had attended in 1994, when Sydney was again ringed by bushfires, and we sat around at interval watching the fires to the north, west and south…had nothing changed?)

It’s true, some of it hadn’t changed at all. Tim Caldwell is still hanging from his feet (proving that if you’re on a good thing, stick to it) and encouraging our response in a pantomime call and response. There was still an incredible style of physical humour developed in the juggling acts (between the muscley guy and the weedy nerd), and the tight rope act (which leads to the dunny door and all the difficulties of getting toilet paper from one end to the other), and Anni Davey’s dialogue with her own ‘critical persona’ on a TV screen which she lifts with her own hair! Then there’s the gender funking as girls lift the guys on their shoulders, and the guys dress in tutus. All of it filled my friends and me with glee. But more than that.

After the show, I realised that I felt hopeful and really heartened by the fact that Circus Oz is still doing this work. The fact that the circus exists as a multi-skilled worker theatre, that it still tries to gender fuck with the roles that people play on stage and off, that it tries to be humorous and political where it can. That in this age of globalisation and ‘brands’, of creating slick product for sponsors to engage with, of a government that shits on political correctness and undermines minority rights, that this popular culture product exists does give me hope.

It also highlighted for me how hopeless I feel the arts situation has become in this city and a lot of the country, trying to survive in a city where the real estate and development imperatives make it perilous to continue and develop your craft, where community, independent and political work is frequently overlooked, marginalised and not reviewed in the mainstream. It’s ironic that Peter Sellars’ original intention for the Adelaide Festival, which was a broadbased community festival, was applauded at first—surprising when a lot of the bureaucrats/critics seem uninterested in these agendas—and then when the festival ‘failed to deliver’ a budget returning/slick commercial product, he was made to resign.

Anyway, back to the circus. Speaking to the Circus Oz general manager later, she told me that the Melbourne season had also provoked lots of emotional responses. Perhaps 3 terms of conservative arts policy in this country is seeping into our psyche so deeply that we have started to give up hope, and it’s hard in those circumstances to remember what I originally tried to make art for, to keep developing a popular and original Australian culture, to make political statements and to do things I believe in, rather than just survive the onslaught.

Long Live Circus Oz.

Catherine Fargher, Sydney

RealTime issue #47 Feb-March 2002 pg. 11

© Catherine Fargher; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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