Q&A : Casting Off
Casting Off is a joyful, absurd, witty and poignant circus show, by the multi-award winning, Australian circus group A Good Catch. Challenging the stereotypes of ageing and women, the three performers deliver a funny and heartfelt modern interpretation of the genre, one that throws away the textbook on how contemporary circus is viewed.
Needless to say, we were intrigued, so we asked performer and company co-founder Debra Batton a few questions to try to learn more about it.
How would you say that circus has evolved to remain relevant in today’s society?
Circus has been in constant evolution; it has always found a way to remain relevant and probably always will. Like most artforms it responds to social and technological change. For example, we see the advances in medical sciences that have informed circus techniques and training regimes; developments in biomechanics have allowed circus artists to take specialty disciplines further than we might have imagined. The Cultural Studies and advocacy groups have assisted with making circus accessible to all bodies. There is still a way to go… but, already we have seen exciting circus that is not about the elite able body. I can’t wait to see what this produces in the future asaccessibility increases.
Circus offers a visceral connection, one that allows the audience to feel risk and excitement from the safety of their seats. Live performance forms a connection between audience and artist, and we need connection more than ever after the isolating Covid period. Circus allows the audience to engage with the playful and childlike part of themselves. The ease of international connections with the internet has also accelerated the exchange of information.
Circus remains relevant as it engages with other art forms, we no longer have clear boundaries between circus, physical theatre, dance and theatre. Circus artists are engaging with the digital realm, as well as rigging/engineering, sound and robotics. They are inventing new apparatus, new modes of performance and combining these new approaches with traditional ones. The (r)evolution has only just begun!
Do you think some contemporary entertainment misses out due to not having the athletic character of a circus performance?
Live/physical performance offers something special that screen-based performance doesnot. I’m not sure if it’s about the athleticism. The power of a live voice resonates, a live theatre experience can be magical, it is a different magic to that of film, TV and digital media. I think it is more difficult to get audiences to take a risk with live performancebecause they have so many entertaining options at home!
In live/physical performance you get a once in a lifetime viewing, the show will not be the same the next night no matter how rehearsed it is. You also share the experience with other people in the audience, it becomes a collective experience.
Do you feel that circus is underrated? Or is it having a resurgence?
In terms of the formal hierarchies in the performing arts, circus is underrated and often considered as a spectacle without much meaning. Although this is changing, I am often surprised by the number of people who ask what is contemporary circus? I think this is one of the biggest things to overcome when talking with new audiences about what to expect when coming to see contemporary circus. We currently refer to ourselves as Arthouse Circus because of the connection to Arthouse Cinema hoping to give audiences a hint as to what they might expect, qualities such as experimenting with the form, work that is raw and might tackle unpopular subjects often made with a small production budget. Circus is flourishing both in the range of styles and the breadth of subjects it examines.
Do you believe we are more influenced in our daily lives by random experiences than we would like to admit, and if so, how do you convey this in your work?
Yes, we underestimate the way chance encounters, and random experiences affect us. We all carry the accumulative effects of these experiences. When we are making our work, we allow our day to day lives to influence our physical selves on the floor. We devise our work in the rehearsal room including the training of skills as we discuss our lives, including a moment on the way to work. The stories or ideas we want to express come from observation and feeling. Casting Off is almost a time capsule of our lives in 2017. It is influenced by #metoo, and the mental load we were carrying at the time. We needed each other. We talked a lot, eventually deciding to intensify this, somehow talking replaced music - we have a lot to say!
Casting Off sounds like it’s a very playful performance. Do you think playfulness tends to help us digest sometimes heavy subjects, such as feminism or ageism?
Humour and playfulness are strategies that allow us to discuss or point out injustices and discriminations - heavy subjects. We are feminists, and some of us have male partners and male offspring that we love dearly. This also informs our attitude and our playfulness around stuff we care about such as the mental load, and the structures that continue to support systemic sexism. These structures are taking a longtime to shift! We all have a lot of gumption, and we wanted to celebrate this too. In Casting Off we do not directly refer to men at all.We didn’t notice this until after the first season we performed in Melbourne in 2017. This is quite a subtle element in the work, the absence of men, and we have found fathers and brothers in the audience who are excited by the show because it highlights the incredible relationships that women can have with each other. Regarding ageing we purposefully address the problematic stereotypes of women at various ages. We hope Casting Off offers alternative role models that inspire women of all ages. We believe intergenerational solidarity is more useful than pitting generations against each other. Hannah Gadsby's Nannette is a source of inspiration regarding the use of humour to help us digest difficult subjects.
Do you see yourselves as trendsetters, with your unique blend of circus and theatrical performance? Do you feel many others will follow in your footsteps?
We love what we make, and we make it to satisfy our curiosity. We make the work we would like to see or be in. If we are setting a trend, it is not intentional. When we first formed A Good Catch there were few all-female ensembles making and performing their own work, yet groups such as Club Swing existed in the nineties. We do not claim to be the first. However, we are delighted that currently in Australia there are several all-women circus groups and or shows, and we have noticed an increase internationally too. This possibly has a lot to do with the #metoo movement. It’s difficult to say.
We are more interested in what we are making and how we are making it. Casting Off is unique in that there is no music, we had no idea if this was going to work for circus audiences, but it does. I think that is about authenticity more than anything else. The talking emerged organically in our process and the audience can feel this somehow. But our other show Zoë has an original sound score, and the costumes became the disruptive experimental element. I doubt that will take off!
Casting Off, Assembly Roxy (Central), 3.30pm, 17-28 August (no day off)