The interview took place during the residency of contemporary circus artists Kanta Company and Jason Dupree in Cirko Sapiens (Kaunas), in the middle of one of their shows ‘107 ways to deal with pressure’ rehearsal. It is an unfortunate thing that the medium of text has no sound, while the entire talk would be enriched, colored by the background music and laughter from their creative process.
Jason, how did it all begin? Your journey into contemporary circus? And at what point at it you are at the moment?
I did not engage with the arts when I was a kid, I saw a pantomime maybe once a year. That was as much as I saw. Getting more and more into the arts, that first two years (from 22-23 years old) I was just blown away: ‘Why was I not allowed to have this? This is amazing!’. But it just wasn’t around.
I was 21-22 years old when I first experienced circus: I was in Australia, travelling. I was still an electrician at that time but not enjoying my work so decided to do a bit of travelling. And I met this circus performer in the woods, he had this massive van and a small tent, and he was sleeping in a tent. I said to him that I was curious why he was not sleeping in his van – and he opens it up and it’s just full of circus equipment: juggling clubs, fire staffs, jumping stilts and just everything you can think of! We had one night together, he showed me a performance, then we went our separate ways. Then a year later I was in Tasmania, I knew he lived there, just rang him up and said: ‘Hey, Andy, you still around?‘. And he took me to his circus training space, told me all about his circus experience. He was thirty when he got involved in circus. I was 22-23 at that time and I thought to myself that there’s a chance if I wanted to get involved. So, when I got home from travelling two years later I just decided to go and do three months in London Circus training space. Then three months turned into me going to get a degree in circus.
My discipline was Chinese pole and a bit of hand-to-hand. And I am now directing because I got quite a big injury when I first got in. I think because of coming in late and not having the body to keep up, I was very excited, so I think my brain was like: ‘Runrunrun!’, and my body broke. But I had found the community – just the most beautiful people ever – so I was like: ‘How can I stay here? I know! I just try and make shows instead’. Anything with that came up right then: lighting, sound, directing, I was just trying to grab something to stay with the people that I had met. Now I am a circus director, maybe creator, maybe dramaturg, maybe orchestrator. I am also a musician, I create sound installations – I am not sure anymore, I have multiple hands.
How about your creative process with directing/helping Kanta Company: do these observations that you are making all together alter the meanings of the show or are the changes more technical and visual?
Word ‘directing’ is a strange one because we have stolen the word from theatre. It does not fit in these spaces when a lot of it is a debiased collaborative process. So even when I ‘direct’ my own shows it’s more like having someone in charge of holding space, but not necessarily choosing the direction of the show itself. And in this space, with these guys, for example, it’s not my show, not my ideas but I am just there helping to orchestrate a potent creative space, so everyone feels safe, fearless to do and to try things – it’s like what I see my job role as.
This show is a very special case, I think, because they made one version of this show with another director, who they were working with for a while. And they went down a path that maybe wasn’t what they wanted to do. And it wasn’t Kanta Company. So the show itself is a complete starting point. And for the first two weeks rather than making the show I was helping them to create who Kanta is, who the company is, what do you want, why you make work in the first place. You would be eaten alive if you did not have a strong desire to say something to the world, to make something – they needed to find out who they really were. So, we spent like a week doing that and that was hugely rewarding, really nice to see. And then the second week we started making and it started becoming: ‘Okay, Kanta Company are making a show, that is Kanta Company’. That was beautiful, very happy to be part of that and see that evolution.
What are the other main things you are working on at the moment?
During my MA (circus MA, but it was more theatrical dramaturgy) I went in as director, but it was made for performers, so I had to adapt a lot of the material they were giving people. So I find, a lot of time I was thinking about what it was I was doing. And I found a huge love for stepping not away from circus but allowing other things into my process. I played a lot of music and being an electrician I kind of left that to the side thinking that’s not usable in these spaces – and actually being going for the MA allowed me to allow that history, that experience back into my process. And I have started making sound installations using my electrical and my sound background and then using my dramaturgy that I have learnt from circus. One of the installations, it’s basically an English pub that serves music and your touch makes music. What is it? I say it’s my circus, because I wouldn’t be an artist without my circus experience and that is all I have done in my training. It’s my circus, it’s just not what you think is circus. I am making that with my twin brother in the UK. It's touring a lot. It is so fun, it’s so stupid and ridiculous because a lot of the stuff I make in circus is really conceptual and “real art” and this is so stupid, you know? But it’s actually so beautiful and brilliant because it brings such a different kind of audience into the world of making and playing. Also, I’m working with Alise (Bokaldere), my wife, on a dance piece with her. She’s got this beautiful spinning meditation dance, so again I’m going to my electrical background, and I am making a set design where everything on stage spins. It’s fun to allow my old experience and new experience to combine rather than separating the two.
Maybe you are working on some smaller projects, research?
I have been doing a lot of research about digital spaces, circus in digital spaces. During the lockdown there were no shows and a lot of my friends, a lot of performers pushed away from technology saying that they want to be on stage or nothing at all. And I thought what’s the harm in looking what is this space? I’ve found some really beautiful things of creating works that can be even more accessible than going to a theatre show. Because in circus, when traditional tents toured, they created a very accessible space, people from all classes could go into the space. But as soon as it became contemporary, circus stepped foot into the theatres that cut off a huge amount of the audiences that they used to bring in. I find that digital spaces reallocate the circus into a wider audience: my dad has seen some of my live streams – he sees none of my work, he never comes to the theatre.
You have talked about the connection between your past electrician work and what you are doing now, and are there any other main influences, the topics that are your favourites to work on?
My main topics when I am making work, I think because of going back and allowing my electrical side to come in, my history and my past has come back. I have been reading a lot of LGBT, a lot of Black Lives, but I have never actually looked into my own history of working class and low-income families. And how that has affected why I didn’t get into the arts until I was 24. So now I’m allowing it back in and finding it really rewarding. I am doing a lot of work based around working class communities in the UK and creating more accessible work for people like them, or people like me, like my past self. So that’s my main work. It’s all quite selfish, but I guess that’s what art is about, right? Selfish and selfless if you choose what’s passionate for yourself and expand that to the communities that you want to reach.
What are the most important parts for you in directing circus, in being an outside eye?
I think being an outside eye my main focus, because the topics of interest are mainly from the companies I work with, is mental well-being and sustainability as an artist. Knowing how hard it is for an artist to sustain themselves in this space – I was going through it myself and breaking myself, also, going into very bad environments, where performers did not even treat themselves right, not treat other people right. And rehearsals should be the most beautiful spaces! A lot of times training emotionally, physically can be harmful, if you do not create a good space. Harmful for yourself, for the project, for the making. So, the topics I like to bring in are mental well-being and sustainability – to create a space where everyone feels like they can just walk away for five minutes, because they are allowed to and not feel like they are stuck here.
While going to the end of our talk, there’s one more more general question – what is there in circus that makes it worth it?
I mean the art form is beautiful and I love that, cause I am from a quite big sports background, that idea of sports and physicality has always been quite strong in me. But the people for sure is what kept me here, definitely, and still to this day, it’s what is keeping me here, for sure. The community is beautiful, I am very very happy with it. They are all very fun, they all are very welcoming, very warm, very stupid, pleasant and weird – all the fun stuff.
Also, with circus you have multiple disciplines so whatever you fancy: heights, holding things in your hands, etc. It gives you multiple ways and if it is not there you can invent one. With all the things people do there’s so many avenues which could be classed as circus, you just have to put it on stage it be pushing the human skills in whatever way that may be.
New circus people have this kind of radical, very punk attitude, pushing against the idea of anyone who is a leader, of anyone who should know things. We can do whatever we want. And a lot of circus people are their own authors, they are not working under a choreographer, they are not working under a director, so you don’t have any of these hierarchical structures. Cause I think that feeds a constant idea of what dance or theatre should be. But with circus, it is constantly evolving, because no one really is following anyone.
In your opinion, what is the role of circus today, in this challenging, constantly changing reality? Is the role of it constantly changing either?
It’s a hard question… I think the second part of the question, is it changing, yes, I think it is subconsciously being affected by the world and a much more sustainable conversation. Not even about the content of the work, but the structure of the company. Circus is really built upon touring and international spaces. So the idea of making a sustainable show and having to fly everywhere doesn’t make any sense. Or the idea of making a sustainable show but then going and buying all your stuff on Amazon. People are really starting to go: ‘Oh, hang on, we should really think about not just the themes, but also how we structure it’. There is that I think that is coming into a lot. But what the role is... I am quite controversial with my thoughts on this, I’ve had a lot of arguments with a lot of people, because I’m like: ‘Art is useless. And art should be useless’. Art shouldn’t have to hold the weight of changing the world, it should be very much like throwing up in some way: ‘I just have to say this thing, it has to come out of me’. And then later it can be used to be good for this initial coming into the world. Becoming from intangible to tangible, it shouldn’t be made to try to make things better, it should just be made because you really want to say this thing. I don’t think any great works of art were ever made to be the great works of art or to try and do something amazing for the world – they came because somebody really needed to say it. So, I really want to keep the role of circus just because, because we can’. It's controversial because people are like: ‘Art isn’t useless! Art can change the world!’. I’m like: ‘Well, it can, it shouldn’t try to though’ (laughing). I wouldn’t want it to be the main thing holding the world together.
I like it, I like that art is allowed to be useless, because what else in the world right now is allowed to be just for the sake of being? Everything has to have a function, everything must go towards something. And I think: ‘God! That’s really hard work, when everything has to be good, and useful’. And now I like art that is useless, that’s my favorite kind of art.
Interviewed by Ugnė Kulbokaitė
The circus center project is financed by the Lithuanian Council of Culture
Data: 2022-11-14 10:18:42
Autorius: Ugnė Kulbokaitė