ArtsHub interview

This is the text of an interview in ArtsHub in July 2007.

What’s a typical workday like for a Circus Oz performer?

There’s no such thing.

It can be a heavily-scheduled but everchanging round of rehearsals, devisings and meetings at our Port Melbourne H.Q., or it can be all airports, buses and hotels; or unloading trucks and roadcases, bolting things together and plugging them in, or putting them away again; or actually doing the show: two hours of physical, dramatic and musical preparation followed by two hours of actual show, maybe twice.

Or a mixture of all of those things.

How long does one show take you to put together?

Once again, there’s no such thing as “one show”. Because of the group-devised nature of a Circus Oz show, what is in the show depends on who is in the show, and how they relate to eachother.

How much a show changes from one tour to the next depends on how much time we have, which parts we want to change, and who has left and who has arrived in the cast. So the show tends to evolve rather than abruptly transform.

That said, our rehearsal periods range from one day to a couple of months at the most.

What do you like best about touring a production to another country?

Apart from all the joys of travel, I enjoy the way that different cultures interpret the show in unexpectedly different ways – moments that usually bring the house down are received in stony silence, or you may hear roars of laughter for no apparent reason. Sometimes you are even given credit for brilliance where none was intended. I like to find out why; and we often adjust the show accordingly.

We also like to translate parts of the dialog into local languages, and this can be fun to attempt, if not to listen to.

And what do you least like?

Being away from family and friends.

How is international touring different from touring within Australia?

In English-speaking countries it’s not so different; otherwise not being fluent in local languages can be a real handicap. On the other hand, it gives you a sense of alertness – you know that everything may be different from what you expect, so you notice everything, and even banalities can become fascinating. Or is that just jet-lag?

Which was your favourite performance, why was it your favourite performance, and where did it take place?

The answer to that question is always changing; but right now it would be a show we did a couple of months ago outside Kunnunnurra during a tour of the Kimberley. We set up as much as we could on the ground in a circle of boab trees and did a free sunset show for whoever showed up, which included a lot of local Aboriginal kids and their families. The effect of their enthusiasm for the show and for life in general was electrifying and unforgettable.

How did you get into circus, and where did you hone your craft?

A simple audition (ten years ago now) was all it took; but to be ready for that, I had spent fifteen years playing in all kinds of bands, from stupid parody to serious jazz, for all kinds of audiences, from drunken rabbles to schoolkids to Kanak villages to hushed auditoriums, to get the kind of versatility and openness required.

I had just graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts at the time, but Circus Oz didn’t ask to see my degree.

What’s the most difficult stunt you’ve had to perform?

For physical fear-factor it would have to be swinging off the sails of the Sydney Opera House with my double bass for New Year’s Eve 2000 – that was high!

Maximum performance-anxiety was during my first European show with Oz in  1999 in Munich, where I had to deliver great slabs of German script without having a clue what I was talking about.

Any backstage rituals?

I always have to have sixty-five cents in change in my pocket, while I spin around twenty-nine times counter-clockwise chanting the first paragraph of “Catcher in the rye”. The stage manager must stop me at the five minute call and give me a glass of sour persimmon juice.

Not really, I just get dressed and made up and go on. I don’t like to make myself nervous.

Is circus a financially viable profession?

Look, if you want money, get into real estate; but I get by, and hey, it beats working!

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