Friday, 30 December 2011

Taking Risks

First of all, many apologies.  I've been much too long in writing this blog entry.  I'm still having problems converting the videos that I want to post onto this site, and I'm such a technophobe that I have to wait until my partner is free to help me.  He's currently doing two pantos a day in Newark right now, but still, it's no excuse.

So what was supposed to be a very relaxing Christmas break has been erm... not quite so relaxing.  I've been working Front of House at the lovely Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham for their Christmas show, Red Riding Hood, and was also booked to do a photoshoot for the new Center Parcs spa brochure.  Apart form the 6.30am start it was a great day - I had a foot spa, chatted to some lovely actresses and was eating antipasti and drinking champagne at 9.45 in the morning.  All for the sake of my art, you understand...

And the last few days have been no less hectic.  On 27th December I received a call from Lakeside asking if I fancied being the Wolf in Red Riding Hood, as the actress playing the part had lost her voice.  Entirely.  And the show's a two-hander.  And there's LOADS of songs.  And the music is really complicated.  So obviously I said yes, had four hours rehearsal and went on with script in hand for the second show on Wednesday.  And despite being absolutely terrified, and wondering if I'd completely lost the plot for agreeing to do it, I really enjoyed it.  Someone said to me before I started at Circomedia, "It's only worth doing something if it scares you", and I'm beginning to think that that may be a good life motto.

So I'd just like to take this opportunity to publicly thank Matt Aston, director, and Samuel Wells, the other actor in the show, as well as all of the wonderful Lakesiders, backstage and front of house, for holding my hand throughout the experience.  Couldn't have done it without you.

Thursday, 8 December 2011


Three very exciting things have happened today.

1.  The piece which my group have been devising in our Physical Theatre class has been chosen to go in the Christmas show.

2.  I went on the swinging trapeze for the first time.  Wheeeee!

3.  After over a year of trying, today I finally did my first full tricep chin up, unassisted.

Sometimes it's the smallest things that just make you feel great.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Telling stories

What I really love about this course is the precision we are being taught to use when devising in physical theatre. The mantra that Bim seems to refer back to, as I think I shall be doing for the rest of my life, is 'Was everything clear?', and really, that's the absolutely crucial thing.  Because despite theatre being an artform, open to interpretation and development, if your audience doesn't get the story and empathise in the way you'd like them to, then you're probably telling it wrong. 

Stories are how we live and learn.  They are the way we pass down information from generation to generation, how we learn to be responsible as children and adults. I'm starting to feel excited about the stories I think I could tell, and even more excited now that I have a way of telling them.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

And here they are...

So here's a couple of videos from our last 2 presentations before the half term.  The first is the E & M presentation - we had to use a found object to manipulate to 3 minutes of Rossini's 'Thieving Magpie'.  We looked in particular at 3 different ways of manipulation - the object in the air (i.e. throwing and catching), the object in relation to the body, and the object in relation to the ground.  This is a really good way of starting to work with objects in general, I think.

And the second is the aerial presentation which took place just before half term.  Again, the brief was very basic, and about displaying what we had learnt technically during the first 6 weeks.  We were allowed to choose our own music and were required to use positions above, on and below the bar.  Can I just add here that I rehearsed and performed this whole piece with what I now know was a bruised rib.  Thank you.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Rather annoyingly, in this blog I wanted to post a couple of videos from presentations I did before we broke up for half term, but I can't get them onto the site because they're MOD files. Ideas, anyone?

So instead I'm going to have a whinge.  I really miss my partner!  I knew that coming away from home to go to Circomedia wouldn't be easy and that being apart from Matt was obviously going to be part of that,  but it really is hard.  I'm staying in lovely digs in Bristol with a lovely family, yet I'm getting to the stage now where I'm feeling fed up, because it's just not home. 

So here's to my beautiful boyfriend Matt whom I shall see on Friday, and here's to anyone else currently indulging in heartache.  Thanks for listening.


Wednesday, 9 November 2011


Half term, aahh.  I'm having this weird feeling of really wanting to relax and enjoy not training, mixed with absolute guilt at the thought that I'm not training, mixed with actually quite missing training.  I don't really know what to do with myself...

On Friday I attended a conference in Birmingham called 'Activating Circus in The West Midlands'.  It was a real eye opener, and to be honest, I felt completely out of my depth, surrounded by wonderful people who've been working in circus for over 25 years.  It was also a wake up call to what I'm going to have to get stuck into to market a show or act - the networking, giving out of business cards to strangers and general producer's terminology of which I'm currently completely ignorant.

And today I've been to see my physio, who is totally wonderful and so perceptive with the body.  Apparently I'm training the stronger side of my body too hard, which is resulting in a weak left shoulder and slightly smaller right buttock.  Fancy that!  Who would ever have thought that one of my buttocks would be described as 'small'!

Friday, 28 October 2011

To Specialise...

So.  Here we are at the end of week 5, and I have to say, I think I'm holding up pretty well, particularly in a class full of injuries, tears and one of the worst cases of concussion I've ever known.  I do feel like I may have broken a rib from an aerial move I tried yesterday, but that's nothing out of the ordinary, so no worries there.

Anyway, the topic of the blog today is Specialisation.  Next week we have to choose which two subjects out of the main four (aerial, acro-balance, physical theatre and E & M)  we want to specialise in for the rest of the course.  Obviously, my first choice was physical theatre.  I love Bim, who teaches the subject, love his Lecoq based approach, and can't wait to get stuck into physical stories, clown and grotesque, all of which will be studied in depth.  Brilliant.

The second choice though has always been a little more tricky.  I thought it would be aerial, but had an open mind towards acro-balance too.  And surprise of all surprises, I think I'm going to go with acro.  Which begs the question, 'What is acro-balance?'

Normally when I mention acro to someone I get a standard response of 'Go on then, do us a back flip'.  I can't do a back flip.  There's a very good chance I may leave Circomedia still not being able to do a back flip.  Because, you see, that's not really the point of acro-balance.  Acro-balance is about partner work, about the ways two (or more) bodies can use each other as platforms to find points of counter-balance and elevation.  I find it massively exciting to use in theatre because these moments of physicality have such great potential for really heightening the narrative.  And on a practical note, it doesn't need the specialist equipment that aerial always will.

So maybe my mission in Circus is to raise awareness of what acro-balance is, and how it can help us as theatre makers to utilise everything we've got to tell our stories.  For an example of what can be achieved from the Contemporary Circus point of view, check out this video from Mimbre:

Theatre can use this poetry of the body, and I'm going to learn how.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Under Pressure

I have a very annoying habit that has started to develop.  I'm constantly thinking about Circomedia.  I mean - constantly. It's really irritating.  Thoughts of school actually woke me up last night, and for those of you who know me well, you'll know how unusual that is.

It may be because there's quite a lot of pressure at the moment.  Every Friday we have a presentation task, and at the moment we are looking at technical presentations of ability and understanding for each of the specialist areas of E & M, aerial and acro-balance.  Last Friday was an acro presentation.  The brief required that we use no music, no characters (but what do I hide behind then?), and no story.  In this way we show our application of what we have learnt in class time and our ability to make transitions between different moves.  It went quite well, and I'm relieved it's over, as I now have to prepare a 3 minute solo piece of manipulation featuring a piece of red fabric for this Friday, and a 3 minute trapeze solo for the Friday after.  Which is fine, but I would just like to be able to switch off from it all occasionally (particularly when asleep).

Anyway, for those of you who are interested, below is the final rehearsal of my group's acro piece.  I'm the one who walks onto the far left of the screen at the start.  And in answer to my classmate's questions, no, we weren't allowed to smile.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Young and definitely Beautiful

On Friday I had the pleasure of seeing "Tell them That I am Young and Beautiful" at the Circomedia Church, featuring Marcello Magni and Kathryn Hunter, both of whom I've been a massive fan since studying European Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford 10 years ago.  Also in this performance was Patrice Naiambana (the actor on the left in the photo above), of whom at one point I caught myself thinking "I wish I could perform like that".  And then I realised that if that level of performance and physicality was or will ever be in my grasp, that time is now.  I am in exactly the right place to give me the tools to achieve the sort of theatre I saw on Friday.  And that was a rather wonderful thought.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Learning to Fail

On Friday we had a seminar with Bim, where the question he wanted answers to was "Why are you here?"  Not in an existential sense, you understand, but as in why did we choose to come to Circomedia, as opposed to other Circus training centres  and indeed, why Circus?

Now, I think through my previous blogs I've made myself quite clear on this subject, so I'm not going to bore you with all that stuff again. However, one of the (anonymous) answers to the question was, "To make as many mistakes as I can".  Bim thinks that this is a very valid answer, and I agree with him.  Being at a school such as Circomedia is the only opportunity most of us will ever have of being able to fail time and time again and being accepted anyway; moreover being encouraged to learn from our failure.  Yet I find it difficult to persuade myself that failure will be good for me.  

Throughout life I've been an achiever.  I don't think that I'm naturally gifted, but hard work, a desire to learn and a rational mind mean that I've never really struggled academically or in the working world.  And I like to do things right!  If I had my way I'd really like to go in on the first day of rehearsals to a new job and for the director to say to me "Catherine, that was wonderful.  You are the most talented member of this company.  Now go home and have a rest and I'll see you opening night."  Or something along those lines...

So learning how and loving to fail is going to be the steepest learning curve yet.  I don't like not being the best at things (and I'm certainly not the best at anything here), but maybe, if I put my mind to it, I can become really good at making mistakes.

Friday, 30 September 2011

End of Week One

I. Feel. Amazing. Seriously, I really do.  I'm not sure whether this is because of all the physical exercise we've been doing, or the fact that after 15 months of worrying if going to Circomedia is the right thing to do I finally know that yes it is, or maybe it's just the beer and pizza that the school laid on for the end of our first week, but to be quite honest I couldn't be happier right now.  And yes, I know that the hard work has barely begun. I know that the risk of injury is high, and that I'm going to be pushing my body and mind to their limits.  But it just feels right, and at this moment there is nowhere else I'd rather be.

And this is the sunset as seen from my cycle home tonight.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Launching into the Unknown

It has begun.  On Monday morning I turned up with knees trembling at Circomedia, knowing nothing, fearing everything.  And so far, well, it's been rather good fun actually.  We are a group of 29, with a whole range of ages, experiences and interests.  We've had very informative and practical introductions to aerial, acrobalance, equilibristics and manipulation (that's juggling to me and you, or E & M, as I shall now refer to it in a very knowledgeable way), and also performance and conditioning classes.

Today was the dreaded fitness test.  I can't really get over to you through the medium of the blog exactly how scared I have been of this.  Before each student begins at Circomedia they are sent through a list of the fitness levels that the school wants you to have achieved prior to the start of the course.  This includes wondrous things such as the fact that you should be able to do 4 pull ups with you palms facing forward, 5 full tricep press ups and be able to straddle (open your legs whilst sitting) to an angle of 120 degrees.  Hmmm... easy for some, not so much for others.  However, Circomedia's attitude is that each student works within their own capabilities.  There are no good and bad results (at this stage).  Your scores are recorded and act as a benchmark you'll work with and be tested on again in the next six weeks to measure improvement.  Oh, and we also did a killer 20 minute circuit. I am feeling the burn.

In the afternoon Bim Mason, course director and co-founder of Circomedia, talked us through the different elements of the course.  He talked about the phrase 'running away with the circus' and told us that he used to not like it (good job he hasn't read this blog yet), as it infers that the circus is a place of dreams; or a romantic notion that people have of leaving the drudgery of their everyday life and starting over again.  Can I just say that I don't believe my everyday life was a drudge.  I rather enjoyed it actually - being in my lovely comfy house with my lovely comfy partner in Nottingham.  I miss it, I really do.  And what I'm doing here feels like the exact opposite of running away from something.  I feel like I am finally accepting that yes, I am going to be poor for the rest of my life.  And that's because there is simply nothing I can find that I want to do as much as this, and creativity is at the heart of that.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The beginning...

So, about a year and a half ago I was sitting on my sofa on a blustery day, wrapped up warm and drinking a cup of tea, and I had this idea - Why don't I go and train full time at a circus school?  Wouldn't that be great?  Wouldn't it be fun!  Wouldn't it make me so much more employable as an actor?!  NO!, said the voice in my head.  It would hurt, be very expensive and is a very silly idea.  Sensible advice.  However, from that point on the seed of the idea began to grow, and bit by bit started to feel like it might actually have something in it.  I could use the new skills not only as a performer, but as a theatre maker and movement director, specialising in the dramatic integration of circus into narrative theatre.  I asked for advice from other theatre makers who seemed genuinely enthused by concept, and so set about finding out how to make it reality.

And so here I am, nineteen months later and absolutely terrified.  I have auditioned and been accepted into Circomedia in Bristol, one of the only circus schools in the UK, where the emphasis of the training is on creativity, devising and new approaches to circus.  The lovely Arts Council have agreed to support me and everything is in place for the first day on Monday.  Monday! Oh. My. God.

The purpose of this blog is to allow the training that I'll be undertaking to be shared, to create interest and ultimately to raise the profile of the use of circus arts in theatre.  I'm a Nottingham based actress and intend to remain so, meaning that any learning in Bristol will be brought back to the East Midlands at the end of the training, and then... who knows?  Any ideas?  Any at all?

So please watch this space and join me on this wonderful technicolour journey into the world of contemporary circus.  It's going to be exciting, scary, thrilling, nervewracking and most certainly painful.  Arnica cream at the ready everyone.