Circus Schools, Circus Shows

Over the past four days I’ve been to two different circus schools, one circus training space, and seen three different circus shows in two different cities. It’s been a busy few days.

Over the past year my cousin, Stephen, has been attending Circomedia in Bristol. Circomedia is the second biggest circus school in the UK after Circus Space. (Interestingly, Bim Mason, who founded the school, describes it as a Physical Theatre school that teaches circus rather than a Circus School. No one else I know describes it that way. We all think of it as a Circus School.)

The two show’s I’ve seen were Circomedia’s end of year show, Touch & Go, by their first year students on the Foundation Degree, and Circus Space’s end of year ensemble show by their second year students. The two shows couldn’t have been more different, although I didn’t enjoy either of them particularly. Don’t get me wrong, each show had some great moments, and each show had some great skill, I just didn’t really like the shows overall.

On Thursday, Circomedia’s show, staged at the Bristol Old Vic, was mostly solo acts or duets, some distracted by a cast of performers surrounding them. The trouble was that there are around 25 students in the year, some performing in more than one act, leading to a show that was far too long – nearly three hours including an interval!

With one or two exceptions, the students’ skills were not of a high standard. Feet were lazy and unpointed or sickled, legs were bent, timing was out, double lunges were necessary, comedy wasn’t funny, dancing was scrappy, and more than a few drops were made. It strikes me as odd that after one year, with the school focusing on physical theatre rather than circus skills and technique, Circomedia would stage such a lengthy ‘solo’ show rather than an shorter, tighter ensemble.

It seemed to me that the best performances were either physical-theatre-based (Dare Devilina and many of the links) or were done by students who had come to the school with a high skill level to begin with (such as the jugglers and beat boxers – both highlights of the show for me) or were the performances that kept things ‘nice and neat’ such as the doubles trapeze.

The next day, Steve took me on a tour of Circomedia’s two sites, the school and the training space, and then also the Invisible Circus, an amazing venue based in an old fire station. That evening I returned to the Invisible Circus for ‘The Last Resort’ which was great fun. The event was part party, part event and part cabaret show and was in stark contrast to the previous night’s student show. It was a slickly produced affair with some sharp acts (including some Circomedia graduates) and a big dose of fun. I’d strongly recommend their next event, The Swing Thing, which will combine classic circus with lindy hop and swing dance.

Then last night came the Circus Space second year ensemble show, ‘I came to live out loud’. The show was short, tight, and had some nice skills (I enjoyed the Chinese Pole the most) but lacked something. Maybe it’s just that I don’t really care about any of the student shows apart from their solo acts in their third year, maybe it’s that I don’t really get to know any of the students and have no personal connection to them. But I don’t think so. I think it was really lacking in it’s direction. The comedy wasn’t funny, the drama undramatic, and the romance flat. I was left bereft of any personal connection to any of the characters. And even though it was far better (and shorter) than the Circomedia show, I just wanted it to be over.

It’s hard for me to articulate how I feel about it. I haven’t seen any of the second year Circus Space student shows in a few years so, with the exception of the Touch & Go, I don’t have anything recent to compare it to, and I feel it unfair to compare a first year Circomedia show (where their focus is on physical theatre) with a second year Circus Space show (where the students’ focus is on skills).

What I do know is that with 40 – 50 students at Circus Space and Circomedia every year, and with the growing number of circus schools, circus clubs, circus workshops, circus shows, circus seasons, circus classes and circus courses, things can only get better.


Adam tweets as CircusBoy1 on twitter here.