Arts Learning Festival – You seem to have a profound impact on young lives. Can you give us examples where Westside Circus has been transformative?
Simon – It’s true! We have a number of youth who have spoken glowingly about how they have felt coming out of our circus workshops. One mother sent us a heartfelt message saying she truly believed her daughter would not have finished primary school, if she had not had Westside Circus workshops to look forward to each week. In another program, young people who had disengaged from formal education had committed to coming back to school, on the proviso that they were still going to be doing circus! One of these kids even decided he wanted to start his own circus company ‘just like Westside!’ – we are still working with him to make it happen.
Arts Learning Festival – The fact you’re a ‘social’ circus is really interesting – why do circus arts work so well for young people who might be disadvantaged?
Simon – Social circus is a growing phenomenon worldwide. Cirque du Soleil set up a social circus, Cirque du Monde, in 1995 (just a year before Westside was born). They weren’t the first, people had been using circus for decades, but they did play a role in its proliferation.
I think it works for many reasons:
- Circus is universally accessible and so immediate and physical. All youth respond positively, those who experience some kind of disadvantage or are gifted and talented youth or mainstream middle class kids. The range of activities in circus means that everyone can find a skill or apparatus to suit their personality. What’s more, you are always able to achieve some level of skill quickly, even within minutes, so you feel pride in that success, which is an inducement to continue. But then there is always another challenge enticing you along.
- The underlying principles and philosophy of social circus mean that trainers are looking at ‘you’; not who you could be or who you were, but who you are at this time, in this place, right now. That can be a liberating, especially for young people who struggle under the judgement of others. Circus becomes a time when they don’t have to ‘live up to an expectation’ or conversely, down to one!
Arts Learning Festival – Can you outline the kind of program you’ll be delivering at the festival? What can people expect?
Simon – In essence the workshops we will have available during the festival are examples of what we have available all year. People can expect to have a lot of fun, be sensibly challenged and begin to understand other seemingly contradictory terms, such as safe risk, serious play and physical literacy.
For the teacher workshops we have resources that articulate a little bit of the HOW we approach working with young people, and by that I mean different resources that breakdown different approaches to pre-school, primary, teens and also working with young people living with disability. We will use these as a basis to explore – but they will be doing stuff to. We don’t spend a lot of time just talking.
Arts Learning Festival – The Big Top sounds exciting – can you talk about that?
Simon – I don’t want people to get too excited about it, I mean we’re proud of our new 16.5 metre double pole star marquee, but it is just a marquee. Well, when I say ‘just’, it is pretty big! We were very fortunate to get a grant from the Department of Health & Human Services Sun Shade program last year to get the marquee for our community and participants who visit us at festivals such as this one. We can have 500 or more people coming through when we set up these drop in workshops (which is different to what we are delivering during the week). We put out a bunch of circus equipment and invite people to come and give it a try. Mum and Dad can get in the fun too. Often we will have a kid we’ve worked with in the recent past come up and start trying to teach someone in their family how to do a trick – it’s so great to see the start of leadership skills in that.
Target audience: Primary and Secondary Students, Families
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