Melbourne-based Circus Artist Ciara Thorburn recently birthed a lockdown baby of a different kind. Named The Thesis, the work is a 50-minute voyeuristic glimpse into the life of an eccentric polymath.
So, why did Thorburn decide to combat a pandemic with creativity? Because she had to!
“Training spaces were closed, theatres were closed, gyms were closed, we weren’t even allowed to leave the house – plenty of time to make a show, though,” she says. “I wasn’t going to let my creativity die, mostly out the lack of control of a fear of failure. This baby was literally born in lockdown. I decided I needed to get years of my thoughts out of my notebooks, off the paper, and onto the stage. So, I stopped thinking, and started doing – and I made a show.”
Thorburn explains that the show is a celebration of failure and the creative process – it is guised under the mind of an eccentric polymath stuck in a room mid-thesis. Reading between the lines, the show is a reflection on the survival of the artist, centred around the fact that the creation of ideas is more important than the success or failure of those ideas. “The show was created from real life situations that we as artists, academics and creators find ourselves in when navigating a new project,” she says.
Superbly highlighting that there are no limits to what can be achieved when you are supposed to be doing something else, the show is made for academics and artists alike, as throughout Thorburn’s eight-and-a-half-years at university she has always drawn a strong connection between the two.
“It’s easy to identify a direct correlation between the process of an academic and a creative, and the themes explored within the show are reflective of this – inspiration, procrastination, distraction, research, plagiarism, crippling self-doubt, imposter syndrome, existential crisis… to name a few,” she says.
Voyeuristic. Desolate. Desperate. Cold. Frustrating. Distracted. Monotonous. But also… Inspiring. Stirring. Determined. Tenacious. Relentless. Inimitable. Uplifting.
With minimalist set and baron style the show relies on the use of narrative and real connection between the performer and the audience, alongside circus apparatuses cleverly disguised as everyday objects. In a reflection of the everyday, this show embraces the mundane and makes it remarkable.
COVID has proven a challenging time for all. For Thorburn one of the biggest challenges was never being able to have her creative team in the room together all at once.
“One of the hardest things about creating a show during lockdown is the uncertainty of it all – but all we can do is keep going,” she says. “I used this opportunity to work with a lot of other creatives and mentors online via Zoom. What I realised quickly was that there was a silver lining to this all, this granted me access to the brains of some of my dream mentors, directors and artists who were dotted in lockdowns all across the world. It was then that I realised what a unique opportunity I had on my hands here, no distractions, no work, and all the time in the world to develop something that had been brewing inside me for a long time.”
Thorburn reveals that every character that she creates is just an extension of herself. Everything is based on harsh realities and an honest view of the world. “I believe that that is how to create real theatre – its not acting, its reacting,” she asserts. “Reacting to the audience, reacting to the current state of the world, reflecting on ideas and processes. Reflecting on the human condition and everything that makes us as humans, both complex and beautiful.”
As both creator and performer, Thorburn went into the studio with a concept and a few props – a pencil, a clap light, and the study desk that she found on the side of the road. “The initial script changed loads, as it should during the process,” she says.” I don’t think I ever meant to create a show about the creative process, it just kind of happened that way, through hundreds of hours of exploration and thoughtful processing of ideas.” Thorburn would work on the floor exploring ideas, and then write and sketch for hours in her logbook into the evening, going over exactly what she had discovered or lost that day. Throwing away ideas and coming up with newer more complex but-probably-basically-the-same ideas.
“It was all very meta – my show logbooks became my thesis. I did a lot of self-documentation, through videos and voice memos, in which you can literally see the repetitive cycle of creation and arguably the breaking down of all logic and direction. And then, it all started to make sense. It reformed into something beautiful, something raw and honest, and then I had a show.”
Thorburn is a graduate of Australia’s National Institute of Circus Arts and has developed a unique approach to performance, skill development and the workshop environment. She is also an avid art critic who has combined her passion for conceptual art with entertainment in a unique fusion of variety skill with clowning.
Embracing the mundane and making it remarkable, The Thesis is a subtle yet intelligent exploration of the human condition; both inspiring… and incredibly frustrating. Proudly supported by Creative Victoria, Antipodes Arts and the Alex Theatre.
Says Thorbun: “This show is made for artists and academics, to give hope, and to acknowledge that we are complex beings, and we are not alone in this process. To celebrate failure, to connect, to find the pinprick of light, and create. Art needs to survive this pandemic. Artists need to survive this pandemic, and we will.”
September 17 – 25
Bookings: online only at www.ciarathorburn.com/work/thethesis