One Fell Swoop Circus is about to present their highly lauded revamped and reinvigorated, By A Thread, at Gasworks this month. By A Thread involves 7 acrobats, 30 metres of rope and is an ensemble circus creation exploring the relationship between trust and play.
Jonathan Morgan is company co-founder and performer. Read on as Morgan discusses the show, his inspiration for it, his love of the circus and all things in-between.
The show has grown since it was part of the 2016 Gasworks Circus Showdown. What changes have you seen in the show? What journey have you and the show been on?
It’s hard to believe it’s only been just over a year since the showdown, so much has happened! The show’s grown to a full theatre piece, we drove it to Perth Fringe and back (8,000km!) and now we’re locked in one of the best circus spaces in the world developing it even more. It’s been amazing to watch the show mature and grow as we have, both as individual artists and a performing ensemble.
You have a relationship with NICA, and use graduates and students in your show. Why is this important to you? How did this come about?
We all met through NICA’s Bachelor of Circus Arts, and making By a Thread was only possible because we have that shared acrobatic and artistic background.
It’s incredible to have a group of people who’ve trained so intensely that questions such as, “do you think both of us could stand on you?” and “can you improvise around the idea that gravity has just been quadrupled” are always answered with, “yeah, sure!”.
You’re the only circus show performing as part of the 2017 moving parts season – how does that feel?
We strive to be more than good tricks, we want our circus to say something and to connect emotionally with people. That is, we want to make great theatre, and Gasworks have been incredibly supportive of our work, and being asked to be part of the moving parts season feels so special.
What has influenced your development as artists, and creators of circus?
Contemporary circus in Australia has a wonderfully raw, visceral aesthetic that is a big part of our work.
We also try not to take ourselves too seriously – spending four hours a day perfecting the art of throwing yourself off a rope is an intrinsically absurd project. However, this absurdity doesn’t stop us from thinking deeply about what we do, and if you like I’ll tell you why I think circus and existential philosophy are basically the same things.
My favourite ‘circus-thinker’, John Paul Zaccarini says “the circus is already a metaphor” – when we stack three people on each other’s shoulders we do it for the sheer pointless joy of it, and work to let the audience in on that joy.
Where did you get the motivation / inspiration to learn and create circus, and for this show?
Circus is an incredible mix of creativity, physicality and collaboration. I love the way all body types and personalities are welcome as long as they are willing to work ridiculously hard on something ridiculous.
For By a Thread we were inspired by the way a circus ensemble functions: people are willing to risk their lives, throwing themselves and all their trust into the arms of others for seemingly no good reason. As circus performers we really struggle to explain why we do what we do, but I think that’s true of anyone that is doing anything.
“Why” is a hard question, and I hope the work we make responds to that question, even if it doesn’t answer it.
You’re breaking ground (above ground!) with new aerials not used by an ensemble in Aus. Can you tell us more about what it is, how it works and what you’re using it for? (I promise to try not and give it all away!)
We use a 30m long rope that runs from the floor up through two industrial pulleys and back down to the floor. Normally with aerials you’re just connected to the roof, but with our piece the force holding someone five metres above the ground is the hands and strength of the rest of the ensemble on the other end of the rope. So, the trust one acrobat has in another is made powerfully clear, and we use this relationship to accomplish all manner of crazy swinging, jumping, falling and spinning.
What is the show broadly about – does it follow a story line or theme?
The show is about how we relate to one another. Literally as a circus ensemble where we’re connected together by this great big rope, but also more broadly to how all relationships work (or don’t).
The interplay of trust and risk that enables all the richness of human interaction: confusion, hilarity, romance, playfulness, fear and friendship
How has the rehearsal process been for the show?
Circus artists have a Sisyphean need to push their skills further and further, so we’ve been adding extra somersaults and twists and working to get that throw just a bit higher. The bruises, blisters and burns are apparently worth it. We’ve also been unpacking who we are as a circus group, and how we can share that bizarre state with audiences – from the moments rolling around on the floor laughing, to the seriousness of stacking three people on top of each other, to just being fed up with each other’s crap.
We’re privileged to be working with some incredible creative designers – Emily Barrie is forging beautiful new costumes and Lee Stout and AfterDark Theatre making our sound and lighting design rock.
Is there any part of the show you’re most excited to share with the audience?
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks so much to Gasworks for having us, NICA for giving us space to rehearse and the countless friends and family who’ve supported our show. We can’t wait to share it with you all!
July 12 – 16
Bookings: (03) 9699 3253 or www.gasworks.org.au/event/by-a-thread-2