French circus company Circa Tsuica will set up camp in Hamworthy Park, Poole from 3 July ahead of their new show Now or Never, which they perform alongside local brass band the Jazz Orchestra from Queen Elizabeth’s School, Wimborne. It's set to create quite a spectacle locally - passers-by can watch as Circa Tsuica erect their red and white Big Top in the park then set up their circus village around it - reinventing circus traditions for the 21st century as they start getting ready for the show.
We talk to co-director and performer Tom Neal and workshop leader and performer Baptiste Bouquin about the show ...
First of all, what is Now or Never all about? What are you trying to achieve with the show?
Tom: Our first aim is to create a really great link between us and the audience - but also among the audience themselves. Everyone is individually welcomed and invited to share something to eat and drink. One way or another, we want everyone to become part of the show.
We perform a lot on bicycles because they are universal objects that everyone uses or sees on a daily basis. A bike is less abstract than a trapeze or teeterboard – though we perform on those too – and it’s great to show people just what can be done on one!
Live music, composed by Guillaume Dutrieux, is also very central in Now or Never. It’s not just as an accompaniment - we all play our instruments and do circus tricks at the same time. Blending the acrobatics and the music really enhances the way we reach the audience.
In the end what people usually remember is how close to us they feel - and that is reciprocal, we feel the same way too. This show is an ode to tolerance, sharing and living together in peace.
The young musicians of the Jazz Orchestra at Queen Elizabeth’s School are performing with you in the show, how have you worked together?
Baptiste: Before the Circus arrives, we have had two sessions where we rehearse the sections of the show that they will play with us. We help them with the usual musical parameters - rhythm, sound, playing together etc - but also with the specific skills that they will need to be part of the show. They’ll need to know all the music by heart so they can interact with the others, they will have to move on stage, they will have to be characters (for example, they'll be guests in a wedding scene). Some of the bands are surprised that they need performance as well as music skills!
When the circus arrives, we do the dress rehearsals in the Big Top with all the team. We want the young musicians to really make the most of the whole experience, not just be focussed on notes or sheets of music.
Maybe that's what we want to share with them, that music is huge and there are so many different ways to perform it. In Now or Never, it's linked to circus, to a relationship with others, to joy and risk. It's not just about playing notes - even if I would prefer them to play the right ones!
Now or Never takes place in Circa Tsuica’s travelling Big Top rather than a theatre. What difference does that make for you as performers? And what about for the audience?
Tom: Performing in a circus ring is very, very different to performing on a stage. There is no ‘cheating’ in a ring, the audience is all around you and there is nowhere to hide. All the action is in the centre so the the focus is greater. For the audience, every point of view is unique and close-up. For us, it is a challenge because we have to make every perspective interesting. At the same time, we can really feel the closeness of the audience which is a great pleasure. The audience can see each other and we like to play with that in the show. We change people’s perspective, get people talking to each other while eating some crepes, we want everyone to feel that they are invited to a giant party.
Baptiste: When the audience arrives they expect to just go and find their seats but, actually, it's already like a party, or the main square of a village. There's a buffet right in the middle of the track, people are offered drinks by the artists, they are welcomed. It's a very warm atmosphere, the opposite of the pomp and circumstance of some theatres.
How do you work together to set up the tent – and the camp around it which you will live in while you are in town?
Tom: Well, setting up the tent and everything inside takes us about a day. It is usually a collaboration between us and a group of local people provided by the venue. I am the tent master and I explain to the locals how things should be done. In our group everyone knows what to do so it’s quite organic. If the location allows it we then place the caravans in which we live all around the Big Top to recreate a tiny village. Before and after the show the audience is invited to walk along them to share a glimpse of what our lives can be, since in “real life”, back in France, we live in the same village (but in houses now) and run our company together collectively.
How does daily life work while you are there? Who does the shopping, the cooking, the washing? Do the kids go to school?
Tom: We have a very long preparation day before the show, we need to prepare the food and drinks we offer to the audience, clean the stage, wash the costumes, check the props, instruments and the bicycles, warm up, rehearse the music and the circus and so on… We also have our own showers and laundry in a semi-trailer, we have a cook preparing nice meals, a nanny, a teacher, with a mini-circus-tent-school, in order to be as autonomous as possible, so when I say we’re recreating a real village it is not a joke…
Is it true that once the tent is up, that there will be music rehearsals during the day that passerbys can come along and watch and listen to?
Tom: Sure, we’re always happy to welcome people to have a peep when we rehearse, so come along if you hear noises in the Big Top…