The Arrival: A Journey
By Daisy Drury, Director of Circus Development
I first met Kristine Landon-Smith in Spring 2008 when we had just launched the Creative Exchange Programme at Circus Space. Creative Exchange was funded by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and was designed to encourage established directors to work with circus by giving them time and space to workshop ideas with a small group of circus performers.
Kristine snapped up the opportunity to work in this way and proposed a week spent exploring a graphic novel – The Arrival – by Australian Shaun Tan. The Arrival tells an almost universal immigration story of good-byes, difficult journeys, unfamiliar ways, painful new beginnings and the kindness of strangers. Tan’s beautifully realised and often surreal pencil drawings dramatically capture the feelings of disconnection and alienation that all new arrivals feel. (See http://www.shauntan.net/books.html) It was this otherworldliness that Kristine sought to capture through the use of circus. Certain scenes – the farewell scene between father and son, the journey by boat, the new job in a hideous factory – leant themselves to the extreme physicality that acrobatics and aerial could offer. We were all excited by the promise in this early R&D.
Both Circus Space and Tamasha remained committed to The Arrival project but, despite regular meetings and discussions and a couple of one-off workshops, it wasn’t until the Summer of 2011 that we were able to take the next major step in the evolution of the show. Each year our 2nd Year Students work with a director or choreographer to create a new, devised ensemble show. With its emphasis on individual technique and solo performance circus ensemble work that delivers a director’s vision can often be neglected. In 2011 the 2nd year Ensemble Production was The Arrival created through a unique partnership between Tamasha and Circus Space.. Circus Space provided the artists, the space and the venue, all the equipment as well as our usual (small) performance production budget. To these basic ingredients Tamasha was able to add the skills of Kristine herself and writer Sita Brahmachari plus a full professional creative team for lighting, sound, music, set and costume design. In addition they commissioned some beautiful projections loosely based on Tan’s original drawings and a new original score from composer Felix Cross, both of which were key to the success of the show. For footage and photographs from this production see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=VqJwH9RY6XU
The student production was a crucial step on The Arrival’s journey. By the Autumn of 2011 Sita had the basic structure for her script pinned down, a strong design aesthetic had been established, significant progress had been made in the design of the projections and the music that help to bind the show together and Kristine now had a clear idea of the roles she needed to fill and the circus skills she wanted to include. At the same time we had delivered a unique student production that earned rave reviews from the often cynical and jaded circus community. Casting and script decisions were developed further during The Alchemy Festival in April 2012 when a shortened, adapted version was presented in the ballroom of the South Bank Centre.
When The Arrival finally goes out on tour in March 2013 it will be the first time that Circus Space has collaborated on a full-scale professional touring production. This isn’t the first time that a major new production has used students during development. Mark Ravenhill famously developed the 2001 National Theatre production of Mother Clap’s Molly House on a group of 2nd Year Students from LAMDA and there are other examples of the University of Warwick and Queen Mary and Westfield collaborating in the creation of new work. At a time when all arts organisations and educational establishments are being asked to do more for less, this project presents an interesting model for future collaborations between Higher Education and the professional arts sector. The benefits to each organisation are clear - Tamasha gained access to our spaces, our equipment, 16 highly talented young performers, and our in-house expertise in circus plus vital R&D time and resources for the development of the show; Circus Space students got the chance to work with a full professional creative team in the earliest stages of a new production and a couple of them have been cast in the full production; a member of our teaching team has gained a valuable professional development opportunity through acting as Circus Advisor to the production; and Circus Space was able to deliver its higher education obligations in a unique way. Over the years we estimate that through the allocation of resources and incorporating The Arrival into our mainstream programme we have invested over £50,000 in The Arrival but at no additional cost. Through collaborations like this Circus Space is able to fulfil our mission as the UK’s National Centre for Circus Arts.
For more information on The Arrival see the Tamasha Website here: http://www.tamasha.org.uk/the-arrival/