Run away and join the Commonwealth Youth Circus

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Those who went to the Commonwealth evening celebrations in Perceval Square will remember seeing the show put on by the Commonwealth Youth Circus.

The next day the Circus, part of Bright Night International based in Glasgow, put on free circus workshops for anyone who wanted to go along in Stornoway and Ness.

They had a hugely positive reaction from the islands’ youngsters, catalysing plans for an ongoing circus project here in the Isles.

JL Cassells, Producer of the shows and Artistic Director of Bright Night, said:“There’s a really big difference to the young people here and the kids in the central belt, and any big city. The young people don’t seem to mind having different ages training with them, they’re just like, ‘yeah, let’s get in, let’s do it!’

“Their focus and attention when they came in was incredible, and they’re all so polite and nice.”

For the past few years Bright Night have been developing a curriculum for teaching circus that plots progress right from the first day to becoming the level that the young performers in the Commonwealth Youth Circus have reached.

Although the Youth Circus has been an intensive 9 month teaching process for those involved, the plans for the curriculum would see students take two to three years to get good enough to go to a professional circus school, learning everything needed for an audition, or could see students learn how to become a professional teacher in circus or dance.

JL continued: “We’re trying to tie that in with the curriculum for excellence and the arts awards so that places like Stornoway, that are more remote, can have video access and demonstrations of tricks and a curriculum that can be followed just the same as in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

“It means that we can come up here more infrequently and run projects, educate local people, pass on the skills, go away and they can still progress.

“We reckon it’s totally possible to do these things remotely and not just have to live in the central belt of Scotland if you want these things to happen. The more people that want it up here, the more it’s possible for us to do it.”

“There’s a group in Shetland that we work with, and a group in Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh. There are groups all over the place that we’re trying to help develop at the moment and we’d really like to have all these groups feeding into a national circus and I’d love to get a group in the Western Isles. We’ve been talking with an Lanntair, they’ve been hugely supportive, and we’d love to come and maybe make a show up here instead of making it in Glasgow and run a series of workshops while we’re up.

“It’s a long term process, but we’ve been at it for four or five years trying to work out the best model for teaching and getting set up and we’ve ended up with the Commonwealth Circus which has been really successful.”

The Commonwealth Youth Circus is a group of 18 youngsters putting on multiple shows at a selection of Queen’s Baton Relay evening celebrations. Based out of Glasgow, the youngsters are part of a 30 person tour crew.

The Youth Circus is part of an apprenticeship initiative where performers study the four different families of circus: Object Manipulation - juggling, hats, canes, sticks - anything with props; Aerial - trapeze, ropes; Acrobatics - tumbling, handstands and partner acrobatics, and Equilibristics - stilt-walking, tightwire, wobble board - anything where you’re balancing you ontop of stuff instead of stuff on top of you.

Performers specialise in different disciplines giving the performances a range of different skills to showcase in the tour.

JL said: “We had a weird zig-zaggy tour of Scotland, but all to amazing places. You don’t come up to places like Stornoway because it’s easy, or because it makes you any money - it costs a fortune and it doesn’t really work logistically but it’s amazing so we made the effort.

“We specifically do the outdoor street theatre shows, because you can make theatre shows but the same people who would come to see everything will come to see it. Whereas in the streets some random person walking by is like, ‘whoa, what was that?’ and then we always try to teach workshops directly afterwards the next day, because that’s when you’re inspired to learn.”

Twenty youngsters took part in the afternoon workshop at an Lanntair on Wednesday, July 9th, the day after the Queen’s Baton Relay ascended the Western Isles.

The youngsters in the Youth Circus taught conditioning exercises, safety and technique - ‘passing on the fundamentals’.

JL said: “As much as possible we get out teaching when we’re on the road. Young people learning from people their own age can be really inspiring. In contrast to me and Rob, the other teacher, when you’re juggling or doing something like that, kids will say: ‘yeah, but you’ve had decades to practice that. You’ve had all this time; you’re really old.’

“We would love this to become a Scottish Youth Circus eventually - and not a Scottish Youth Circus where everyone’s from the central belt of Scotland, because that’s not Scotland.

“We’re saying; ‘why couldn’t we run some projects? Why couldn’t we come up and run some circus arts awards and see how they go and if someone’s interested, maybe we start a local group here.’ Obviously we can’t get up here all that frequently but sometimes all you need is for someone to open up a hall once a week.”

Anyone who would like to get involved in a youth circus based in the Western Isles can contact Bright Night International online.