By Lyndall Barnett
MELBOURNE — Australia's largest community circus, the Women's circus, has been presented by the Footscray Community Arts Centre to Melbourne audiences for the past four years. Last year, the circus attracted a total audience of over 4000.
This year's theme is "Death: the Musical". Annie Fayzdaughter, who has been involved with the circus for the past four years, explained how the performances evolve.
Once the basic theme is decided, the women involved — this year there are 120 of them — workshop the theme in its many aspects, determining what the theme means to them and basing various acts on it. Individual directors are responsible for the planning, rehearsal and performance of each act.
Death, said Annie, means to the women of the circus not simply physical death but also the regular losses women experience in their daily lives: losses of pets, houses, lovers, jobs and friends. Death is conceived as a spectrum.
Performances range from trapeze to toothbrush juggling, walking on broken glass to playing in the band or performing with fire. About 70 women are involved in the performances. Others are involved in the technical and stage crews, building the sets and directing. The circus includes sideshows and a carnival through which the audience is encouraged to wander before being ushered into the main stage area.
Based on the understanding that all women have valuable skills worthy of display, the circus involves a diversity of women, of ages 15 to 55. All women are welcome to participate and share their various skills.
Annie feels that the women-only environment facilitates this exchange. In a society where men take up most of the space and attention, women feel more confident and supported and less likely to be ridiculed when trying out new acrobatic, technical, musical or magical skills in a women-only environment. Women learn to feel comfortable, competent and spectacular in their own bodies and identities.
This idea of women reclaiming and controlling their bodies and space has been an underlying theme through the circus's four productions. This year's performance is to be held in the huge Sheriff's warehouse in the Gas & Fuel complex in North Melbourne, where impounded goods used to be stored. In the era of the "feminisation of poverty", the idea is apt of women performing in a space formerly reserved for the goods seized from the poor for non-payment of fines.
All are welcome to the Women's Circus, and it's fun — for the performers, technicians, musicians, directors and audience. Tickets ($15 and $10 plus the BASS fee) are available from BASS on 11 500, and as the Circus is usually fully sold, you'd better book now. There are nine shows from November 17 to December 3.