Making the Impossible Feel Possible Together

Group 1 playing presenting practical work
Group 1 playing with projection and proximity

From 21-23 February circus artists Rowan Fae of Full Tilt Aerial Dance, Upswing Aerial Theatre led by Victoria Amedume, Carolyn Watt*, Emma Cat and a newly formed group of theatre practitioners led by Roderick Morgan under the auspices of Trajectory Theatre, learnt about new technologies through a variety of practical sessions. This was the first of three workshops that will lead up to scratch performances on 21 May. These experimental works in progress will combine the sensational art form of circus with new technologies that facilitate sensational experiences.

Before the artists even had an opportunity to encounter the technology able to inspire their imaginations, collaboration was placed centre ring. Research leaders Helen Kennedy, Sarah Atkinson, Kelly Snook and Donna Close explained the scope of the project, whilst industry partners described the support on offer and artists reflected on their most positive collaborations with technical experts.

Group 2 presenting practical work
Group 2 triggering applause through wearable sensors

Integral to the temporary community set up in the room was Kelly Snook’s passionate description of her
own relationship to the relatively recent science/art divide and her invitation for participants to dream big. Inspiration was provided by Kelly’s description of technology available and by a visit to Wired Sussex’s Immersive Lab. Here they encountered talks on 360 video by Nick Driftwood of Driftwood Productions and Jeremiah Ambrose, researching the possibilities of 360 video film making and virtual reality technologies, as well as being given the opportunity to experience the exciting technologies that Immersive Lab members are working with. This included experiencing Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Holo and other technologies that combined the analogue and digital worlds. Walking away from the Immersive Lab, the feeling was that this visit itself could plant the seed for future collaborations.

Group 1 working collaboratively
Group 1 working collaboratively

Forming two groups our artists worked together to develop two projects that were shown in the last session on the third and final day of the workshop. Themes integral to circus such as community, harnessing the power of movement and proximity were experimented with, as well as ideas that exposed the hidden reality of circus bodies. As artists worked within the University of Brighton’s Fab Lab space, they took on the space’s ethos of asking if they could make something happen through the iterative process of doing, rather than closing down possibilities by defining parameters too closely, too early. One group even set themselves the task of only continuing with an idea if they didn’t already know how they could achieve it. The Fab Lab and research team assisted the workshop participants to put ideas into practice that both translated the conductive power of bodies and sensors ability to recognise movement to trigger sound and light. As with any creative process there were moments of frustration and excitement, as well as learning through experimentation.

In the end two ideas were presented: a wearable costume that responded to the body bends of contortion to trigger applause and visual projections that responded to arm movements using proximity sensors. These two outcomes were a great achievement within such a short time, but what was more fascinating was seeing the ideas played with and discarded in the process of making.

Group 2 working together
Group 2 working together

As outsiders looking in, it appeared that our artists did shift the frame of what was impossible for them on
day one to what was possible on day three, acquiring skills and potential inspiration for their individual final works. The shifting relationship between the possible and the impossible, brought to mind Ron Beadle’s talk at our launch event. It remains to be seen how the personal wishes and dreams sealed in envelopes on the workshop’s first day will be realised in performance in May, and whether this relationship with possibility will be permanently reconfigured for our artists by the new technologies on offer.


* Carolyn Watt’s PhD is part funded by the Interreg 5A France (Channel) England Research project PONToon, June 2017-November 2020, led by the University of Portsmouth, CCI

If you want up to the minute on every development from XR Circus then make sure you follow @XRCircus and keep an eye on #XRCircus where we live tweet workshops and events.

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