Looking Backwards and Forwards from the Margins

XR Circus Official Launch
Sarah Atkinson, Donna Close and Helen Kennedy launching the XR Circus project

How do you launch a project that investigates the creative and sensory potential of combining circus and streets arts with new technologies? In 2018, the 250th anniversary of Philip Astley establishing the circus ring, you invite artists, academics and industry partners to celebrate the future whilst looking back at the rich and vibrant past of circus.

On Tuesday night project leaders Helen Kennedy, Donna Close, Kelly Snook (all of University of Brighton) and Sarah Atkinson (King’s College London) welcomed this diverse audience to Lighthouse Arts, Brighton to celebrate the start of this new AHRC and ESPRC funded ‘Immersive Experiences’ project. Describing the project as a ‘controlled collision’ between haptic, sonic and visualisation technologies and the artistic process, they described their excitement as the opportunity to put cutting edge technology into the hands of an artistic community often marginal to the policy discourse around innovation.

Professor Ron Beadle of University of Northumbria then picked up on this concept of circus as marginal in describing some of the tensions academics have often highlighted in their writing. A particularly strong trope is the idea of a community that exists within society yet as its own temporary community, at the margins. He then went on to describe some of the hidden histories of circus such as the erasure of Lena Jordan performing the first triple somersault on the flying trapeze and Con Colleano’s performance of his Aborigine identity as Spanish. He finished by touching on how circus performs both the real and the impossible, playing with this relationship for audience members.

This was followed by a talk by Professor Vanessa Toulmin (University of Sheffield) – founder of the National Fairground and Circus Archive – who demonstrated the vibrant visual and performance culture of circus. In talking about circus history she highlighted how female performers have always worked in the circus, including Patti Astley who performed with her husband, the originator of the modern circus. The imagery she presented was a tantalising glimpse of acts, whose detailed sequences generally haven’t been recorded for posterity. Toulmin’s work as a historian is to reconstruct those where it is possible. She described incredible women such as the female Fakir Koringa who mesmerised crocodiles and the mixed-race aerialist Miss Lala who shot a canon from between her thighs.

Our contributors spoke to a sold-out audience, highlighting the incredible history of circus as a sensational entertainment that created temporary communities. This provided a positive backdrop for this new collaborative project that investigates the creative potential of a form that has sometimes been marginalised and overlooked with new technologies that are emerging at the very edges of academic and industry research.

We were also delighted to introduce our five successful artists: Emma Cat; Rowan Fae of Full Tilt Aerial Theatre; Upswing; a newly formed team led by Roderick Morgan including Thomas Jancis, Emily Martin and Chris Leaney; and, Carolyn Watt whose 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.

The industry partners who support this project are Freedom Festival Arts Trust, Seachange Arts, Without Walls, Driftwood Productions and Lighthouse Brighton.

Call for Artists: XR Circus

Call for circus, cabaret and outdoor arts makers and performers to be part of an exciting research project into how immersive technologies can be used to augment and/or to capture live performances.

The project is called XR Circus – Extraordinary Circus and is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

We are looking for artists and organisations to be part of an intense co-laboratory with scientists and technicians to design and devise new 3-5 minute performances that make use of immersive technology. The performances will be presented as works-in-progress to an invited audience at Brighton Spiegeltent in May 2018.

These performances can either be entirely new or could build on existing or current work, or projects already in development that can demonstrate the potential to be significantly enhanced through participation in this collaborative process.

Immersive technology includes VR (virtual reality) AR (augmented reality), 360 film, spatial audio, haptic technology (controlled by touch or movement), location based technology and live broadcasting technology.

We are looking for projects that push the creative boundaries of these new technologies, for example what would a 21st century Pepper’s Ghost Optical Illusion be? What are the possibilities of live event capture and distribution that communicate the intimate magic of street performance and circus spectacle?

The project is led by a consortium including the University of Brighton and King’s College London (research partners), Without Walls, Freedom Festival Arts Trust, Sea Change Arts and Lighthouse Arts.

The University of Brighton will host a series of developmental laboratories for participating artists led by leading scientists and technicians including Professor Kelly Snook, former NASA scientist and co-founder of the Mi Mu collective of specialist musicians, artists, scientists and technologists developing cutting-edge wearable technology for the performance and composition of music (www.mimugloves.com) and co-inventor of the Mi Mu gloves which have been used by Imogen Heap, Arianna Grande, and Chagall amongst others; Marley Cole, award winning sound designer specialising in spatilaised and surround sound design and Jeremiah Ambrose, expert in gaze controlled VR and 360 film and Unity programmer. Other experts will be brought in as required to support artist ideas. All artists will receive appropriate mentorship, advice, support and access to equipment during the intervening times between the workshops.

The schedule is as follows:

Tuesday 20th February – evening launch event, Lighthouse Arts, Brighton

Session 1: Vision

February (3 days)

21/22/23 February

Session 2: Sound

March (1 day)

8 March

Session 3: Movement

April (2 days)

Between 23 – 25 April

Session 4: Audience

May (1 day)

Confirmed date:

21 May

Fab Lab in The Central Research Laboratory at the University of Brighton. Fusebox/ 5G testbed at Digital Catapult Centre Brighton Drill House, Great Yarmouth Brighton Speigeltent

‘XR Cabinet Of Curiosities’

A Public/ Live Lab with audience

· Co-designing joint and individual objectives

· Introductions to the technologies, tools and software

· VR/ AR/ 360 film

· Haptic technology

· Coding & programming

· Architecture of sound in immersive environments

· Connectivity


· Storytelling

· Performance skills

· Dramaturgy

· Rigging

· Audience Experience Design

· Audience interaction

· Industry feedback

· Event Capture



Other individual sessions, workshops, tutorials etc. to be booked as needed.



Participating artists must be available to attend all 4 sessions.


A nominal fee of £2000 per artist/ group will be paid to cover direct costs and expenses.

Any equipment and materials will be agreed on a project-by-project basis and paid for separately.


The intellectual property of the final devised pieces remains with the artists who agree to credit XR Circus in any future developments.

Application Process

Interested artists should apply by email to xrcircus@gmail.com providing the following information:

  • A statement of why you are interested in being part of the XR Circus project
  • A brief outline of the project you would like to develop and the technologies that you might be interested in using
  • Brief biography / examples of previous work/ links to website
  • Confirmation that you are able to make the dates
  • Confirmation of how many artists will take part in the project

Opportunity to discuss your application

We are offering potential applicants the opportunity to ask further questions and to discuss their initial ideas with one of the project leads during the following times. Please contact them to arrange an appointment:

Applications must be received by 9am on Monday 29 January 2018