Artist Reflections: now the dust has settled…

Word cloud
Words used by XR Circus artists to sum up their experience

XR Circus is a project led by researchers but driven by performance practitioners who want to explore the potential of combining circus with new technologies. Now that our creatives have has a chance to reflect on what it was like presenting their XR Circus work to audiences, we’ve asked them to share some of their thoughts. This is an edited account of what they had to say…

On the XR Circus team:

Alfa Marks performing for Upswing Aerial on rope
Upswing Aerial, Alfa Marks on rope

Thomas Jancis, Trajectory Theatre: Working with XR Circus I have found the variety of passions from the various practitioners to be greatly inspiring. … I think having a team has been incredibly useful as a support structure and soundboard for ideas.

Emma Cat: It was inspiring getting to meet and work with people like Kelly and Robert, to learn about the incredible projects they are working on… [and] the other artists on the project 

Carolyn Watt: Its been really fantastic being able to bounce ideas of fellow XR-ers, test things out on the spot (such as the head set experience in Great Yarmouth with different choreo) and also see how others approach the different types of technology.

On the process:

Victoria Amedume: Working hands on with software and equipment made available to us, supported by expertise of digital practitioners, has been brilliant but challenging. The focus on the circus artists creating content ourselves initially felt difficult, I went back to feeling unskilled and clumsy as a maker. However, without rolling up my sleeves and trying stuff myself I don’t think I would have reached the point we are now. I have surprised myself by how much I have been able to use software to produce short programmes, edit 360 sound and video.

Trajectory Theatre preparing outside Spiegeltent
Trajectory Theatre preparing

Emily Martin, Trajectory Theatre: Having not spent much time working with technology, the project has introduced me to new ways of thinking, and broadened the possibilities for future work. There have been some challenges along the way, like how to mo-cap a person to make them look like a horse… but with all the challenges have come new ways to solve them …because of the expertise in the room.

Emma Cat: the only new technology used in the performance were the interactive projections that Mark was making for me, but the first time we tried that was during my performance… I was obviously completely occupied with performing my routing, so won’t be able to tell what it looked like until I get to see video from the show.

Carolyn Watt: originally I had planned to live stream the 360 as a projection which would then just be viewed by the audience in situ, however as the technology wasn’t available for this, we went down the live streaming route, which actually engaged with more people and offers an entirely different experience. …this was certainly an unexpected positive.

Rowan Fae, Full Tilt Aerial Dance: Our experiences in the fablab really opened up a world of hands on, super geeky making to me. I fondly remember holding a circuit board in my hand in one of the early workshops and thinking I get it

On the artistic challenge:

Nome Hunter performing for Full Tilt Aerial
Full Tilt Aerial Dance, Nome Hunter

Emily Martin, Trajectory Theatre: I think the biggest challenge …was to not loose the focus of the story telling and human connection in the experiences; we needed to keep a tighter hold on the narrative and story behind the technology to ensure that the final product was not just a show of computers, but …interactive and engaging as well.

Emily Cat: I ended up having to work in a way that I wasn’t used to. I like to plan ahead and give myself time to develop ideas, but …it wasn’t possible to explore and experiment as I would have hoped. …I think that the combination of the venue not being suited to the screens/projections I required coupled with … the developmental process led to me feeling like …I lost some of the creative clarity of my work

Rowan Fae: I dreamt of a beautiful avatar that shifted from formed to losing form and into formless, telling a tale of the loss of self within a world of the hyperreal where the virtual and real become entwined. …There seemed to be barriers to achieving my artistic vision using the more complex technology, someone had to program and generate the beautiful avatars I imagined. …an awful lot of time spent getting computers to talk to each other. I did learn a lot from the process and could see that with more time and tweaks the more challenging ideas could too come to fruition.

On skill:

Emma Cat: Learning to use and working with Ableton was interesting but difficult and led to a few bleary eyed sleepless nights. …I surprised myself by creating the soundscape for my routine …the process has confirmed to me how important the audio element is in creating an immersive world

Victoria Amedume: Even with the frustration realising, that like circus, to achieve what I want to required a far higher level of skill with digital media than I could reach in the time; this stage of XR Circus has enabled us to generate a strong vision for the connection of digital to our circus practice.

On the practicalities of the event:

Carolyn Watt and VR experience participant
Carolyn Watt and VR experience participant

Carolyn Watt: on the day, we realised… our only option was Facebook [livestreaming] …And actually Facebook was a really effective platform, as it allowed external audience members to comment live, use emoticons etc. So although it didn’t quite go to plan, it was useful to work out that Facebook is perhaps a better platform for this work over YouTube.

On audience response:

Rowan Fae: Interestingly the showing and the subsequent commentary on social media highlighted that the ‘simple’ ideas that I found to be most effective were also enjoyed most by the live audience.

Thomas Jancis, Trajectory Theatre: The feedback for ‘Circus in a Bottle’ has been wonderful with audience members calling it “beautiful” [and] “simple but great”

On future development:

Roderick Morgan, Trajectory Theatre: The showing for us threw up the usual things; stuff that should have worked but didn’t, stuff that shouldn’t have worked but did, stuff that wasn’t even in the performance but somehow became a central part of it. …Though we had spent a great deal of time finding interesting circus history stories to present, what we needed, and what we will be doing in the next iterations of this project, is finding a way to place these anecdotes in a wider story that involves our audience.

On future practice:

Emma Cat performing on rope
Emma Cat performing on rope

Roderick Morgan, Trajectory Theatre: This project has really made me consider the point at which fiction and non-fiction meet. We wanted to represent the often harsh and unfortunate lives of a group within society who make their livings based on their feats and triumphs. We had to look at providing the audience with both of these facets simultaneous[ly] whilst still making work that played in to the wonderful and amazing. I don’t think we hit this right but we have a better idea of how to do this in the future.

Victoria Amedume: It… opened up thinking about how we can become better storytellers, finding way to layer stories between different media and discovering how different media can communicate, interact and support each other to create-multi-textured experience. …we now have the language and understanding of the potential to dig deeper into those ideas and realise them more fully.


*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 hear about how the XR Circus continues to develop follow @XRCircus and keep an eye on #XRCircus.

Artists’ Reflections: Beginnings…

Working together in the Fab Lab
Working together in the University of Brighton’s Fab Lab

XR Circus is a project led by researchers but driven by performance practitioners who want to explore the potential of combining circus with new technologies. At key points in this project, this blog asks our artists to describe the experience of being an XR Circus creative. Following the first intensive three day workshop, this is an edited account of what they had to say…

On why XR Circus is important:

Rowan Fae: “My growing feeling is that both technology and arts need each other to move forwards. I sense that technology lacks the contextual and cultural meaning without creative input and that performing arts is in danger of just dieing out without harnessing the power of new technologies.”

Victoria Amedume: “The workshops have opened up a number of new possibilities and I feel like a baby again in a new world, which is for an artist an exciting place to be.”

On working together:

Paper-based ideas developed collaboratively

Carolyn Watt: “I was amazed by the richness of the groups ideas and how these came together! It was great to see everyone else bouncing off each other, yet at the same time we were all interested in some way in the audience experience/emotions/togetherness/community”

Thomas Jancis, Trajectory Theatre: “I felt a good sense of community within the various companies. Coming at it as a non-circus performer, it was incredibly beneficial to find artists using a different way of working/a different energy to their work. We all seemed to form friendships pretty quickly which is always nice for these kind of projects and also supported each other on social media outside of ‘the room’.”

On gaining inspiration from the team:

Making things happen using a makey makey
Making things happen using a makey makey

Roderick Morgan, Trajectory Theatre: “As someone who often works closely with immersive technologies I know how easy it can become to be disillusioned with the constant clamouring for advancement. …The same powerful customer demand that is driving high levels of investment, and producing real results that have for years been restricted to the realms of fiction, also see spiralling disappointment and a fervour for more. That is why it is incredibly refreshing to begin this process with a group of people whose excitement in this area doesn’t come from longing to see how the world will be transformed in 5 or 10 years’ time but how the world can be changed right now, and more importantly how they can use their art and their experiences to be agents of this change.”

Rowan Fae: “I loved being exposed to different interesting people and tools for making work. I found the workshops very interesting and rewarding, I felt nourished as an artist and producer – this is so important, it gives one the strength to continue on a path.”

Emma Cat: “As incredible as I found the technology we were shown, I don’t think I found the technology alone revolutionary. I found Kelly revolutionary- her honesty and emotion really enabled me to engage with the technical side of things and made being in a lab amongst this incredible technology feel accessible, not intimidating. …I found the woman [Rachael Henson] who created the cardboard AR hack revolutionary! I loved how she brought together basic old techniques with simple technology to created something super accessible, but super-extraordinary.”

On gaining inspiration from technologies:

Vicki experiencing VR
Vicki experiencing VR

Carolyn Watt: “I certainly became a lot more interested in sound and projections as a result of the workshops, than I had been before, partly because I felt this was very inaccessible and out of my realm of knowledge/access. …It was also fantastic to explore smart textiles, something I’ve been interested in since my textiles degree, however again this felt very inaccessible as I had no knowledge of electronics and was quite scared of trying some things. However Kelly [Snook] presented it in such a way and provided a whole host of different tools that I think it could be something I explore in the future.”

Emma Cat: “I suppose I have been traditionally limited in choreographing an act to a piece of music. It was pretty mind bending to consider that my movement could control music, lighting and visuals. In my previous work, I came to using video as a means of set design. I love a hand built and painted set/installation, but such production is incredibly labour intensive and limited in what it can convey, whereas video offers (pretty much) unlimited opportunities to create an immersive world.”

Emily Martin, Trajectory Theatre: “I felt a little overwhelmed at times; so much creative stimulate can get you carried away with grand thoughts that were out of this world… then again this is what it was about! I was particularly intrigued about the number of new technologies that are easily accessible to any artist, educator or child which makes creating virtual, interactive worlds and media possible from your bedroom”

On sensational possibilities:

Rowan Fae: “I found the VR experience ‘the plank’ to be very effective and was shocked by how long it took me to recover emotionally particularly as someone that has done all kinds of crazy things at a great height.”

On moving forward:

The XR Circus team
Team XR Circus’ researchers & practitioners

Thomas Jancis, Trajectory Theatre: “While our final task didn’t ‘work’ I feel we all got something from it. A different way of creating and approaching the tasks we have been given. Now we see what we can actually achieve in the time given. Ultimately it gave me a chance to experiment. Also to put wires in a flapjack which at the end of the day might be my greatest scientific achievement to date.”

Victoria Amedume, Upswing: “My fear was that with immersive and digital content you are not working with the physical laws that bind circus, creators can build the kind of ‘impossible experiences’ that circus artists have traded on for years without the need for circus bodies. This project has provided the perfect opportunity to begin to explore methods of integrating the performer with technology in a way that will not only expand the physical possibilities of the form but also evoke an emotional connection. The most exciting thing has been the realisation that digital is not some impenetrable world and could be a useful addition to a creative tool kit and like any tool I need to learn how to wield it skillfully and sparingly.”

Rowan Fae: “I loved getting hands on with the technology when we made our catsuit, I thought yes I can do this, I felt inspired and empowered to go exploring in my own time, learn how to do some of these thing independently, buy a soldering iron for example and star making circuit boards. I really left feeling like anything was possible and reminded me how you can learn to do anything”

*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.