Urban Angels specialise in creating original cross art form aerial theatre performances that encourage public engagament.
This organisation is supported by Urban Angels Circus that supply extraordinary "CreativEventertainment" for commercial events.
I recently watched, “When The Circus Comes To Town” with research by Vanessa Toulmin of Sheffield's National Fairground Archive and screened as part of The Time Shift series, (Dir: Francis Welch and Rebecca Whyte). I viewed it on I player and thought that this would be available on line indefinately. Not so apparently! I am hoping that someone has recorded it as it was an amazing programme with rare archive footage, fantastic interviews and commentary. I would love a copy if anyone has access to it? In the meanwhile I took some notes from the programme - all credit to the researchers, producers and interviewees in the programme - as I have an interest in circus history. If the footage is not available some of my circus friends might be interested in these notes that I took whilst watching.
I have added snippets from an equally enjoyable book given to me by the ever generous Ringmaster and Actor, Chris Baltrop - The Golden Age of the Circus by Howard Loxton:
Notes From The Golden Age of the Circus and "When The Circus Comes To Town"
Performers of circus-related skills pre-existed “Circuses”. The skills; acrobatics, clowning, stilts etc have existed since itinerant entertainers roamed disparate lands “Egypt, Italy and China since ancient times”, pp 10-11, The Golden Age of the Circus H. Loxton, 1997. The spot by The White Hart Inn near The National Theatre, London (indicated by Chris Baltrop) is appointed with a plaque to the first circus performance. It attributes the date as June 1768 and Philip Astley is credited as the originator of this British form with his equestrian acts. Former cavalryman Astley horse acts are credited as beginning circus though the definition necessitates “that a mixture of acts” are performed with the circular space. This occurred in a slightly later equestrian act in September that year at St George’s Spaw, “ Mr Wilton and his lady partner…presented a rope dancer and a tumbler between their own performances”.
“Since then circuses have flourished, failed and flourished again all round the world”.
The waxing and waning noted by Loxton pays reference to the societal changes, and competition from other forms of entertainment that have forced circus to adapt. Circus has departed radically from its equine roots and melded to the demands of audiences and economic necessity since the 1800’s. It was due to the entrepreneurial inclinations of circus originator Astley that allowed his business to expand to “Seventeen amphitheatres throughout Europe and the model was rapidly copied by other economically savvy entrepreneurs”..."By 1800’s 15,000 people were performing in the circus".
And notes from "When The Circus Comes To Town"...
Circuses success was challenged by the rise and diversity of music hall at the end of the nineteenth century. Many of the permanent buildings closed and circus went into decline. In the 1920’s Bertram Mills lavish circus at Olympia revived the interest, survived The Performing Animals Defence League 1921 - a select committee introduced regulations rather than a ban.
Circus heyday in the 1930’s as an antidote to the austerity of the Second World War.
Televised circus initially created a new passion and revenue stream for circus but eventually, as predicted by Bertram Mills was linked to its decline as so many television audience members saw the acts simultaneously which required a greater turnover of material.
And the book...
“ Immediately after the war…all forms of entertainment especially circuses, enjoyed a boom, but in the 1950’s and early ‘60’s they found that they were facing increasing competition for audiences… Appearances on television created new opportunities for circus artists and could be good publicity but did not necessarily help sell tickets to see live an act already shown on TV”.
Indeed circus proprietors often acted on creative flair and passion rather than business acumen.
Ronnie Smart, (son of Billy Smart?) comments on his families’ lack of entrepreneurial prowess. “We didn’t know anything about it (circus)” … “he always went for the best even though he couldn’t afford it. Everything was invested back into the business”. His success could be attributed to creative intuition – his insistence on quality, and the cultural appropriateness to the zeitgeist of the period.
1970’s Gerry Cottle and Phillip Gandey. Parents who had seen circus in the 50’s brought their children to these leaner circus’ of a “manageable scale”. They reduced the scale not quality.
The performing animals debate remerged during this period and council refused to allow circuses onto the traditional highly visual accessible and financially lucrative sites near city centres. Canny circus proprietors moved some of their productions to the Middle East and beyond where there was no tradition of circus but aspirations to Western culture.
In 1990 French circus Archoas created a stir with their leather clad anarchic chain saw wielding performers. “It was chaotic, it was mad, it was amazing” Vanessa Toulmin.
Cirque du Soleil brought a new aesthetic “a distinctive artistic approach” and a venue with cultural quodos, The Royal Albert Hall. More enduring than Archaos, with many shows running concurrently throughout the world, Cirque du Soleil has performed to an estimated 100, 000,000 people.
The Millenium Dome Show which trained a employed a new generation of "Jossers" (perfomers that are not from a family circus background), have spawned new companies such as The Generating Company.
Circus now proliferates most forms of art and entertainment from opera, ice shows and television commercials. Two recent pop concerts tours by Take That and Brittany Spears, both called Circus, featured many circus performers.
Finally, a small thought of my own. Although a great deal of historical research has taken place into circus, I am curious to know how much is known about the economic sustainability for the actual performer and the significance of circus’ contribution to the Cultural and Creative economy?
I am currently analysing the results of two surveys on the creative inclinations and output of aerial performers in the north of England and the ability to make a sustainable living and be in charge of one's creative output. I would like to stimulate more discussion amongst circus performers with a view to improving our ability to be creative and economically successful. Let me know your thoughts...
I have contacted The National Fairground Archive and they informed me "When The Circus Comes To Town" will be re-broadcast on BBC 2. I will let all interested parties know when I get the date.
You know the theory that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite period of time will eventually produce The Complete Works of Shakespeare? Well dyslexia is not quite that arduous – but I am finding academic study very difficult. It’s a bit like this.
Imagine you have a nail – a long, sharp strong nail. Then imagine that you have an equally strong perfectly sound hammer. Your task is to hammer the nail into a perfectly ordinary piece of pine. You understand the task. Are motivated and determined to do it.
But you hammer at the nail for five minutes and it has barely penetrated the wood. You are trying your hardest but it just won’t go in. Then someone else comes along with an identical nail, an identical hammer and proceeds to hammer the nail into the same piece of pine in moments with ease.
Several hours later your nail is looking worn, the wood bears the scars from the constant onslaught. There is some progress but you are confused as to why it is so difficult. You feel frustrated and exhausted. Your confidence is battered because you did the same task with identical results yesterday, and the day before and the day before that…
That is what dyslexia feels like.
This may seem like a trite analogy but if we get non-dyslexics to understand what it is like and we can share strategies to help then it is worth analogy.
On the plus side we may be especially creative!
I only discovered I was dyslexic a couple of months before my 50th birthday. So I went through school, college and a degree wondering why it was all so difficult. I am interested in hearing about other people's experiences of dyslexia particularly the more postive aspects of dyslexia associated with imagination and creativity. I welcome your comments.
Becky Truman, Founder and Artistic Director of the UK’s first-ever contemporary aerial performance company Skinning the Cat produced an extraordinary exhibition early this year. Ian Broscombe and I were fortunate in going along to help.
We spent a full day meticulously creating a striped lining inside of our “gallery big top”, the apex festooned with string of coloured lights. Our gallery adjoined the foyer tent of The Netherlands National Circus in Preston Park, as a centre piece to The Brighton Festival.
The following day, costumes, film and photographs from over twenty years of Skinning the Cat performances were artfully displayed. A luxuriant dressing room complete with make up and costume rail was re-created in one corner.
The exhibition beautifully integrated with Becky’s new art work in which she explores the issues of ageing and injury for the physical performer, and shows how she has evolved beyond aerial performance as a creative artist. Illuminated life casts of Skinning the Cat aerialists blended contemporary concepts within a heritage circus aesthetic.
The highlight was the extraordinarily beautiful film Ground Bound filmed by Jean McEwen with creative direction by Becky herself and my contribution as Ground Bound’s aerial/movement choreographer. I feel very honoured to have been involved in a project resounding with extraordinary ideas and integrity.
The opening night was electric, a resounding success with former Skinning the Cat aerialists gathering amongst circus acolytes and fan’s. The exhibition attracted extraordinarily positive feedback from visitors. It was a fantastic bonus to families who were attending The Netherlands National Circus many of whom were so entranced by the opulence and grandeur of the exhibition, that they returned for a second visit at the interval having discovered the exhibition before the first act of the circus.
If you are interested in hosting this exhibition contact firstname.lastname@example.org
"A wonderfully sensual treat, exploring the dynamic of Earth, Sky and the place they meet. This is aerial work that takes as much account of the space below as the spectacle above and Deborah Sanderson shows great maturity and mastery in her direction, leading the audience’s view through the beautifully evoked world of the insect kingdom.
A beautiful and mesmerising show with an evocative soundtrack. It was fantastic to see an aerial show where each performer had their individuality celebrated and used to such effect in characterising the insect they portrayed."
Natasha Holmes on HumanSect – Director of Telltale Hearts Theatre Company
This show is available on our small circular rig or on a larger scale on our extraordinary 10 metre tall curved rig.
Urban Angels will be celebrating the success of the "Environments for Encounters" a research project instigated by Leeds University and Leeds Metropolitan University with a dissemination event on 9th September 2011. Urban Angels were brought in as industry practitioners (see my blog "Trapeze Artists Dons Clever Clogs") to make a piece of performance work for contemporary music festivals. As an aerial company, (trapeze and other phyisical performance that takes place off the ground) with twenty years experience in outdoor theatre, this is precisely the type of work we love and were delighted to be involved. It gave me the opportunity to work with two of my favourite physical performers/contemporary clowns Alice Robinson and Matt Rogers and one the academics is also a live artist - so Dr Rebekka Kill fused "practice" and "research" - "praxis". Dr Alice O'Grady headed the whole project and lead the research.
We took a piece of outdoor performance - "Relational Performance" to Kendal Calling and Bestival in 2010 and Cactus Festival, Bruges 2011. The research was to compare the different ways that we performed in these contrasting festivals or "Environments for Encounters" and the differences in the responses from the festival goers.
So what is Relational Performance? Well it requires a good deal direct engagement between the festival goers and the performers to make it happen. We began to describe the festival goers who were interacting as "participants" and as the project developed, because we were adament that we did not want to turn our contributors into victims as can occcur in traditional street theatre - they became known as "guests". It was really really important that the guests have an interesting, bizarre, perhaps confounding or simply fabulous time. The thought that experience should be an extension of the festival feeling.
So we thought about the festival experience and it that can vacilate between ecstactic joy and grim (muddy) hell.This premise evolved:
The Heavenly Court of Madame Fantaisiste - The Back Story
Our mistress, the fabulous Madame Fantaisiste vanished in 1660 around the time King Charles was restored to the throne We, her court favourites have been scouring the world for her ever since. Perhaps she lost favour with the court? Political intrique? Love? Skullduggery?
We transformed a circular aerial rig into an oppulent, sumptuous "Heavenly Court" and compared our relational work at the three incredibly different festivals. Anyone interested in festival performance or research might be able to attend the dissemination event which will be held at Leeds University on 9th September 2011. Please email me at email@example.com for further information.
I love definitions. So in my attempt to unravel this new communication beast “The Blog”, I tried looking it up in my trusty, but inappropriately named – The New Collins Concise English Dictionary. Published in 1987 the aforementioned tome unsurprisingly did not contain a reference to Blogging! A case in point. I guess I need to get on-board. I turn to the free on line dictionary, Oxford Dictionaries. It said;
noun - a personal website or web page on which an individual records opinions, links to other sites, etc. on a regular basis.
verb - (blogs, blogging, blogged) - add new material to or regularly update a blog: it's about a week since I last blogged.
So it appears that it is a regular record of your thoughts, opinions and experiences that you put on the Internet for other people to read. Is this just an internet version of vanity publishing? I am not at all sure I do enough interesting stuff? That it might all appear rather facile at best.
It appears that the Urban Dictionary, www.urbandictionary.com/ - “A veritable cornucopia of streetwise lingo, posted and defined by its reader”, agrees:
January 11, 2005 Urban Word of the Day
n.Short for weblog.
A meandering, blatantly uninteresting online diary that gives the author the illusion that people are interested in their stupid, pathetic life. Consists of such riveting entries as "homework sucks" and "I slept until noon today."
Term used to describe anyone with enough time or narcissism to document every tedious bit of minutia filling their uneventful lives. Possibly the most annoying thing about bloggers is the sense of self-importance they get after even the most modest of publicity. Sometimes it takes as little as a referral on a more popular blogger's website to set the lesser blogger's ego into orbit.
Usually occurs after a person purchases or attains access to a computer but before they learn anything about writing.
Conversely what if I happen to have had extraordinary mind-blowing experiences or happened to have a sudden amazing insight, would this not appear boastful, vain or insensitive. I discover this would be a Blogbrag.
An infamous online stalker that stays online 23.5 hours of the day. Someone who specializes in creating internet drama and telling lies. Someone who neglects their children and home because they are too busy online. Someone who does not have a real life outside of the internet.
That girl, Saha, is always online starting trouble. She's a true bloggerella.
1. blogger's butt, blogblock or suffering blogblivion.There are inherent dangers of writing blog slobber, blog-arrhea
Or becoming a Blog Monkey, a Blog Diva, Bloggeteer, or Bloggerssistic.
Finally the most hideous of web crimes must be to write Blogocks.
Web Log Bollocks. Writings in a 'blog' which are painfully earnest and naive, self-involved and self-important or are of a pretentious and pseudo-intellectual bent. Blogocks is bad writing that would not be available to the public if ‘blogs’ and is a style of writing that is particularly self-important and pompous.
I feel I have warned myself against pomposity, dullness and bloggers bum etc - unless you think different? I welcome your comments and the opportunity to follow your blogs.
So one minute I'm a run of the mill trapeze artist, the next, two Senior University Lecturers ask me to be involved in an academic research project. Sounds unlikely? Or rather like the start of a bad vicar and actress joke?
Now the lecturers happened to be women. I used to imagine that female academics wore sensible shoes, flat pleat skirts and had bad hair do's. Yes, I imagined a rather clever version of Hinge & Bracket (Ok they happen to be guys dressed up as women).
Hinge and Bracket
Miss Jean Brodie was the second image that came to mind...
Racking my brain my next thought was of the precocious, pre-pubescent Hermione from Harry Potter. It is all down to perceptions I guess.
So my ideas and experience of possible academic role models was somewhat limited, polarised and biased.
Anyway the invite was very exciting. It was to be the "industry practitioner" in a research project funded by The Arts and Humanities Research Council AHRC , called "Environments for Encounters". And...
All those dusty stereo-types got blown out the water!
This warrants a couple of introductions;
Dr Alice O'GradyLeeds University Performance & Cultural Industries,
Lecturer in Applied Theatre and Inventionist Performance - Runs marathons, pimps her camper van, has a real mirrror ball in her toilet & sports THE coolest tattoo EVER, (I could tell you but then I'd have to kill you...) and been to more club nights than Boy George.
Dr Rebekka Kill (yes that is Dr Kill - now how cool is that!), Leeds Metropolitan University
Subject Group Leader for Film,TV, and Performing Arts, Faculty of Arts Environment and Tecnology, aka The Duchess, Performance Artist aka Ms Pig, DJ Diva and icon to Leeds tranvestite community of Speed Queen, and been to more festivals than Rolf Harris.
Getting to know Alice and Rebekka (and Laura the projects film maker) really taught me a thing or two both in terms of research and in terms of my preconceptions about academics.
I put together a cast that included theaformentioned academic/performance artist Rebekka Kill, two contemporary clowns and myself a trapeze artist. Steered by the ever incisive Head Researcher Alice O'Grady this is what we came up with a series of interactions; Invitations, gifts, tests and dismissals. The gifts might be edible but could just as well be courtly dances, trapeze acts or animated narrative games with actions dictated by the throw of a dice or the turn of a card...
1. We, the performers had to look amazing - we had to be in contrast to the vivid colours and wild patterns of the festival. The look we went for was gold and ivory - Restoration period dress - with twist! Deeply impractical, distinctly uncomfortable but highly noticable at a festival.
2. The characters promenade to The Heavenly Court of Madame Fantaisiste. We often collected fellow revellers/courtiers en route.
3. Our guests are welcomed in to the beautiful opulent sensual environment of The Heavenly Court of Madame Fantaisiste.
4. The guests are "gifted" with dainty delicacies, dancing, trapeze acts, secrets, theatricals and more...
5. Our guests are accessorised to ascertain whether they have the bearing of Madame Fantaisiste and then subjected to a "test" to see whether "she" ("or he"!) is "her". If she (or they as in the photo below) fail, they are politely dismissed and the invite is extended to other participants.
The project was amazing - for further blogging about it go toThe Heavenly Court of Madame Fantaisiste - "Relational Performance".
As for my opinion of women academics - well we not only worked hard but we also certainly played hard and we had amazing and enlightening experineces at all three festivals. I now have an added incentive not to judge books by covers. Shortly after signing up for the project I started an M.A in Creative Enterprise at Leeds Metropolitan University. Not only because I thought maybe I was a bit of a clever clogs. Not just for the opportunity to develop my creative practice and certainly not for the academic prowess - but because I thought a bit of my colleagues academic cool might rub off on me! Now where was that tattoo studio you recommended Alice?!
At last! Speed Queen is not only back in Leeds but back in its natural home - The Warehouse. We missed Speed Queen because quite simply, there has been nothing else like it in the city because no-one can match the vision of its instigators - Kas and Suzy. And Urban Angels are back too! Suzy described us as being not only pencilled in for future dates, but inscribed in very "bright pink ink!" . It's great to be back as Urban Angels performed at Speed Queen every Saturday night for round five years. Two Urban Angels - (myself) Deborah & Rachel donned stilts and danced into the wee small hours.
At "Desires" last night everyone was saying how different to other clubs Speed Queen is and how completely and utterly special it is. So what makes Speed Queen unique? Energy? Panache? Sense of occasion? Great music? Unabashed release! Well it's all of that and more...
Beyond the exurberism and flamboyance there is definitely something about the integrity of the night, the diversity of the clubbers; age, race, gender & sexuality are celebrated. Glamour, difference and a healthy smattering of deviance are at the core of Speed Queen. And it may sound corny but there is a real sense of a Speed Queen community or even family.
Is was brilliant to see regulars;
James and David (Story of O), Kate B and her new man Jamie (met at the Speed Queen in July!), Miss Nigeria aka Ms Odudu, Harry the Mover, Rob de Architect and all the regular DJ's and delicious dancers plus Cool Alex on Stilts, Boymatic Bong Dave and Charlotte - The Robot. And of course, all the lovely "Ladies".
Last but not least, a special mention for Speed Queen virgin - John ("who drank all the gin?") Wootton.
From a stilt dancers perspective (about 8 ft up!) everyone in the club makes you feel so appreciated. Clubbers at Speed Queen are gregariously gorgeous, full of flirty fun and voyeurism! And their healthy sense of playful spontaneity makes working there a joy. And they go out there way to help us on steps unlike typical "townies" who would prefer to trip you up or push their "mate" into you.
We got snapped by Speed Queen paps but forgot our own camera please can we have some photos with you lovely people?! You can send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or give us a comment or even "like us". There are even more photos, video footage and info on our website Urban Angels Circus .
Below I have added a gallery of images from our history at Speed Queen. There's lots for info' at Urban Angels Circus Enjoy!
Gorgeous Stilt Moth created for Urban Angels by "Storm" - Speed Queen Hostess
Solo and doubles trapeze at Speed Queen
Aerial Hoop at Speed Queens one off The Circus event.
Photographed through the railings of smokers corner, an Urban Angel cranks up the glitter for Speed Queen!
... and more Urban Angels
Stilt witch at Halloween.
Intergallactic interactions from Audacious Aliens
Gold Living Statues created for Speed Queen
Speed Queen will return for New Year so keep your eyes on the hoardings, Speed Queen or email@example.com because demand will outstrip supply.