Testimony – Beth’s project in Australia

Beth from the National Centre for Circus Arts (UK) tells us about her mobility project at NICA and Flying Fruit Fly Circus in Australia:

I am currently the Head of the Participation & Outreach department at the National Centre for Circus Arts. I’m responsible for overseeing the running of our outreach, recreational and progressive youth training programmes. Some of these programmes have been running for over ten years, with up to 1000 participants taking part in classes each week.

I was interested in taking part in this exchange to compare programmes, systems & policies.

I was lucky enough to work with staff from NICA, Fruitflies, Westside Circus and Circus Oz.  All of these schools helped me gain great perspective and comparisons between Australia & European circus schools, and further focused my direction on how we can adapt and grow our own programmes & systems.

Part of my role is to manage and contract our freelance teachers, most of whom are performers.  This brings challenges and it was good to find that other circus schools struggle to maintain regular & consistent classes with teachers regularly taking leave to perform.

I was interested to learn that alongside their casual (zero hours) employment contracts, NICA also has full & part time contracts for teaching staff.  Not without its issues, these contracts can provide some solution to the freelance contracts, allowing stability for teachers, staff & students.  It’s important that that this contracts are set up correctly from the outset and the appropriate teachers take on the roles.
Further to this, NICA have combination teacher/coordinator roles which have integrated teachers into administration roles alongside their usual teaching duties, ensuring they had a strong overview of their programmes.

My time with the Fruities was a fascinating and envious experience, giving me great insight into their successful youth training schemes.

Their current partnership with the local school sees youth students mixing normal education with up to five days a week of technical and performance circus training. I was able to watch the students rehearsing for the final year show and it was evident that this training had provided them an excellent platform to start their circus careers. The maturity on stage and high level of skill was exciting to watch and inspiring.

I was very interested in the teacher training opportunities set up by the Fruitflies which allows their youth students aged 14+ to start teaching alongside established teachers on some of the younger classes.  This gave students the opportunity to start transferring their own circus skills to younger age groups and was a great chance to increase the teacher to participant ratio (5:1) creating a more focused environment for those classes.

The unique set up in Albury and the connection the circus school has with the community is amazing, although a population of 45000, the Fruities maintained a high level of enrolments on some of their recreational classes.  Clearly circus is supported by the local community.

A general discussion across both schools was the isolation felt in Australia and the lack of connection with Europe.   Many of the students at the Fruitflies aimed to train in Montreal as they feel it was important to step outside Australia and gain connections elsewhere.

However, limited information was known about schools in Europe and we discussed at length the importance of increasing these partnerships and opening up communication between the schools.

I was very busy during the exchange, with full days of observations and meetings, which gave me an incredible overview of Australian circus.  NICA and The Fruitflies were very generous with their time during a very busy period, and I’m thankful for the time spent with me.  Melbourne and Albury provided wonderful back drops, and when I wasn’t spending time with the circus schools, I was enjoying the sunshine, amazing food and wildlife!

I‘m very thankful to the Erasmus+ project for providing me this opportunity.

The project has given me a great perspective on the opportunities we take for granted in the UK and has allowed me the time to review our own remit and how we use our resources to the best of our abilities.