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Byron Shire
October 23, 2021

The Big Rig in the Fig

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Borogroves-development-HamishMcCormickTurns out Spaghetti Circus creative director Simone O’Brien and I go back a long way. She came to my place in Brisbane back in the 80s when she was touring with her feminist theatre group. She witnessed my performance in a life-size vagina costume (10 years before Eve Ensler conceived The Vagina Monolgues). I stayed at her place in Glebe when I was dating one of her flatmates and thirty years ago we both did the same fire-eating workshop at a university drama workshop in Armidale. While I ended up having a one-night stand with the fire-eating instructor, Simone went on to develop a passion for circus, and a proper relationship with aforementioned instructor many years later. Simone O’Brien has just moved to Mullumbimby and I’m thinking that with so many intersecting circles I should probably ask her over.

Having worked with aerial company Club Swing, Legs on the Wall, and having toured nationally and internationally, when Simone saw the ad for creative director of Spaghetti Circus she was ready to make the move.

‘Spaghetti Circus is unique. It’s really exciting to come and work in a regional setting and in particular the northern rivers. Spaghetti Circus has an interconnected relationship with the community and that feeling is palpable; there is nothing quite like it in any of the other youth circuses in Australia. It embodies all the values of a circus in the co-operative commitment people give above and beyond. Young people get the opportunity to excel. It’s more than just circus; it’s about allowing kids to fly and be bigger than they are! I love seeing the impact it has on Mullumbimby and then the northern rivers. It’s also in such a beautiful setting; every day I go to work at the show grounds under the shadow of Mt Chincogan!’

Simone is enthusiastic about the opportunities that Spaghetti Circus gives young people. Spaghetti has been implanting dreams and nurturing circus seedlings for 23 years.

‘Spaghetti Circus is a great stepping stone,’ says Simone. ‘We have two of our graduates currently working for CIRCA – and they can’t wait to come back to teach; that’s the test – when people want to come and give back to the school that got them started. Here that spirit is alive: there is a real passion and enthusiasm. It’s a team that works, started and maintained by powerhouse Leonie Mills and also a legacy of the great input from Simon with his choreographic and dance background, and creative producers and general managers such as Alice. Shien and Alice are producing the Mullum Circus Festival pretty much on solar power! They do it because they want to, because they have to; it’s really exciting to work with people because they have to! There is a little bit of madness as well! I have a theory about circus people – they represent the spectrum of mental health, the narcissists, the OCD tumblers and jugglers, the exhibitionists who love the attention! You have to have a personality disorder to do the same thing over and over to get really good at it!’

Simone’s current vision for Spaghetti Circus is to create ‘works of distinction with local high-calibre artists. It’s part of the long-term strategic plan.’

Borogroves is the new artistic offering by Spaghetti, an ambitious outdoor piece based on Lewis Carroll’s poem The Jabberwocky.

‘I chose it because it has enough structure in that it has a narrative, and because it’s nonsense it’s really open to interpretation. I wanted to make a devised work but from scratch. Having learnt the poem from fifth grade it made a huge impression on me, because it’s a creative development we are doing the first two verses of it. It’s an epic, it’s a hero’s journey. If the funding is successful, we will continue with the poem over the next two years. What we have now is 35 minutes of a work in progress. The Mullum Circus Festival is a great opportunity to showcase the work to our peers and our sector to get feedback as a benchmark of where the work sits.’

Unlike most Spaghetti works in the past – this one is outdoors.

‘I wanted to push the circus to outdoor, on the big rig in the fig! My inspiration was the opening ceremony of the last Circus Festival where Leonie had some aerials in the tree. It was the best of both worlds; it changed it, it made it something else, and the tree stole the show without doing anything! So far half our rehearsals have been washed out… and I’m thinking, why didn’t I listen!’

The cast of 40 features performers from age six to 36. And as for what to expect, Simone says, ‘This show pushes us to defy expectations of what youth circus can be’.

With music composed by Spaghetti’s Jaiia Cerff, a year 11 student at Shearwater, the first two verses of the poem actually narrated by the tree, spoken word in the form of a rap by Li Pauson, lighting design by Rich Morrod and contraption design by Joey Ruigrok, then yes, when it comes to pushing the boundaries, I guess this show will do exactly that!

Experience The Borogroves on the Friday and Saturday nights of the festival around sunset.

Mullum Circus Festival 2015 –Friday 25, Saturday 26 & Sunday 27 September, Mullumbimby Showground.

Tickets and information available from www.mullumcircusfest.com.

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