The Advocate

Feature in Issue 12-4 | Winter 2000

The future of the British circus industry lies in the training provision given to children and young people, argues Steve Ward of NAYC (the National Association of Youth Circus).

In an article in Issue 2 of Circus News, Stewart McGill said that he ‘certainly would not cry that circus is dead’ in the UK. We would agree with him, if only in considering the untapped wealth of potential young talent that exists around the country. Whilst a current development in circus training courses – such as those offered by Circus Space, Circomedia, ZACA, and the Filton College in Bristol – points towards the building of a solid platform of British-based performers, we need to go back to the grass roots level – as it is from here that future generations of performers, originators, technicians and audiences will come.

Kristov Istvan, the director of the Hungarian State Circus, once said to me, ‘the hope of the circus lies with the children’. I think he was absolutely right. If we don’t encourage children and young people now to experience circus through seeing performances or taking part in circus skills projects, then the industry itself will have great difficulties in the future.

Across the UK we already have a tremendous wealth of enthusiasm and talent that is not fully recognised. There are many youth circus groups providing circus skills training that foster a lifelong interest in circus. Several of these groups have been going for many years; many are voluntary organisations operating out of community centres, church halls and schools, with little or no funding. Much of this work is relatively unknown or recognised by the major ‘players’ in the circus industry and yet the standard of some of this work is very high.

For example, from the Wyre Forest Community Circus, 14 year-old Kaleigh Grainger won a Gold medal at the 10th World Unicycle Championships in Beijing, China this summer. She has also worked in the USA, Germany and Italy this year. From Bristol, the Circus Maniacs group took 3rd prize at the International Circus Festival in Sweden. From Leeds, Circus Zanni have won the 8th European Circus Schools Festival in Belgium, as well as individuals from the group winning the Junior Clowns of the Year Award. These are just a few examples of many that reflect the current good standard of British youth circus.

It was back in 1993 that the National Association of Youth Circus was formed as a voluntary national umbrella body to promote and develop the circus arts ‘for, with and by young people’. Since that time it has attracted many member groups from across the UK (and some from overseas as well) and it has developed national recognition for its work with young people. What is perhaps more important is that also it has received international recognition. NAYC was represented at an International Youth Circus Congress in Berlin this year. As a result of work done there, a German National Youth Circus Network is being developed with the NAYC model being used as the basis. Similarly in the USA the American Youth Circus Organisation (AYCO) has been created, again as a result of many hours of dialogue between NAYC and the AYCO organisers. At this very moment in Queensland, Australia there are moves to create a State Youth Circus Network along the lines of NAYC.

So what does NAYC do? It provides a platform for links and collaborations between youth circuses around the country; it provides advice and information for both members and the general public; it provides training opportunities for people working in the area of youth circus; it provides opportunities and experiences for young people; and, most importantly, it provides a platform for advocacy. Already NAYC has produced a Code of Practice for members that is acknowledged by the industry, the circus training schools and local authorities. It has brought youth circus work to the attention of insurers. It has a representation on such bodies as the Circus Arts Forum. Above all it has become the voice of youth circus in the UK.

This is only the beginning and there is a long way to go before youth circus has a standing in its own right. Although some within the industry, notably Gerry Cottle, wholeheartedly support the work of NAYC, there needs to be more widespread recognition of the role that young people have to play within the growth of the future circus industry. Youth circus needs to have its place accepted by all concerned; the industry, the training centres and the funders. It must continue to have a voice.

Several artforms have a ‘national youth performance’ section. In the UK we have the National Youth Theatre, the National Youth Orchestra, the National Youth Musical Theatre. Perhaps the time is now right for a National Youth Circus as a showcase for emerging British talent that can feed the industry for the future.

Circus definitely is not dead. It is alive and kicking with the young people of this country.

For further information about NAYC contact Jim Riley. Skylight Circus Arts, Broadwater Centre, Smith Street, Rochdale OL16 1HE.

Artforms

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Issue 12-4
p. 4