Skylight Circus Arts is based in Rochdale and works with circus arts in a range of community settings, using circus to develop people?s physical, creative and social abilities, writes Jim Riley.
Much of our work is outreach in schools and community venues, and we also have a base in which we run one day, weekend and short courses for beginners and people wanting to improve their circus skills.
We produce circus theatre performances with young people and adults of all abilities and are continually developing new, exciting ways of presenting circus skills using other art forms such as dance, drama, puppetry, music, costume-making and structures.
Young people we meet on outreach projects can increase their involvement by coming to our centre-based clubs, taking part in the performing group, aerial training or large-scale community performances. For some of these young people participation in a range of our activities can provide a path through to employment. For others it?s fun and a challenge, and that?s fine too, as they develop confidence and self-esteem along the way.
Recently an A4E Lottery main programme grant supported two large-scale shows: Shifting Bounds? and ?The Bridge?. Both shows had a cast of over 50. ?Shifting Bounds? was created as a theatre piece exploring links between circus and Asian dance. Shobna Gulati worked with us in a variety of Asian dance styles and introduced us to a traditional story called ?The Stonecutter? which became the theme for the show. ?The Bridge? was an outdoor parade and spectacle performance using circus and carnival to illustrate the rebirth of an ancient Boggart under our town centre! Many people were involved throughout the months of devising, creating and performing. The collaboration between professionals, community groups, individuals, parents, carers and the local authority was brilliant. Not only did we all learn more about circus and visual spectacle, but the exchange of attitudes and friendships across ages and geographical boundaries continues to permeate all our sessions.
Other current projects focus on work with young people to develop confidence, self-esteem and teamwork but not necessarily with a performance as an aim. One project targets young people at risk of social exclusion, another supports people with learning difficulties, and another is part of local regeneration activities. Everyone has the opportunity to share centre-based sessions, and they do, creating a great buzz most of the time. As these projects develop we intend to provide peer training so the young people can assist in the delivery of their projects.
That?s a lot of work. But it works because acquiring circus skills is easier than people think. There are many opportunities for achievement, which can be recognised by participants, staff and, in performance, by the public. We also have strong and supportive links with North West Arts Board, Rochdale?s arts, regeneration and youth work officers, and our project funders. We have a determined core art form team which has developed over the years (we began in 1989), combining circus skills with community work skills. We are financially supported by project funding, general outreach work, and quite recently by revenue support.
Although resources are stretched (and squashed if we are talking office and vehicle needs), the evaluations, justifications and applications carry on. The future looks exciting with plans for more performance, carnival and parade events bringing together more professionals and community performers.
Jim Riley is Artistic Director of Skylight Circus Arts t: 01706 650676, e: firstname.lastname@example.org