There’s nothing quite like the magic of the circus. From high-flying aerials and amazing acrobatics to cabaret and comedy, watching skilled performers do what they do best can help us feel like we, too, can do anything. And that’s the kind of inspiration we can all use more of right now.
Whether you’re a performer who works in the circus business or someone who enjoys taking it all in from the sidelines, the Third Annual St. John’s International CircusFest (SJICF), hosted by Wonderbolt Circus, will serve up that inspiration in spades. And while there’ll be no gathering under the big top this year, people from all over the world can get together in a virtual space, from the comfort of home, to celebrate all things circus.
This year’s event runs from September 25-27 and will take the form of an interactive digital gathering featuring world class performers, speakers, workshops and more. Panels such as “Social Circus in our Current Reality” and “Developing the Circus Industry in Canada and Rebuilding Our Sector” speak to the present and future of circus, while other events, like a history lesson on women in circus (led by Finnish circus star and historian Pauliina Räsänen) offer a glimpse into the industry’s past. There will also be plenty of other events to take in, like a digital cabaret hosted by Quebec’s Les Deux de Pique (featuring 7 Fingers and other world renowned acts); highlights from the 2020 graduates of the National Circus School and Quebec Circus School; a keynote presentation and Q&A with Olympic gold medal synchronised swimmer Sylvie Fréchette; a Zoom social for circus professionals to get acquainted, featuring icebreaking games and performances; as well as a family fun day.
“That’s where anyone can submit a video, and we’re going to have that playing throughout the weekend. We’re working with MURAL, so people are going to have access to this digital whiteboard that looks like the map of St John’s…these are all via Zoom. There’s different locations on the map where you can go in and the map is also interactive, so people post where they’re from and there’s sticky notes. So that’s kind of innovative for us to be doing,” says Anahareo Dölle, Artistic Director of SJICF.
“So what we’re trying to do is have a very virtual, but very interactive festival. Our idea is to really have the participants be active in these panels and in these discussions, so (it’s) not just like a webinar style, but you’re actually part of something. We’ve worked really hard, many months on planning this.”
Another unique feature of this year’s festival will be the digital buddy walks, whereby locals will pair up with participants from away for a chat and a tour of St. John’s via FaceTime, “as if they’re at a real festival when you mingle with someone between an event,” Dölle says. Later that evening, locals will ring up their buddies so they can enjoy the highlight show together.
“So we’ll have, say, 30 people are allowed maybe in the Geo Centre by then. But we’ll actually be 60 people, because everyone has someone with them on their phone.”
Everything is free to attend, but if someone wants to add to the experience, Dölle adds, they can sign up for a care package that includes items like Jumping Bean coffee and a bottle of glitter that they can use to more fully engage with some of the events.
“My forte is gathering people and mingling with people and interacting with people. So when we went digital, I was adamant that there had to be a way that we could still have some humanness to this,” Dölle says.
“And a sense of place is really important, that people feel like they’re coming to St. John’s. We have stingers before each panel, so you’re flying in (and) you’ll see a landscape of St John’s.”
While 90 per cent of the festival is virtual, Dölle says, St. John’s residents who are out and about that weekend will want to keep their eyes peeled for some surprises.
“It’s going to be very pop-up style, very social distanced, so we’re not going to advertise much ahead of time. You might see something in a window, you might see a little performance here and there, but it will be very well controlled and very COVID friendly. There will definitely be a sprinkle of circus that weekend in the city.”
While she never dreamed CircusFest would be a mostly digital gathering this year, Dölle says the fantastic SJICF team has made the transition easier and she looks forward to this year’s event which, she adds, helps give purpose to all those taking part.
“So it’s incredible to have such support. And we’re all very thankful to be able to offer something to the circus world, which was desperately needing an event right now. Everything was being cancelled and postponed…and the silver lining is we’re going to reach the whole world right now. Newfoundland is on the map for the circus event of that weekend. When I look at the registrations right now, it’s Mexico, Argentina, Berlin, New York, San Francisco – it’s just all over the world,” she says.
“We’ve kind of got nothing to lose, because we’ve never done anything like this before. So people are understanding of that as well. And we’re trying some new stuff…I think it’s going to be something very interesting. I’m excited to see how it all plays out.”
All St. John’s International CircusFest events are free, but people are strongly encouraged to register beforehand. Participants can attend all events with the festival guest pass, or register for individual events (click here).