a note from Managing Director, Susie Williams.
Over the past couple years I’ve noticed a trend in contemporary circus: there are an awful lot of shows that feature a bunch of guys and maybe one girl. To be more specific - there are a lot of shows that feature many young, fit, exuberant guys and one flexible girl who performs a sensual/sentimental/romantic solo act.
There are plenty of artists making work that don't fit this model, but the number of shows that appear on big stages that do is overwhelming.
So, ummm, where are the women? Why aren’t they on the big stages?
I recently attended Montreal Completement Cirque, the premier North American circus festival. Over 10 days, MCC presents (ticketed and free) circus shows from all over the world, offers panel discussions regarding circus arts and floods the city of Montreal with circus. I love the festival. I would never miss it.
Unfortunately, this year at the festival, my least favorite trend was in fashion:
Out of the 9 ticketed productions only one had more than one woman in it.
Ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh: WHERE ARE THE WOMEN?
Turns out I’m not the only person asking. In response to this question (and the overall pervasiveness of heteronormativity in circus shows), the Montreal Working Group on Circus Research, in correlation with the festival, produced a conference titled "Encounters with Circus and Its Others."
At the conference, Alisan Funk, an MA candidate at Concordia University and circus choreographer/teacher/director, presented a paper titled "Gender in Circus Education: the institutionalization of stereotypes." Alisan cited research from France which shows that the educational programs and the industry are 70% male dominated. Although recreational programs in France have majority female populations, there appears to be a bottleneck at the level of entrance exams to superior schools. The few female students accepted to those schools are then frequently pushed towards solo, aerial work. (In this case “superior” is not subjective, but refers to post-high school programs.)
Currently, superior schools are the primary educational ground for a majority of artists who perform on our big stages. So if there aren’t women in these schools, there aren’t women on stage. More men in school, more men on stage. More men on stage, more stories about men. And because as an art form circus prioritizes athletic ability, this translates to more men performing more stories about young, fit men.
Well, thank goodness!
The world is really short on stories about young, fit men.
In all seriousness, I am not arguing that stories about young, fit men are not enjoyable, sophisticated or valuable. (Shout out to Barely Methodical Troupe’s Bromance.) But I am arguing for more stories that include different kinds of people, specifically women. I want to see more women. I want to see women who look different from each other. I want to see so many women that no single women has to stand as a symbol of what all women can be.
Alisan’s paper speaks exclusively to French schools where research on the subject actually exists. I’m not aware of similar research on North American schools. If you are - please share! And if there isn’t any, can we get some? Any researchers out there looking for a project? A cursory glance at the past few graduating classes at ENC (in Montreal) sadly supports this trend. It’s definitely worth looking into.
The circus community needs to have a hard look at who we are educating to be the next generation of artists - and how we are educating them. We need to work to increase access to training and creation space for underrepresented groups. And first things first, we need to admit that there just aren’t enough ladies on stage.
I present this post as a call to awareness.
Rehearsal Photo by William Darling: Anna Thomas-Henry, Erica Rubinstein