Alex Mizzen on bringing the unseen to light

Alex Mizzen is a tireless Brisbane creative. Comfortable at wearing many hats, Alex is a performer working at the boundaries of dance, movement and circus, a teacher and mentor of youth circus groups and emerging artists and a creator and director of new and inspiring works.

Amongst her many projects in 2018, Alex debuted two shows she has devised and directed – her first solo work Invisible Things and Fred, Bobby and Me, Circa Zoo’s annual show. Both these shows explore two very different sides of the unseen, inner worlds of those around us.

In Invisible Things, Alex takes the audience on a deeply personal journey into her psyche. Derived after reviewing 17 years of journals after a major injury, this show takes viewer into Alex’s inner world and explores the unspoken and unseen through circus and dance theatre.

In Fred, Bobby and Me, the Circa Zoo ensemble explores the joys of having an imaginary friend who is always at your side. Created with the troupe, Alex use circus to bring the audience back into the magic bubble children create where they live with the friends of their imaginations.

NEHIB sat down with Alex recently to talk about the creation of these two shows and what’s coming up for her in 2019, starting with how “Fred, Bobby and Me” came to life.

“I wanted to create aworld for the kids, so I bought a bunch of different sizes boxes in and it starting leading us to some really beautiful places. While they were doing all somethingon the floor, I just ended up asking them the question – who had an imaginary friend? And all their hands shot up. And I was like, oh my God, let’s talk.Tell me about it.”

“The group shared some beautiful stories. Fred was someone’s imaginary friend. Bobby was another’s imaginary friend. He was a dragon of course. It just snowballed from there, and we’ve built this into this show.”

During the creation, Alex researched imaginary friends and how they assist children’s development.

“They allow kids to problem solve situations and relationships and play out decisions, play out things. They help them learn empathy and connection. All these really beautiful things.”

Having sisters in the Circa Zoo ensemble provided a great starting point for the show.

“One of the biggest reasons that imaginary friends are created is because a bigger sibling, an older sibling, grows up and doesn’t get to play with the younger one any more. So, we made this act around them.”

Fred, Bobby and Me explores both the dynamic between the sisters and the imaginary worlds that the young sister creates when she’s left to her own devises. And of course, a whole lot of circus, including acrobatics, juggling, aerial silks, hula, skipping and more. Fred, Bobby and Me plays at the Judith Wright Centre from 12 – 14 December 2018.

On her highly acclaimed solo show, Invisible Things:

“I had a significant injury and I didn’t know whether I was going to ever get back into circus. I stepped back from the industry entirely at that time as well. It was a really full on time for me. At that time I reread all of my journals.”

“I’ve kept a journal from when I left home and moved to Melbourne to work in the ballet world. I still write every morning.”

“Some of it’s, I was just like, ‘Oh, are you serious? But some of it I went, oh wow, that was 10 years ago, and I still see that pattern in my life. That’s why I terms the thing invisible things. it’s like these patterns or beliefs or mindsets or things that just flow under the surface of your world, your life, that show up in how you are in the world, and how you are with other people and how you are with yourself.”

“It took to me an injury, something to make me stop, literally stop, to look at myself.”

Through reviewing those journals, Alex was able to realise the invisible things of her life.

“Perfectionism. self-image and identity things. Doubt and fear. Shame, guilt. How it is for me they show up, that’s that was the really interesting thing.

“When I was younger I had an eating disorder from my time in ballet. I realised how I boxed myself in. How I created such a rigid headspace and a controlling headspace in order to survive and not thrive. I kept editing myself.”

“That’s what I saw when I reread the journals.”

Sitting with these thoughts sparked the idea for the show.

“The show is about what happens when you when you sit with those edits. When you first become aware of them, you have a choice. Do you see them? Do you acknowledge them? Do You look away? If you do see them what do you do about it? And then you know invisible things 2 is what happens after.”

 

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This spark was only the first step of creation, as Alex wasn’t show how she would recover from the injury.

“First of all, I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to perform at all. I didn’t know what my physical capability would be, but I knew I was getting better. Which is actually a really freeing thing because so much of that rigid headspace was around, you know you are these things – you are a circus performer, you’re a hand balancer. So to take those labels away and just go, well what is it that I want to say?”

“So I was creating from a really fresh plate, which was really nice. It also got scary at one point because I was known as this thing and I couldn’t actually do it. It was a process!”

Alex invested 2.5 years in the creation of Invisible Things, a year of which she describes as, “… dreaming and thinking and writing and walking.” By the time she started developing the show, she had a very clear image of what it was going to be.

A key part of the show in her mind, was the setting, a giant box wrapped in plastic, which Alex describes as a literal explanation of what her life was at that time.

You know, feeling stuck, trapped in this way of being. Being unaware in that way.”

And so, Alex went about creating everything from scratch, including the giant metal box. Unsurprisingly, there challenges at every stage of the development, so she enlisted some stellar local talent to bring it all together.

“I enlisted some amazing help in creating this show. I could not have done it by myself. Anna Whitaker on sound design created the incredible music. Kristian Santic came in as the dramaturge and asked me all those annoying, but important questions. He made sure that I was clear on the logic of the world and the logic of me as a character in the world. Michael Maggs did all the technical design and the lighting, which is all controlled within the world by me and hand-held Globes. And Zen Spoakes helped me create the set.”

The final creative development took six months and the show Alex created tracks her journey of finding awareness and moving through this stuckness. She describes her first performance in May 2018 as cathartic, despite a number of challenges.

“It was the first time I’d performed in two years. Large parts of the show were still improvised. All these things happen that have never happened before. The handle flew off the skipping rope and the lights stopped working at one point. So, I got to the end of that show and I both felt really frustrated, but really moved at the same time because I’d done it. A solo show has kind of been a dream and for a long time it felt like a pipe dream, but I did it. I made it happen. And, I was exhausted!”

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The show has resonated with audiences and critics alike through its two season run. Audience feedback was particularly surprising for Alex.

“After the show, people let me know that they were really moved. People, all women, contacted me and just said, I felt so much from what you did and they could relate to the work. I didn’t anticipate that at all. It’s amazing to receive that feedback. And not in an accolades way or anything like that. It’s just amazing because that’s the intention for the work. It’s just for people to watch it and then maybe reflect, or see something in it that they resonate with that they can take away and think about.”

“That’s what art is for me, something that should provoke thought or self inquiry. So their feedback was amazing.”

Alex’s greatest hope for audiences is that that come away from her show and reflect on the Invisible Things in their own lives.

“I would love people to watch it and just see something in it or feel something in it and take that away, wherever that leads them. Whatever thought process that gives them, or reflection that gives them that would be they’d be pretty amazing to me.

There have been a number of other impacts of the show for Alex.

“If you think about it in financial terms as well, it’s an undertaking. You know I think I managed to cover all my costs and pay my artists, so that was really nice.”

“I didn’t earn a cent for myself. I was so broke! But it was worth it for the show that you know had been tinkering around in my head for two years. I had to do it. I just knew I had to do it. There’s just no question. You know I finished it. I’ve got to show now ,and a product I guess.”

But what I’ve really got is that I feel that I have a voice, that I have something to say. And I was a really beautiful discovery through the whole thing.”

Alex is keen to tour the show after its second run at the Wonderland Festival in late 2018 and is keen to tour it south of Queensland and to some regional centres.

“I would like to do some kind of community stuff with it as well. So if I take it to a town I would like to work with a Youth Ensemble there. So we’ll trial this with the Fruit Flies. I want to work with some of the kids about their invisible things and get them all to make little pieces and then have that as a pre-show show to the work … So it’s not just me going to do a show, it’s actually going to be about working with kids youth for a week workshops help them understand this concept and make work. And then you invite them into a professional setting and let them have that opportunity. For me, that’s really exciting.”

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Ads J spoke to Alex Mizzen in November 2018. Alex is planning to tour Invisible Things in 2019, so snap up tickets when it comes your way. Fred, Bobby and Me plays at the Judith Wright Centre, Fortitude Valley from 12 – 14 December 2018.