As If No One is Watching | New work from the creative hub at Vulcana

Vulcana Women’s Circus is a Brisbane Institution. Founded in 1995 and taking its name from a famous British strong woman of the early 20th Century, Vulcana is the oldest women’s arts organisation in Queensland. Not only that, Vulcana is a leader in social circus, a safe space for women and trans and non-binary people to explore their physical potential, and an incubator for circus, physical theatre and dance performers of all varieties.

Never an organisation to rest on its laurels, Vulcana has grown in leaps and bounds throughout its proud history. They run circus training programs all year round, nurture up-and-coming performers, facilitate community arts programs and host regular performance showcases. Let’s not forget that they also overcome a cut to government funding recently, something that has shut-down many other organisations.

Next up for Vulcana is As If No One’s Watching, their collaboration with WaW Dance, and Line 26. As If No One Is Watching is part installation and part dance and circus performance that invites you to listen in to women’s inner voices and to what they keep silent about. Throughout the piece, generations of women aged from early 20’s to mid-70’s will share intimacies from the private realm of secrets and desires, make public their expectations, frustrations and triumphs, and unleash their voices to push against barriers they all face.

NEHIB spoke to Celia White, Vulcana’s tireless Artistic Director and co-Director, about what’s coming up for Vulcana for the rest of 2018, starting with how As If was conceived.

“Wen and Wendy, who are the facilitators of the WaW dance group, an older women’s dance collective, approached Vulcana to go, “This is what we want to do, we love working with Vulcana, let’s actually construct something, let’s find some ideas, let’s have a process.”

Vulcana has a long history of creating community shows in partnership with another community organisation or arts organisation. For Celia, they are as much about the cultural exchange and learning about the people that you’re working with, as they are about creating a performance. In this case it’s about bringing together multiple generations of women.

“Older women and younger women don’t really have that many opportunities to interact. So, the opportunity to work alongside people from various generations is enlightening. Through this process, older women have gained an understanding that the younger women are still going through the same things that they were going through, in a different context maybe, but that the same issues come up again and again and again. On the other hand, the younger women have realised that they share the same concerns as their counterparts.”

For Celia, As If No-one Is Watching came from an idea that she’s been thinking about for quite some time exploring how women take up space in public and private realm and how people often more comfortable to share things through digital mediums.

“So that idea has been knocking at the back of my head for quite some time. That idea of how women take up space, what [they] think about when they’re alone, when they’re private. Sometimes those private spaces are safe, but sometimes they’re dangerous and isolating. So, what happens when you take women outside those spaces and bring them together? They kind of make noise, take up space differently. But, how confident are we to be in public and raise our voices?”

These two ideas of the public and private come together will come together in the performances of As If No One Is Watching.

“First, the audience gets to explore the private spaces, by wandering through 18 different performances. At each performance, they get to listen to stories connected to each artist, told through a website. This website is being created the other partner in the project, Line 26, a digital design company. Through the website, the audience will be able to select the performance that they’re watching and they have the choice between 2 different stories that the women contains. While the audience watches, she’ll be performing something that connects to those stories.

“And then, the performers one by one are gathered and they’re drawn into this public space where they find each other and we take the audience inside, into a theatre-like setting. When we go inside into the “theatre” setting, there will a lot of shared circus work. That public space of the theatre is about being watched and looking back on the audience and presenting the audience with the culmination of the ideas and energies as 18 women on the stage.”

In As If, the team are not only are creating the installation and group performance, they are also creating an ongoing legacy of the project online.

“Another thing that’s unique about this project is the idea of [creating] a lasting, ongoing installation that will live on our website. It will be interactive and designed to be viewed on your phone … a documentation of the work, so these [stories] continue to exist somewhere.”

After the performances, edited versions of the solo works and group performance will be added to the website, along with the stories told during the performance. Those who come to the show will also love this, because they will not be able to see all of the performances or listen to all of the stories when they see it on the night.

To create As If No One Is Watching, Celia and co-Director, Wendy McPhee from WaW Dance, have drawn from the tradition of community arts, where it’s about the content and the work is made by the performers.

“Wen and I came with a structure for the beginning of the ideas, and this idea of the installation and of the performance. Within that framework, we did a lot of brainstorming, a lot of story-telling, a lot of improvising [with the group]. Out of that, we drew a series of images that connect to key ideas, and then we began the process of developing and chipping away at those images for the show.

“The group has been facilitated to pull together those stories and form those images, but it comes from them, and they own the work.”

“From that, have looked at how do we mine their performance skills to create the images that we want and need for the piece. [Each group] has been working on generating material during the week and the whole group also comes together and we feed into each other and piece this all together.

Bringing together performers from very different backgrounds has provided its own challenges for team.

“In developing the group piece, we have to keep in mind that there are a range of physical abilities in the group and a range of skills needed for each part of the performance. Some are very experienced, a lot, less experienced. But ultimately, everyone can move, and everybody can create supported images – we are able to use the bodies of that number of people to fill a space or to augment a circus image, or to lift bodies, carry or whatever.

“They’re always big pieces of work. They get very ambitious, because you want to highlight everybody, you want to support everybody, you want to tell everybody’s stories. These are all critical things that Vulcana wants to do and community arts does.”

If you’re still wondering why you should come and see “As if No-one is Watching”, Celia sums it up like this.

“Because it’s an extraordinary opportunity to see all these women performing. We’re really excited to be able to produce this! It’s such a fabulous and rare opportunity to create a piece of work with 18 performers and as audience to watch a piece of work with 18 performers

“And there’s an extraordinary breadth and richness of stories that have been collected, some of them are humorous and light hearted stories, while others are very, very disturbing. Some of these stories that have been told for the very first time and are deeply rooted in people’s identities. Especially from the WaW dancer group, you know these are stories that they’ve been carrying for a very long time.

“And it’s going to be incredibly diverse. You get not only an installation, but a performance as well. It’s going to look beautiful, it’s going to be extremely interesting. And the performance is going to be incredibly moving. People are going to cry, but it’s also going to be funny.”

Who’s not going to sold by that?

But that’s not all for Vulcana for the rest of the year. The biggest news is that Vulcana is on the hunt for a new home, as they are leaving the Powerhouse at end of their current lease. The new venue is still underwraps, but Celia promises an announcement will be made soon.

While a big move may be the focus for many other companies, it’s business as usual for the Vulcana team. In their training centre, classes continue for the rest of the year, including Spring School and Act Lab, for those who want to devise new work. The latter is led by Tammi Dawson and starts on Friday the 5th of October. In late November, Vulcana will hold the final performance showcase for students and incubator artists in the studio spaces.

As well as this, Vulcana will host the Umwelt Collective from the Gold Coast straight after As If and Alex Mizzen’s Invisible Things as a part of the Wonderland Festival in December. Check out our review for the latter here.

This all leads up to the final event of the year and the final event that  Vulcana will host in their current spaces, two massive cabarets that will celebrate all that is Vulcana and all they’ve given to the community, held on the 8th and 9th of December 2018.

“They will invite past performers and trainers that have come through Vulcana, used Vulcana and the studio, and received the support that Vulcana’s given to have professional careers in circus and performance. We’re inviting them back to present work as a farewell to the studio. Events not to be missed. And people will have to come to both cabarets, as the programming will be different each night.”

Definitely events not to be missed.

The NEHIB team looks forward to seeing you at “As If No-One is Watching” and the rest of these events over the next few months. As If No-one is Watching plays at the Stores Studios, Brisbane Powerhouse from 27 – 30 September. Everything else Vulcana can be found on their website and facebook.

Adam Wood spoke to Celia White, Artistic Director of Vulcana, on 28 August 2018

Image credit: Rod Noendeng