Pushing the boundaries of circus — melding into theatre, dance and live music — Stand Here was an immersive performance spread across the whole of the Testing Grounds site.
The inaugural project from Melbourne acrobatic collective TONS OF SENSE, its use of the superstructure and site as part of the performance was bold and unique.
Stand Here was developed over a series of months by the shows six cast members, Latonya Wiggington, Cassia Jamieson, Zoë Marshall, Winter Chapman, Sarah Gray and Shamita Sivabalan. With backgrounds varying from dance, theatre, circus to music, their aim was to create a piece that was truly immersive by allowing audience members to move freely around the performance space and interact with the performers.
The narrative of the show explored the bystander effect, how being part of a crowd can affect our perceptions and actions.
The development of the project was supported by the Saunders Circus Grant, through the Circus Oz Sidesault-in-Residence program. The remit of that grant is “about taking risks, leaping off the edge and creating a hub for innovation. Whether it is a unique and eccentric piece of clowning, a politically incisive sideshow or an interdisciplinary piece of physical theatre, our Sidesault program is supporting a new generation of circus artists – as well as many boundary-pushing established circus artists – to train and create new work” (Circus Oz, circusoz.com, 2018).
Artist and performer Latonya Wiggington took the reigns of the narrative arc and visual tone of Stand Here, but the performance aspect of the show was very much developed collaboratively between all members of the cast over the time of their residency.
After developing the the bones of the project, Tons of Sense brought the final development and performance of Stand Here to Testing Grounds. The space offered freedom in the staging of an immersive piece that could not be found in a conventional theatre. The strong emphasis on experimentation, and the possibility of rehearsal, development, and performance time free of charge was also an opportunity for the first showing of the new piece to be realised to its full potential, allowing funding to be focused in all the right areas. It was important to the group that this show was free for audiences to reach the widest possible crowd, and to make the experience of a different kind of circus performance more accessible.
Working on site
The site both contributed to and inspired the narrative of the show. The group utilised the separate containers and spaces to “build” an entire fictitious world with different characters and spaces, with the aim to create a little town that guests could explore.
From the beginning of their time on site, Tons of Sense experimented with certain aspects of the site in relation to parts of the performance, which in turn led to particular dramatic moments. The climax of the show, where the large doors of the clear box opened, was discovered through this experimentation.
While the site did provide ample opportunities to develop the piece further, there were limitations in using the superstructure for live loads — specifically in rigging complex aerial equipment — so the show focused much more on acrobatics and performance elements, building a world familiar yet uncomfortably strange for the audience to get lost in…
1|4 Development on Site — Developing the show on site
2|4 Development on Site — Developing the choreography on site
3|4 Development on Site — Using the superstructure
4|4 Development on Site — Developing the show on site
The lead up to Stand Here received signifianct media coverage, with Tons of Sense featuring on JOY FM in an interview on the show.
Ep. 11 – It Makes Sense to Me; Tons of Sense, Actually!
Interview with the Gender Agenda, February 22 2018, on JOY FM
For a one-night-only performance, around 70 audience members came to experience Stand Here on Friday 23 February 2018. Over two hours the performers presented a story line that explored themes of the bystander effect, with acts of solo, duo and full ensemble pieces that used circus combined with other media to present strong messages around feminism, family and identity.
Viewers were able to touch, smell, taste and hear, as audiences were transported into the story unable to look away, unsure if they would choose to make a stand.
Overall, the performance went off very successfully, with great audience response, good press coverage, and quality documentation.
Having external funding, the project was given legs to fully explore the circus discipline and practice, to produce a work that got a lot of people excited about the company, resulting in it continuing to work with some great artists since the project took place.
1|2 The Show — Shamita Sivabalan performing
2|2 The Show — A hair-raising trick from Zoë Marshall
After the Show
After the completion of the performance, Tons of Sense have been in the process of turning 360 degree footage of the Stand Here into an immersive VR experience, with the aim of having documentation that provides a realistic experience mirroring the immersive nature of the work. An online aspect of the collective is also in the mix, which includes the development of an online magazine.
Reflecting on the project, the Tons of Sense crew would have loved to spend longer on site in development, to be able to make the show even more site specific and responsive to the infrastructure, but it was still an invaluable learning experience. Their time at Testing Grounds provided the collective with the confidence to try and work in an interdisciplinary way, to test all of their ideas and push the boundaries of what a circus work looks like.