Set in an imaginary Lost and Found Office, this Westside Circus event is a concept that anyone who has ever lost something can easily relate to.

Combining theatre, song, acrobatics and circus training with pulsating original music presided over by Musical Director Lee “Sonnyboy” Morgan, Paul Andrew speaks to George Filev, Artistic Director, Lost & Found, Lena Cirillo, Executive Director of Westside Circus and 'Jordan', a member of Westside’s Behind The Wall Troupe and performer in Lost & Found.

Westside CircusHow do you describe your role George?
GF: I am the Artistic Director for the show. My role is to develop and direct the overall creative vision for the show. I liaise with all three creative teams (Collingwood Alternative School CAS, Songlines and Westside Circus BTW troupe) and communicate the direction of the work to incorporate the film, sound and performance elements into a cohesive structure.

I actively participate in rehearsals to assist participants in developing their skills and create material to be used in the scenes of the show. I consult with all production staff and key stakeholders to keep things on track so that the show is produced within budget limitations and ready for opening night. I do a lot more that is outside of the scope of my role but I love what I do and I have a lot of fun doing it.

What do you love about your role?
GF: I love making new work and seeing that work being performed. I also love working with the youth sector and helping them develop and grow their potential through working in the arts. The challenges I face with this particular project involve galvanizing the three disparate groups who rely on one another to inspire and create work with the common theme of loss and discovery.

Describe Westside Circus’s role?
LC: To use circus and physical theatre to cultivate innovative artistic expression and make a tangible positive difference to the lives of young people from diverse social, economic and cultural backgrounds.

Describe the circus in seven words?
LC: Imagination, Inclusiveness, Fun, Respect, Growth, Integrity and Courageous

Something of the Circus’s back-story?
LC: Westside Circus was founded in 1996, when Youth Worker Debby Maziarz received a grant of $5,000 from the Department of Justice to purchase stilts and juggling balls and deliver a circus program for young female offenders at the Sunshine Juvenile Justice Unit. The program was hugely successful and with more requests for workshops Debby invited her friend and fellow performer Andrea Ousley to help her teach circus skills to young women at the Niddrie Secondary College, the University High School and the Don Bosco Youth Centre. After this time Westside Circus was supported by local councils

In 2002 the Westside Circus left Council and became incorporated. In 2004, they moved into a venue in Fitzroy in inner Melbourne which allowed the organisation to blossom. Today the Westside Circus employs 6 office staff, up to 20 circus trainers and delivers over 80 circus projects Victoria wide each year.

Westside Circus now delivers three distinct and engaging programs. Westside Circus Public Program provides training and performance opportunities for 3-25 year olds and entry into the very special Westside Circus Community. The Community Program is making a lasting difference to the lives of individuals and families in newly arrived, refugee, CALD and indigenous communities and youth at risk. The Express Program is designed to further the practice of circus through dialogue, exchange and the development and presentation of original new works.

And the youth troupe Behind the Wall?
LC: The youth troupe plays with a language of improvised circus and ensemble work that entertains. They respond to one another on stage in a way that is both brave and vulnerable. Their performance incorporates movement as well as circus skills, and they connect with and support each other with a sensitivity which produces a rich and surprising performance.

The BTW youth troupe of approximately fifteen young people aged 14 – 18 years (initially drawn from the youth class) have been creating and defining an original performance aesthetic.

Jordan: "Since I joined Westside, I’m a different person now than I was when I joined. My mind has changed, my spirit has changed, and I’ve discovered myself, so to speak. I’ve developed so much more confidence, so many new skills, so many new friends; it’s a whole new world that it has opened up to me."

How did the Lost & Found concept come about?
LC: In 2009 the Westside Circus completed two very exciting collaborations which have provided the inspiration and framework for this project.

The first was collaboration with published author Martine Murray who worked on a children’s book This is Sami, which is currently being considered for commercial publishing. Martine facilitated a series of workshops and consultations with newly arrived and refugee children and their mothers and from this creative process, Martine discovered the story that she wanted to tell. The story was about Sami, his sister and their mum and their discovery of an empty tent over their backyard fence. The families, who are new to Australia, are all experiencing loss in a different way. The discovery of the tent creates a new opportunity for this family as they fill it with the most unlikely things.

The second collaboration was with Collingwood Alternative School and the City of Yarra. Westside Circus trainers worked alongside 15 at risk young people to develop a short film that aimed to challenge negative perceptions of youth in public spaces. Cirque Du City is a 50 minute film which captures the raw energy and intriguing aesthetic of the participating young people.

The concept was developed further with the involvement of Songlines in collaboration with the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Association (VACCA) to produce the music element. Westside Circus had in the past conducted outreach programs to work with children from VACCA and it was decided that their input would be of great value to the show.

The strong sense of ‘Loss and Discovery’ explored in these projects gave me the starting point for this new performance work. I decided to call the show Lost & Found and set it in an office setting where the performers are characters within this office. Each character that works in the office of Lost & Found has a role and the energy and story of each role will depict each scene.

Searching and longing is something that we can all relate too?
The VACCA group is finding new skills by being given access to professional recording equipment and support from an accomplished composer and musician from Songlines. They are searching and discovering beats and loops to create music that will fit with the energy of differing scenes.

The CAS group have been taking video footage of things like going through lost and found draws, items appearing and disappearing from shot, found objects and being lost in the bush, just to mention a few.

The BTW group have been exploring how to incorporate the concepts of the show with circus. One example of this has been to structure a tumbling scene where lost of found objects are passed by performers as they come close to each other in the space. This scene depicts hunting and gathering of objects.

And this production is quite a large undertaking too?
GF: True. There are between twenty to thirty young people involved in producing this work. They are assisted by a team of creative’s including myself and a guest choreographer (Trudy Radburn), a circus director (Luke O’Connor), a musical director (Lee ‘Sonnyboy’ Morgan), a costume designer (Amanda Fairbanks), a production manager and lighting designer (Dori Bicchierai), the office support staff at CAS, Songlines and Westside Circus and the support of the Newsboys Foundation, Besen Family Foundation, Gasworks Artpark and the City of Yarra.

Tell me about the diverse range of young people in Lost & Found?
The backgrounds of the youth involved in this project come from diverse social, economic and cultural environments. There are people who come with languages other than English, Aboriginal backgrounds, at risk ‘students’ and people with social, emotional, behavioral learning difficulties. I have witnessed this project inspiring students to get involved and work towards a common goal. They have seen excerpts of each other’s work and this has helped them connect and contribute to the show. They have been creative with ideas and actively participated. They have learned new skills and looked within themselves to relate to the theme of the show. They have been having fun and learning.

Tell me something funny that happened during the rehearsals so far?
Seeing an Acro Balance routine being depicted diligently when one of the cast members is missing from rehearsal. A lot of miming in space of where someone’s arm or leg might be if said cast member was actually in attendance.

Westside Circus presents Lost & Found at Gasworks Theatre, December 8 - 12, 2010. Further details»


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