One of the topics that consistently comes up in this field
both in casual conversations with colleagues and professional panels on contemporary circus, is a deep concern with developing and accessing strategies to gather resources and support for the creation of artistic work. Contemporary Circus is experiencing an exciting evolution in its advocacy, and as a result, also in its visibility and awareness. There is a wonderful feeling of being at a new frontier that is not just committed to a singular direction or goal but offers up many directions, voices and potentials. It is an incredible time to be an artist in this field at this particular moment.
Within in this excitement I remain a committed cheerleader, however I am cautious about only cheering for the form if we are not equally mining for our content. Making work takes time, a huge amount of time, and I feel this element of time is one of the most potent ingredients for artistic development. I have experienced that time is absolutely nonlinear in the creation of new works or the development of new learning. It is multi-dimensional, fractured, fluid, altered, shamanistic, embodied, non-logical, interstellar, and fast and slow all simultaneously. Finding support that can cover these periods are what we all wish for (and need) and it is what I believe is most necessary for evolution in any form.
This is not simply a 10,000 hour argument, I think it is so much more complicated than that, though I know a consistency of practice is undeniable for development. To put it very simply: when you spend a focused amount of time working on your art you develop a deeper and more intimate relationship with it. You learn to listen to it, decipher it, and evolve working methods and the ability to articulate what you are doing, both to yourself and to others. Time equals awareness developed through practice. I believe this awareness combined with an ability to dialogue about your work; its interests, approaches, aesthetics, contexts and curiosities, create a solid foundation towards generating support for what you are doing. This kind of awareness moves you from being just an advocate for circus as a large form to being a deeply sincere advocate for how you are working within that form. It creates a self-awareness about how your work relates to larger concurrent practices happening within the field and also in the larger context of contemporary performance.
One of the questions I am most often asked is how to get grants. I have the good fortune to live in Canada, which, along with France and Australia, still maintains a fairly reasonable and broad investment in the arts through a public funding system. I live in a place that has declared that art is vital and necessary to our society and has allocated public funds to support, promote and cultivate that belief through artistic activity on municipal, provincial, national and foundational levels. I believe this is a good thing. It acknowledges that the processes of art function differently than those of product orientated industries and free market economies.
This funding process is made up of a number of grant competitions where one can apply with a project or for professional development support. These involve both written portions that describe your plans as well as visual support material that can represent your work in short segments related to your proposal. This process of sitting down to deeply consider my work and how it relates to a larger sphere of practice, audience, and public has become part of my overall artistic practice. For me this process is meditative and intuitive and I strive to be simple. I speak about my work in my own voice, from a place of curiosity. I am honest and clear about what I want to do, even if that involves not really knowing the answers but clearly defining the questions I am working with. Since I am applying for public support I feel it is my responsibility to be aware of why and how my work contributes: why it is significant and how it relates to larger contexts and questions.
All of this does not necessarily guarantee success. You will write many more grants than you may receive and there is no magic formula. This is an elating and entirely frustrating process for sure. However, over time, you start to see a new depth of understanding evolving in how you are able to speak about your work that takes on a life outside of an application context. This spills over into how you dialogue with presenters, reviewers, colleagues and students, developing a deeper sense of criticality that you can apply both to your own processes and to other artistic experiences you are involved in, one that is uniquely yours.
I understand that circus has many economies and ecologies and that these are radically divergent depending on where you live. The range is broad, from street busking, corporate work that provides entertainment at events, large scale Cirque du Soleil, mid-sized touring companies, hybrid circus practices through neo Cabaret and Burlesque, independent experimental works founded on DIY guerilla aesthetics and interdisciplinary practices and the massive fields of pedagogy and social circus. Our family is large and I think that is to our benefit and one of our greatest strengths. Not all of these articulations of circus culture depend on funding from arts councils and foundations but I believe that all benefit, individual and collectively, from deep consideration and awareness that facilitates all of us becoming the advocates, mediums, communicators and translators of this form into larger spheres of awareness and deeper realms of practice, both for ourselves and for our audiences.
Brandy Leary (Artistic Director/Choreographer/Performer)
Brandy creates contemporary performances based in the body. Her works have been produced in Canada, Europe, India, South Africa and the USA in theatres, urban environments, festivals, museums and isolated landscapes. She holds a BA Honours in Theatre with a specialization in Direction and Asian Theatre from York University’s Theatre Program. She is a visiting artist at Shiv Nadar University in New Delhi, teaching choreography and aerial work for their MFA and BA programs and serves on the Dance Committee for the Toronto Arts Council. She is the founder and Artistic Director of Anandam Dancetheatre, Co FOunder and CO Director of CCAFT (Contemporary Circus Arts Festival of Toronto) and a Co Director of Collective Space.