Photo: Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin

“Moment proposes that meaningful, impactful work can happen if given a catalyst. Let Moment be that catalyst.” –- Moment of Circus website

At Noon on March 5, 2017, twenty-four selected artists, plus 4 “mentors” congregated in the basement of the old brick church that houses Aloft Circus Arts in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago.  Moment of Circus organizer, Courtney Prokopas, and Aloft owner, Shayna Swanson, laid out the rules of the game:  Number One–Do NOT go on the roof! While not really a game rule,  it was one of the few we were given during the course of this amazing circus incubation experiment.

Photo: Jeremy Bloyd-Peshkin

While incubators and collaboration residencies have been around for a long time in business and the arts, they are relatively under-utilized in the U.S. circus world.  The 48-Hour Project was like a “pop-up” arts incubator or mini residency that was conceived of by Shayna Swanson and Moment in order to jump-start circus collaboration on a national scale.

The constraints were basic:  We would eat, sleep, and create in this church for 48 hours, and then perform a show in the evening of the last day for a paying audience.  Through a very scientific process of random selection (writing names on slips of paper and shuffling them around on the tumbling mats,) Courtney sorted us into 4 groups of 6 people. Each group was responsible for creating 15-20 minutes of material for the final show.  After we were sorted, we huddled awkwardly with the other members of our groups in one of the four corners of the church sanctuary. Each member of our group (PILE) eyed the other nervously—looking each other up and down as if one was able to assess the talents and qualities of a person based on looks alone.  It was all we had to go on at that point.

Courtney then drew the names of the four mentors: Fernanda Sumano, Shayna Swanson, Guillermo Leon de Keijzer, and Terry Crane. My group was assigned tragicomic juggler and wiggler, Guillermo Leon.  Guillermo strolled over to where our group was standing (while trying to avoid eye contact with one another.)  He said, “Hi, I’m Guillermo”, as he surveilled the situation.  Later he confessed that in that moment he was thinking, “This is going to be really annoying”, especially in regards to me personally.  I guess he is a pretty good judge of character because I have been known to be a menace.

But I also have been known to run an arts incubator—having founded and directed a multidisciplinary residency space in Istanbul for 5 years.  So I knew that in addition to this process being “annoying”, it would also be challenging, tiring, invigorating, informative, and ultimately rewarding.

The main criteria the 48-Hour selection committee evaluated—in addition to skill—was the willingness to collaborate.  And I believe that selecting on this quality alone is what lent the project its cooperative feeling.  Egos were kept in check, and from what I could surmise, the place was filled with good listeners, and those able to let go of the preciousness of their own ideas.

And the importance of the mentor or outside eye in this process cannot be underestimated.  While Guillermo didn’t really know what he had agreed to do at the start of the project, he jumped in wholeheartedly when he saw that PILE Group was sputtering to get the collaboration underway.  He suggested we do an exercise in which three of us work together to find the similarities in our selected skills.  When there are six people, all trying to be respectful of one another, it becomes difficult for any one person to take control of the situation.  That step towards directing the action can be seen as being controlling–and we were all trying to NOT be that person.  The mentor, however, is endowed with super powers of direction, and can suggest things without being seen as bossy.  So, along with a healthy selection process, I believe the idea of appointing mentors is essential to the success of a catalytic process.

After 10 hours of creation, and a restless night of sleeping on a stinky gym mat in the basement of the church, I awoke with the idea that I wasn’t comfortable with how “traditional” our group’s efforts were.   I had come to the 48-Hour Project with the desire to try new things, but I felt we were falling back on our skills and old patterns of movement.  While our collaboration was fun and exciting, I really had this impulse to un-do it all.  No one else in the group shared this impulse.  And this is where I realized a weak spot in a short-term collaboration:  If you have the expectation of showing your work with only two days of preparation, there is too much pressure to fall back on what you know.  We worry that we won’t be understood, or that we will look unskilled. This can lead to less risk-taking.

In the end, Guillermo did a great job of pushing us to go further.  And when we all simultaneously voiced that we wanted to work on our character’s on-stage relationships, our work turned a corner. Still, if we had had more time together, I would have definitely insisted upon deconstructing everything we did.  Just for the hell of it.  And why not?  As described, this experience was just a catalyst, and sometimes that’s all you need.

Moment Collective is a Chicago-based organization devoted to presenting and promoting interdisciplinary, immersive performing arts.  It is an expansive, responsive, inclusive group founded by Courtney Prokopas and Christina Kirts.  Presently, Moment Collective has members from the circus, dance, moving-image, academia, street art, world music, storytelling, and comedy communities, but is constantly a growing, shifting, morphing bunch – let’s make things happen, let’s be in the moment. 

Moment of Circus is the premiere large-scale public production of Moment Collective.  

Photo: Fethi Karaduman

Anne Weshinskey has recently moved back to the United States from years of living abroad in Turkey, Sweden, Bulgaria, and China.  What was she doing in those countries?  Mostly working as a foot juggler and wirewalker, performance artist, visual artist, and arts administrator/instigator.  As co-founder and co-director of the artist-run arts incubator, Caravansarai (Istanbul, Turkey), she was lucky enough to collaborate daily with a an international array of amazingly talented and fun artists in a variety of contexts.  In addition to hosting artists, she has also been a participant in numerous artist-in-residency programs.  Her hope is that while now living in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia she can perpetuate and innovate these contexts for U.S. artists and audiences.

Primarily trained in antipodism and acrobatics with Lu Yi and Xia Ke Min (Circus Center SF) and the Hebei and Fujian Acrobatic troupes of China, Anne continues her connection to China with the Chinese European Art Center in Xiamen, Fujian Province.  Her style of working is distinctly NOT Chinese, however.

For more information on past and current projects, visit LoverOfProjects.com

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