Postcards Festival at Jacksons Lane is here this week, kicking off with extraordinary juggling in Water On Mars on Tuesday (see them in action on YouTube - click here). There is a fabulous line-up of female artists in Flappers on Wednesday. On Thursday, Jess Love's one-woman show And The Little One Said brings the dark heart of the fairytale to play with a variety of circus skills. Friday is A Night with Alula Cyr, the female trio of Cyr wheeling acrobats, joined by special guests, friends from the circus world. As for Saturday, Ssshhh!
Ssshhh! is an evening that combines old-school circus skills and side-show traditions and gives them a contemporary vaudeville twist. The name was inspired, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, by the name of the Hoxton sex shop, for women only, round the corner from the National Centre of Circus Arts. As well as conjuring up this idea of tease, or "Ssshhh! Listen up, I have a secret to tell you..." it is also a nod to the disapproving "Ssshhh! Hush up!" that greets any noise in a theatre audience. It's open to all and any interpretation really...
The idea for the evening came about back in February, when Adrian Berry, Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, invited me to curate an evening for the Postcards Festival - I'm still pinching myself! Ade challenged me to think about all the performances I have enjoyed, not just at Jacksons Lane (where, by rights, I should apply for a timeshare in their broom cupboard!) but beyond. Of course, the moment he said that my mind flew to the one performer in our show I did meet at Jacksons Lane...
I met Sean Kempton last year at Canvas, the circus networking event bringing together artists, producers and programmers, where he was a compere for the day's events at Jacksons Lane. What struck me then was Sean's natural rapport with the audience and the way he engaged them, and so I wasn't surprised to find out that he had been working abroad for years as a lead clown for Cirque De Soleil, and at the forefront of modern circus in the UK before that. Sean now has a beautiful one-man show Stuff that he is taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, which I saw recently at the London Clown Fest (post to follow, meanwhile check out the Edinburgh Reporter's rave review www.theedinburghreporter.co.uk - click here) that explores the genesis and evolution of love and connections, in a way that is funny, touching and at points even brutal. What I love above all is the advice Sean gave me when I went on my first ever clowning workshop: "Work out what the rules are first, Lucy... and then break them!" That's just what I want for the evening, so I claimed him as my joker in the pack, and host for the night.
Keen to incorporate as much physical comedy as possible, I also thought of Michaela O'Connor, who I had also met at Canvas, on the last day at The Albany where she was pitching her show for trapeze trio Hattie, think Walter Mitty meets Holly Golightly. I loved the concept for her show, but I was also struck by Michaela's ad-lib delivery. She was warm, charismatic and hilarious. And so we have another clown who will be serving up a high energy, playful trapeze act to kick off the cabaret in a way that only Michaela can!
As good things come in threes, we have one more clown Mr Danny Ash, who I connected with over a year ago on Twitter after watching him as part of the first year ensemble for the end of year production at the National Centre for Circus Arts (NCCA), where I was taking classes in static trapeze at the time. There was a spark that drew me to him. Danny is an amazing aerialist and is all over the cabaret scene, often and never a drag - Kylie, Putin, Latin lovers and English roses, his impersonations are brilliant and varied. His end of year solo this year, a homage on silks to Freddie Mercury, taking a vacuum cleaner with him to hoover up the applause, was note perfect.
My own recreational training has informed my selection in many other ways. From the word go I was keen to have a representative from the pole community, as that is where I started out on my quest to become a circus strong-woman. In circus circles, when I talk pole, it is generally assumed I'm talking Chinese Pole, the pole with grip requiring clothes and shoes. "No, no, I mean the shiny pole for strippers", I am quick to correct, ever the Agent Provocateur. It's far more than that, of course. The workshop Anna Milosevic of PoleFit London organised with Cirque de Soleil performer Felix Kane is still seared in my brain. Seeing Felix for four minutes in an impromptu piece set to Lana Del Rey's "Born To Die" was astonishing. That experience there, I thought, is what I want to communicate one day, and so I am delighted to have Cheryl Teagan on board. Cheryl is an instructor at PoleFit London, also has trained in contortion, and handstands at the NCCA, among other circus spaces, and I am delighted that she bridges the two communities. I saw Cheryl doing an Electric turn in Brixton recently. (Chapter 144 - click here).
Talking of charged performances, I also wanted one of the Boylexe boys, from one of the best nights out I've had in the past two years (Chapter 34 - click here), where the smouldering charms of Esquire De Lune, aka Brett Rosengreen, made quite an impression. Fresh from dancing on stage with "Take That" last weekend and off to the Edinburgh Fringe with Briefs Factory, he is gorgeous, he's a tease, and he ticks all manner of boxes.
As well as all that electricity, I wanted fire, pure and simple. Who better then than Red Sarah, director of The Fire School? She has so much experience on the cabaret and burlesque scene, I love the way she plays with gender and sexuality in her drag king act, and challenges the status quo. Red Sarah is fierce, strong and has the edge. She showed me how to burn my body and swallow fire (Chapter 88 - click here). I quite literally trust her with my life.
Another performer who has the edge, albeit a serrated one, is Lucy Frost, aka Molly Orange with her musical saw. I was introduced to her by Ade Berry the day she returned to the UK, having received arts funding to tour the vibrant circus scene in Australia, cataloguing circus spaces and reporting back on what opportunities there are over there for UK artists. She is a dynamo of energy and a whole mine of funny stories. When I rang her up we hit it off immediately, chatting for a good hour, for Lucy loves circus, obviously! Very much an integral part of the Outdoor Arts scene, Lucy has huge experience in street theatre drawing in the crowds, and I love the blend of dark humour and no limits in her musical saw act that slices through the heart of love.
Hamish Tjeong was in the very first show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe with leading aerial company Ockham's Razor. I liked the natural rapport he had with the audience, a quiet humour that I found intriguing, and when I bumped into the cast afterwards outside, tentatively introducing myself and handing round my card, he took it with a smile and said he already read my blog. That made my day! As well as being one of the most beautiful rope performers I know, Hamish has been working with kettle-bell juggling, an old-school circus skill that had its origins in the traditional way Russian farmers used to keep fit and strong. It's quirky and it's different, especially in Hamish's hands.
I wanted some regular juggling too, but with a twist, and Hamish put me in touch with the exceptional Onni Toivonen, a Finnish juggler who has just graduated from DOCH in Stockholm. I have met so many wonderful Finnish circus artists through Jacksons Lane that it is great to have them represented in the evening! The first time I saw Onni's video Clubbed To Death (click here) I felt like shouting Eureka! His style is fluid, mesmerising and compelling, describing all the mathematical perfection of juggling, underpinned with humour. Onni will be making his UK debut here.
So there we have it. That's the team. Special mention, of course, to our producer Flora Herberich. She is producing four shows at the Postcards Festival this year, and curating her own Flappers. It was Flora who invited me to Canvas last year, and who has introduced me to so many people, including clowning maestro Ira Seidenstein (Chapter 114 - click here), who have made such a difference to this circus journey over the past couple of years.
And now, for one night, for one night only, I have the chance to show you all I love about circus through the work of these amazing artists. The love can spill out into the bar afterwards as it is open til midnight, serving up a knock-out Postcards Punch among other festival spirits, and you can join us afterwards to party!
This is it, ladies and gents! Saturday 16th July at Jacksons Lane... roll up, belt up... and Ssshhh!
A handful of tickets left - catch the last few here: www.jacksonslane.org.uk/whats-on/event/2016/ssshhh