A statement made by Regina Hill

May 06, 2024 | 2 Min Read

Statement Made by Circus Oz Chairperson, Regina Hill, speaking on the unceded land of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples to the Commonwealth Senate Environment and Communications Committees’ Public Hearing on the National Cultural Policy, 16 April 2024

My name is Regina Hill, I am currently the Chairperson at Circus Oz. I have held that role since early 2022. I come to that role not from a circus or arts background, but a commercial one. I bring a different context and knowledge base to Anni Davey, who is here representing the Flyng Fruit Fly Circus.

As a company. Circus Oz was established in 1978. It grew from being a small, grassroots start up circus to being a major performance company.

Circus Oz’s contribution to contemporary circus has been both nationally and internationally acknowledged.

As a creative company Circus Oz is recognised as having played a unique and iconic role in the 1980s and 1990s in popularising the art form and helping to define and position Australia as a global leader in contemporary circus.

Circus Oz was funded as a major Australian performing arts company between 2000 – 2021, first under the Major Performing Arts Framework (MPAF) and more recently under the National Performing Arts Partnership Framework (NPAPF).

Since exiting that Framework in 2021 it has run as a small independent company.

Although Circus Oz now have the equivalent of only one full time staff member, we are currently engaging approximately 40 artists and creative professions across two shows. We are engaging with overseas festivals such as the Edinburgh Festival and have over 26 regional venues wanting to present our 2023 MICF Show.

As a creative company Circus Oz is about energy and representation. It presents traditional circus forms in a contemporary way. Its work engages without an explicit narrative through energy and skill, combining technical artistry with the development and innovative use of rigging and equipment, live music and performance. It has a diverse cast on stage – from different ages and backgrounds – and engages a diverse, multigenerational audience.

The accessibility of the work and the breadth and depth of its audience is distinctive – it is an attribute of the art form as well as the Company.

In speaking today in relation to the National Creative Strategy and circus there are a few key points I would like to make:

  1. I would like to acknowledge that I speak on behalf of one company, I don’t represent the circus sector.

    The circus sector in Australia is diverse. It includes large, medium and small companies, individual artists and technical professionals. A small number of companies receive operational or project funding, but many do not and operate as independent ensembles, artists and professionals.

    I think it is important to recognise that that diversity is a strength of the sector – but is not reflected here in the room today.

  1. Australia has played a leading role in the development of contemporary circus as an art form, it has been recognised internationally for that. Australian companies and artists are continuing to hold a place at the international level, but they are struggling to do so because of the challenges in funding and sustaining their practice.

    Despite its leadership in this art form, circus is not recognised as a distinctive form from a funding perspective. It is bundled usually within either dance or physical theatre and so has to compete for funding in those spaces. That competition has the effect of lowering the focus on the form and can potentially be seen as influencing shifts in style from a distinctive contemporary form towards dance or theatre, and away from a more general to a narrower audience demographic.

  1. Circus is distinctive though – in what it takes to train, create and present work – that applies from the perspective of the artist themselves, the spaces needed to train and present work, and the professionals – riggers, stage managers, and directors involved.

    General investment in the circus sector has tended to come through the investment in individual companies – like Circus Oz in the past – rather than through direct investment in infrastructure. Investment in training and career development through groups like the NICA is under pressure. There is a need to revisit how sector development is supported, and to ensure that where project funding is provided it takes into account the full costs associated with producing work.

  1. Festivals and regional touring play an important role in the contemporary circus ecosystem in Australia, and support for them is critical.
  1. Insurance is becoming very hard to secure – particularly to cover work at height – and if not resolved could halt the ability to undertake aerial or other work requiring rigging or work at height. It is a significant risk to the circus sector.
  1. There are many art forms, all have value, but in Australia – in contradiction to its international peers – circus is an undervalued one – and one that actually aligns with so many of the objectives of the Revive Strategy – in its attraction to everyday Australians, its accessibility and the ability for people to see themselves in it.
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