So many communities are on fire due to the present political climate. For veterans of social justice work and for those who live everyday marginalized by the issues that our work deals with, we strive to physicalize these issues in a fresh way offering new insights. We seek to mobilize in support of the important work that is being done in communities most affected by these issues. We strive to make our artistic work increasingly relevant and useful to the direct work that is being done.
Some of us are ready to make shifts but don’t know where to start. We hope to be an inroad to those who are looking to get involved. We strive to create work that breeds awareness and active engagement. MakeShift Circus Collective is an ever transforming gathering of diverse performance artists who come together to create socially engaged art. We began our journey in 2013 with the Homage and Gratitude Show created to honor the fore-persons of social circus who paved the way for us to walk. Here are a few of our sources of inspiration: Se Essa Rua Fosse Minha, Arena y Esteras, Machincuepa, Cirque du Monde, Circus Arts Institute, and Steve Seaberg to name a few. Our projects have been funded by the New York based AJ Muste Social Justice Fund, the Community Foundation of Atlanta, and the many individuals who have shared their hard earned money and resources with us. We have shared our work at Clarkston Community Center, Eyedrum, the Alliance Theater, Elevate (City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs public arts festival), GA Tech, Cultivating Cultures, D’AIR, and in our backyard.
We strive to hold the integrity of our core values through each step of our work. We are process oriented, seeking ourselves to be a part of projects that will transform us into better agents for social change. We do not see ourselves as outside of the issues that our work addresses. We draw from the concept of Theater of the Oppressed recognizing that everyone creates the situations that allow social justice to continue. We all have a stake in moving forward social equity for all beings.
Our larger projects generally run on a two year cycle beginning with the identification of the social issue that the specific project will address. Next we investigate the context of the issue by reading, viewing documentaries, attending events and lectures, and working to connect and learn with others touched by the issue. We then reach out to the larger community to gather voices that would amplify the complexities of the issue. Through story circles and interviews we gather recordings of community members sharing their stories and experiences. Next we work with social artists that are representative of key stakeholders to create a performance that will bring the stories to life on stage. We then host a season of free, widely accessible performances followed by dialogue amongst audience members.
We are also very excited about collaborating on other projects. We feel honored to be invited into collaboration by other groups involved in socially engaged art and social justice work. We believe deeply in the importance of widening social impact through building relationships and networks that support and amplify each other.
What is Social Circus?
After having the immense opportunity to collaborate with social circus organizations in 12 countries throughout the Americas, members of makeShift Circus Collective have landed on this definition for social circus:
To use the performance and teaching1 of circus arts to create alternative spaces2 in which we3 can experience ourselves differently, shaking free of attitudes, beliefs and habits4 that do not serve us and provoking5 the development of healthier ones that support social transformation at the individual, group , community , regional and global level.
- Commonly the term ‘social circus’ refers to doing circus workshops with at-risk communities. We have found it useful to broaden our definition to include the many environments and ways in which circus arts can be used as a potent social intervention tool with a range of populations.
- Alternative spaces in this case refers to environments out of the ordinary, not bound by participants’ everyday physical, emotional and mental norms. We seek to create environments in which the magic of the circus is carried over into the direct experience of the participant suspending what he or she might imagine is possible for his or her self and community.
- We do not seek to transform others but to open up spaces that will transform everyone involved including the artist and the public, student and facilitator. The process looses power if one of the parties is not open to their own transformation.
- Through play, supporting each other and challenging ourselves in the exploration of physical feets, and analyzing our interactions and experiences, we seek to free ourselves from attitudes, beliefs and habits that do not serve us…
- Attitudes – ‘ Street youth can not do anything right, they’re worthless. ‘ ‘Women are weak. ” ‘ Art is a waste of time . ‘
Beliefs- ‘ I can’t . ‘ ‘ I’m weak. ‘ ‘ People are not trustworthy’.
Unconscious habits or ways of behaving -Using violent language , self-judgement, feeling frustrated or stressed by the learning process , focusing on the negative aspects of self and others.
- Not only do we seek to remove what doesn’t work but also to open up spaces to look collaboratively for solutions.
- We realize that our actions , workshops and presentations , have an influence on the development of our society. Being aware of that reality, we understand our importance and we can choose how we want to affect the participants in our circus: ourselves and our students, communities, states, countries, regions and the world.