If you've been visiting the iconic Adelaide Fringe festival long enough, then you've surely seen posters of or even had the pleasure to experience first-hand the beauty and elegance of the One Fell Swoop Circus team that brings us By a Thread.
A show that explores the relationship between trust and risk, By a Thread stays true to its name by using a long spool of white rope that becomes the centre stage accessory to help the performers showcase their acrobatic skills in ways that will leave the audience gasping for more.
In anticipation of their upcoming and final performance as part of Adelaide Fringe, I was fortunate enough to have an e-interview with co-founders of One Fell Swoop Circus - Jonathan Morgan and Charice Rust. Have a read of our exchange below:
Tema: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your crew? Jonathan and Charice: By a Thread is made up of seven acrobats. Jonathan left a degree in maths and physics to pursue circus as a career. Charice built the strength for her male-dominated specialty, straps, working on her grandparents' sheep farm. Latonya and Ellen both left Australia when they were 17 to train at the elite Beijing Acrobatic School – learning Mandarin while undergoing intense circus training. As a child, Easa travelled with a circus throughout WA with his lighting tech dad and after completing a science degree, returned to performing circus. Chanel developed her own unique specialty combing handstands and ball manipulation. Liam sometimes performs an act where he hangs by his teeth. For By a Thread, we have pooled our individual skills and quirks to create a show where classic acrobatic techniques are used in expansive ways.
Tema: So, let's talk about By A Thread - how did you decide on the concept of your show? Jonathan and Charice: We made By a Thread as we wanted to make work that explores the trust implicit in ensemble acrobatic work and apply this to aerials. It can be challenging developing group aerial circus acts, as aerialists are often isolated from other performers high up in the air on their apparatus. Our unusual aerial apparatus breaks this right down, as it is the hands and strength of the ensemble members that hold each other up, rather than rigging and hardware. It is the perfect medium for exploring the trust, risk, and joy inherent in the everyday relationships we have as human beings. Our rationale behind the show is to create an intimate audience experience around the trust and risk implicit in engaging with others.
Tema: What is the basic premise of By A Thread, without giving too much away? Jonathan and Charice: The show features an innovative aerial apparatus not previously used by an ensemble in Australia. The apparatus is one long rope that extends from the floor, through two industrial pulleys and back to the floor – the whole show centres around this single rope. When a performer climbs or hangs from the rope, the ensemble must provide an equal force on the other end – they can't let go or the performer will fall! This apparatus was a perfect physical manifestation of the trust and risk involved in engaging with others. We use it to explore moments of confusion, hilarity, romance, playfulness, fear and friendship, and plunge the audience into these possibilities at the intersection of joy and risk. The skills are high-level, the tricks are real, and there is no safety net - only the hands and strength of the ensemble working together to hold their castmates aloft.
Tema: Who would you say is your target audience? Jonathan and Charice: We wanted to make a show that is for everyone, that appeals to kids and adults and can be a great night out for all. We strongly believe in circus' potential to tell compelling narratives and explore complex ideas, not despite, but because of the dynamic physical skills of which it comprises. We love that people come to By a Thread with their whole families (including children and grandparents) and everyone has a wonderful time.
Tema: What are you hoping for your show to resonate with your audience? Jonathan and Charice: Circus is such a powerful art form because what you see before you is actually what is happening. When you see someone taking a risk by hanging upside down from a rope that is held up only by other people, well that's what is happening. While this risk is always present in circus, so is joy. There is something incredibly joyful and fun in using our bodies in powerful and creative ways, and working so closely together with others on stage. In By a Thread, we deal with these two heightened emotional states and bring that feeling to the audience by immersing them in it. One of our favourite pieces of feedback is when audience members say, "it looked so much fun I just wanted to join in and have a go with you", and then we know we are succeeding.
Tema: What can people expect from attending By A Thread? Jonathan and Charice: Audiences can expect high-level acrobatics they have never seen before on a weird and wonderful aerial apparatus. The action takes place from ground level to 8 metres up in the air, with acrobats swinging, throwing, catching, and climbing each other. People can also expect emotion and authenticity. The show uses the apparatus to explore the everyday relationships we have as human beings – romance, friendship, isolation, miscommunication, hilarity, confusion, all to a dynamic, vibrant soundtrack.
Tema: How did you get involved with the Adelaide Fringe (AF)? As a returning Adelaide Fringe performer, what are you hoping to expect from this year's participation in the festival? Jonathan and Charice: Adelaide Fringe is such a beast of a festival – it's huge, it's dynamic, it's bustling and diverse. Adelaide audiences are adventurous and eager. How could we not come to Adelaide Fringe! In previous years at Adelaide Fringe, we've been at later time slots like 9:30pm and 10:30pm. But this year, our show is at 6:20pm and we're so excited to be able to share it with the adventurous Adelaide family audiences.
Tema: Why is this going to be the final run of the show at the Adelaide Fringe? What are you hoping to do once you wrap up for the season? Jonathan and Charice: We've loved performing By a Thread for Adelaide audiences over the last three years. We're excited to continue touring By a Thread to audiences all over Australia and overseas. We have a national tour coming up in September-November this year, and are also working on our other projects. In 2019, we developed a new show - Sensory Decadence - which is based on Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow. It is an explosion of sensation and circus, and we can't wait to bring to Adelaide Fringe sometime soon!
Tema: Where have you taken your show within Australia / around the world and how has the experience of traveling with the show been? Jonathan and Charice: We've been extremely lucky to take By a Thread all over the place! We've packed the rope and pullies into a van and driven across the Nullarbor. We've packed the show into oversize luggage and flown to perform in the U.S., New Zealand, France, and China. We've toured the show to regional centres around the country in tiny town halls, and large performing arts centres. We love sharing By a Thread with diverse audiences. Touring is intense but wonderful. On tour, we've been invited to an audience member's farm for a stay; we've met the young students of a dance school in a small country town who've come to the show together, we've experimented with meals you can cook in a hotel room, and we've translated the show into Chinese on stage. The response of the audience is always so generous and warm.
Tema: What do you think makes By A Thread a must-watch show? Jonathan and Charice: By a Thread will appeal to anyone attracted to the spectacle of circus, but are also looking for a slighting cooler, more artsy experience. The combination of high-level acrobatics up to 8 metres high over the heads of the audience, and an authentic emotional experience make By a Thread a must-see circus show.
By a Thread will be performed at Gluttony from February 14 - March 14, 2020, as part of Adelaide Fringe. Book your tix here.