Tonight, two days after “Bustown” closes, McCain auditorium hosts yet another Australian work of art. The performance, Circus Oz: “But wait … there’s more,” promises to be one of the season’s most outstanding shows.
Far from being your ordinary circus with lions, clapping seals and a freak show, Circus Oz has been known throughout Australia ever since it’s early beginnings for breaking the mold of traditional performance. It is one of the pioneer companies in contemporary and modern circus and predates the famous “Cirque du Soleil” by almost six years. With the absence of performing animals, the main focus of the performances generally tends to be on a specific theme that brings out the aesthetic, musical and thespian side of circus.
Satire is a prevalent aspect of Circus Oz’s shows, it’s mostly used for the highlighting of issues such as social justice and humanitarian rights that the founders had based the foundation of their circus company on. It’s perceived as public duty by the performers and crew members but at the end of the day it’s all in lightheartedness and humor.
Show director and former performer of Circus Oz, Debra Batton, talked about the importance of the company’s social responsibility towards the community they came from and their work with asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.
“Australia is not all pretty wildlife and grand metro cities,” Batton said. “We have poverty-stricken areas out in the country and villages where the communities are made up of refugees from places around the world who can’t make their way up into the city because they cannot attain any kind of employment or even secure basic human rights for themselves. We work with such communities and try to perform for them and send out financial contributions every now and then. Giving back the community and raising awareness towards humanitarian issues is what Circus Oz sought out to do ever since it came into existence and is something we want to keep doing.”
Circus Oz shows run on a relatively small crew of only a dozen performers, a very fine group of multi-talented and well trained acrobats, actors, musicians, comedians and entertainers in a general sense. They’ve all been handpicked through Circus Oz’s extensive and fastidious annual casting cycle.
Batton was only a young college student when she was first cast to perform as a member of the Circus Oz family.
“I had been a gymnast until I was 17 years old and then I went to college, and this whole new world of dance and theater opened up to me and it was the only thing I wanted to do,” Batton said. “With my gymnastics background incorporated into dance, circus felt like a great fit and it was an opportunity I’m glad I thankful I’d seized to say the least. I performed for Circus Oz for a while before moving on to manage ‘Legs on the Wall,’ but the position I held there had me dealing more with numbers and controlling the company as a business and it took me away from the artistic side of the job which I realized wasn’t worth compromising. I went back as a show director for Circus Oz because I wanted to be an artist and not a CEO.”
Batton said she believes that taking risks and creating new things is all part of being an artist.
“I never worry about doubts and uncertainty,” Batton said. “I think that the biggest component of making art is being uncertain if it’s going to work or not, because if you’re not worried about people’s reactions and feedback then you’re probably doing something familiar and ordinary. Art should have you worried.”
Matt Wilson, a cornerstone performer and a popular face in the Circus Oz ensemble said that the new show, “But wait … there’s more,” is not just 12 people doing a contemporary circus show.
“I think what separates this one from other shows, and what separates Circus Oz from other modern circus acts in general, is the message behind the whole thing, the theme which brings up the ‘more’ aspect of our current day lives,” Wilson said. “It’s something that goes right over our heads and no one’s noticed yet, our constant demand for more that leaves us all contempt and with no time to slow down and appreciate what we have.”
When asked about his expectations for the show, Wilson said he prefers to not have any most of the time, and he’d rather focus on the audience’s expectations of the show.
“I tend to try and match the peoples’ expectations instead of setting up my own since it’s their entertainment which really counts to our success,” Wilson said. “At the end of the day, if someone leaves the show with a new perspective and a reevaluation of anything because of something they had seen on stage, then that makes me happy; and if someone just simply enjoys it as a circus act then I’m just as happy too.”
Despite how much this show means for the performers in their homeland, Wilson said he is enthusiastic about playing for people in our homeland as well.
“I cannot wait to go up there and perform for the people here,” Wilson said. “We’ve been to some big cities all over the states, but this one should be really special and exciting because we’re bringing with us a form of art that’s not popular across this state.”
Grant Topjon, freshman in political science, said he was eager to watch Circus Oz who’ve come all the way from Australia to perform in Manhattan.
“The thing I like the most about contemporary forms of performance, whether it be circus, theater or music, is the fact that it doesn’t follow the same pattern that everyone’s used to and had seen and heard a hundred times before,” Topjon said. “It’s an enriching experience and it’s healthy exposure to diverse cultures and art forms; which is just what Circus Oz seeks out to do.”
The show will be performed tonight at 7:30 p.m. in McCain Auditorium. The ticket prices vary depending on the locations of the seats.