There’s been a lot of innovation in the circus genre in recent years, but few innovate as much as NoFit State. And that’s why we gave them an Editors’ Award in 2005. After a four year break, they return to the Fringe this August with their show Tabu. We spoke to Creative Director Tom Rack about his company and this August’s show.
CC: How did NoFit State first come about?
TR: NoFit State was started in 1985 by five friends who had a passion for juggling and street performing. We were all very young and starting our own company was a way to avoid having to get proper jobs and to have some fun. Things have grown and snowballed and these days we work long hours, it’s can be quite stressful at times and quite like a proper job. But we make sure we still have some fun.
CC: You do circus in promenade – why?
TR: Having the audience move around gives them a totally different experience; as a viewer, you are no longer a passive observer, you have to engage with the show in a totally different way. The action might happen above, behind, in front or right next to you, you don’t know what’s coming or where to look next. The show is so rich with so many layers that you can choose what strands to follow, you may follow an individual performer or stand back and see a wider perspective. You can move and discover a different view point and by having to be so involved you become almost implicated in the show. It’s a freedom which empowers the audience, giving them choices, and breaks the traditional distance between performer and observer, putting them both in the same arena, close up and personal.
CC: We love the way you combine music and video with the circus-style performances – who creates the music and video components?
TR: The music is created by Peter Reynolds along with the band. The music is very specific; although the arrangements are very tight the musicians have room to be able to improvise and play to the show – the performers do not perform to the music, it’s the other way around. This means the music really supports the show as well as driving it forward with fantastic energy. The video is created by Lissy More. Much of it is shot during rehearsals. It not wallpaper or rock stadium style, rather another layer of detail in the montage, a texture, a back story or an abstraction that contributes to to the overall picture.
CC: You tour around the world – how does audience response vary as you go from country to country?
TR: Different cultures respond in different ways but always warmly. It can sometimes take us a few shows to understand how a place works. For example a German audience can appear quite reserved; It was hard to tell how it was going down as they were so quiet, but at the end of the show they erupted in a foot stamping ovation and demanded 4 encores. The French, Belgian and Spanish audiences are the most liberated and totally get what we do. The UK and Irish crowds are our favourite, though, because they are quite sceptical at first and then quickly and totally won over.
CC: It feels like circus has gone through something of a renaissance in the last decade, would you agree, and if so, why do you think that is?
TR: I think circus has been going through a renaissance in the last 20 years but it has taken longer for the audiences perception of what circus can be to change. The Millennium Dome show and the frequent visits of Cirque du Soleil have done a lot to challenge this. It’s great that the Arts Councils now recognise the Circus Arts as arts and offer some (although not enough) support. The emergence of circus schools and the popularity of circus classes has created a new generation of circus artists who through creativity and determination are expanding the sector in new directions.
CC: You’ve been away from the Edinburgh Fringe for four years, what persuaded you back?
TR: We have been missing the festival, we love to come to Edinburgh despite how much hard work it is. In the past 4 years we have been playing all over Europe and not been in the UK that much at all, and we wanted to come back last year but ended up in Avignon and Antwerp instead… This year we were determined to bring tabu to the Fringe; the festival has such a great vibe and the audiences are always really up for it. As always it is a huge financial risk, but one we think is well worth it.
CC: Parts of your shows look really dangerous – are they?
TR: Circus would not be circus without some element of danger. Obviously the performers train hard and we take precautions to minimise the risk but it’s always there, and that makes it all the more exciting. Because the audience move around and they can get close to the action, that feeling is intensified: performers fly over their heads or come dropping down from the roof, keeping the audience on their toes. It might look like anarchy at times but it is actually a tightly choreographed chaos and a well drilled team of professionals keep each other and the audience safe.
NoFit State Circus’ show ‘Tabu’ was performed during Fringe 2010.
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