Circus Oz is a contemporary circus company based in Australia. Its shows incorporate theatre, satire, rock 'n' roll and a uniquely Australian humour. It is the world's longest-running contemporary circus company.
Circus Oz was incorporated in December 1977 in Melbourne and funded by the Australian Performing Group, with its first performance season in March 1978. Circus Oz was the amalgamation of two already well-known groups: Soapbox Circus, a roadshow set up by the Australian Performing Group in 1976; and the New Ensemble Circus, a continuation of the New Circus, established in Adelaide in 1973.
The founding members were: Sue Broadway, Tony Burkys, Tim Coldwell, John ‘Jack’ Daniel, Laurel Frank, Kevin Gedye, Jon Hawkes, Ponch Hawkes, Robin Laurie, John Pinder, Michael Price, Alan Robertson, Jim Robertson, Pixie Roberstson, Helen Sky, Jim Conway, Mic Conway, Rick Ludbrook, Peter Mulheisen, Gordon McLean, Steve Cooney and Colin Stevens.
Significant developments in Circus Oz's early years included: a 32-week season in 1979 at the Last Laugh Theatre Restaurant in Melbourne; the company's first international tour in 1980 (including London's Roundhouse, Belgium and New Guinea); the "Nanjing Project" (Chinese acrobatic master classes); and the group's relations with The Flying Fruit Fly Circus. As part of its international touring, Circus Oz has been to 29 countries and 210 cities all over the world, including New York City, London and Jerusalem.
In late 2013 Circus Oz relocated to a new custom-built home base in Collingwood, an inner suburb of Melbourne. The Victorian government owns the facility, but it has been designed specifically to Circus Oz's requirements. This location includes a permanent Spiegeltent, large rehearsal spaces, outdoor areas, and workshop and props-making facilities. The buildings are approximately half of an abandoned college campus, and there is work being done by Arts Victoria to convert the remainder of the campus into an arts precinct, making it a vibrant multi-arts and community hub.
With the exception of its first show, Waiter, There's a Circus in My Soup, Circus Oz did not name their seasons or tours until 2006 with the Laughing at Gravity tour. Each subsequent tour was then named until 2017.
- Laughing at Gravity (2006)
- Barely Contained (2009-2010)
- See It To Believe It (2010)
- Steampowered (2011-2012)
- From the Ground Up (2012)
- Cranked Up (2013)
- But Wait...There's More (2014-2016)
- Twentysixteen (2016)
- Model Citizens (2017)
- Precarious (2018-2019)
- Rock Bang (2018-2019)
The founders wanted to create a "contemporary circus" (words used in their show programme "history" as early as 1980), with elements of rock'n'roll, popular theatre and satire. The company has an ongoing social justice agenda and has generally been open about supporting humanitarian causes. Over the years this has included women's rights, land rights for indigenous Australians and strong feelings about the plight of asylum seekers.
One of the first "new" or "contemporary" circuses without animals (it predates Cirque du Soleil by several years), Circus Oz continues to make a show with only a dozen multi-skilled performers who all perform the entire show, doing "a bit of everything", from acrobatics and clowning to music and aerial work. The skills are high-level circus, but the show is usually comic and character-driven. The cast is a diverse mix of body shapes and ages, with an equal number of men and women. Their style is generally cheeky, anarchic and subversive, a balance of strong women and graceful men.
The company have an ongoing social justice agenda and have generally been open about supporting humanist causes. Over the years this has included women's rights, land rights for First Nations Australians and strong opposition to the mandatory indefinite detention of asylum seekers. Circus Oz has performed in twenty-seven countries across five continents including four seasons on 42nd Street in New York, a number of seasons at Queen Elizabeth and Royal Festival Halls in London, a refugee camp in the West Bank, indigenous communities in the Australian desert and a glass opera house in the Brazilian rainforest. Over four million people have seen the company perform, and the show has been translated and performed in more than a dozen languages, including Hindi, Catalan and Danish. The troupe has broken box office records at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and represented Australia at many international festivals.
Until 2017, the company employed a full-time ensemble of 12 performers (an equal number of men and women), plus a technical crew, production and artistic departments.
Apart from touring nationally and internationally with their various shows, other parts of Circus Oz include:
- BLAKFlip, a programme connecting Australian Aboriginal performers and artists with the circus, including masterclasses, casting, performances, traineeships and guest artists;
- Circus Classes, public circus classes for the general public, adults, schools, and community groups to learn circus skills;
- The Melba Spiegeltent, a venue with a programme of cabaret, innovative performance, and local community events;
- SideSault, a Sector Support Programme, providing access to space for a selected series of small/medium-sized local performance groups (primarily using a circus vocabulary);
- High Flying Teams, a corporate team-building and training programme using circus as a skill-base for corporate training.
- St Leon, Mark (2011). Circus! The Australian Story. Melbourne Books. p. 240. ISBN 978-1-877096-50-1.
- "The History of Circus Oz by Jon Hawkes" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 March 2012. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
- Mullett, Jane (2005). Circus Alternatives: The Rise of New Circus in Australia, the United States, Canada and France. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation) La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia.
- Jensen-Kohl, Jesse (2018). Running Away to the Circus. (Unpublished Masters of Research Thesis) Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. p. 33.
- "Where We've Been: Chronology of Circus Oz". circusoz.com. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
- "Circus Oz web site". Circusoz.com.au. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
- Wolf, Gabbrielle (2008). Make it Australian: The Australian Performing Group, the Pram Factory and New Wave Theatre. Currency Press. ISBN 978-0-86819-816-3.
- St Leon, Mark (2011). Circus! The Australian Story. Melbourne Books. pp. 239–244. ISBN 978-1-877096-50-1.
- David Carlin; Laurene Vaughan, eds. (2015). Performing digital: multiple perspectives on a living archive. Ashgate. ISBN 9781472429728.
- Cheryl Threadgold (17 April 2013). "What a Circus! Circus Oz 35th Anniversary". Melbourne Observer: 13–14. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
- Official website
- Circus Oz Collection at the Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.
- Circus in Australia at the Australian culture and recreation portal
- The Circus Oz Living Archive collection. Comprises around 1000 Circus Oz videos taken from the 1970s to the present. It includes performances, interviews, rehearsals, documentaries and promotional footage.