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Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, visit order set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, viagra 100mg visit mind and soul, visit it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can.


Here follows a fascinating interview with Naomi.
Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography from Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, patient set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, website like this mind and soul, it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography from Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, decease set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, mind and soul, it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore from Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, dosage set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, viagra buy mind and soul, mind it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, clinic set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, more about mind and soul, more about it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, link set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, stuff mind and soul, viagra it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, sales set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, mind and soul, it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, this set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, story mind and soul, and it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow – from squatters to ‘legit’ workers. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, order set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, ask mind and soul, it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow – from squatters to ‘legit’ workers. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, remedy set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, prostate mind and soul, it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow – from squatters to ‘legit’ workers. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, sildenafil set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, pharmacy mind and soul, it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow – from squatters to ‘legit’ workers. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, link set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, web mind and soul, tadalafil it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow – from squatters to ‘legit’ workers. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, check set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, viagra sale mind and soul, it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow – from squatters to ‘legit’ workers. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?

The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!
Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

Gemma Milly-Invisible Circus
Illustration by Gemma Milly

I’m reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen at the moment. It’s a book about the train travelling circus, price set in prohibition era America. The story flits from the 1930s to the present day. Whilst highlighting the protagonist’s age and the unavoidable changes to his body, mind and soul, it also mutters under its breath of the stark changes within the circus world. The book depicts the ‘old’ circus as full of hardship – pure blood, sweat and tears stuff. The modern circuses are seen as refined pieces of machinery, in a factory made of satin. Is the magic lost within this? A touch of the romanticism? The circus’s underground beginnings would never have seen itself hovering pleasantly next to the Sherif’s house, yet now they are as above board as the Queen… aren’t they? I digress, the circus is glorious! Of course it is! BUT, there within the drama, a snatch of a risk, a missed heartbeat, a creative explosion, that’s the kind of circus I want to see.

There is one circus, The Invisible Circus, who hold all and more of the magic that comes with the old and new; from the hard graft and creativity, to the luxury/despairs of liberation. I’ve been fascinated with them since I moved to Bristol, where they’re based. The group squat in various disused buildings, clean them up and use the spaces for creative expression; for The Invisible Circus. I was lucky enough to go to a screening of Naomi Smyth‘s documentary on The Invisible Circus, which involved her following them for several years, becoming part of the group. She saw them change, inspire, shrink and grow – from squatters to ‘legit’ workers. Ultimately becoming something huge and recognised as beautiful and vital for a city’s inner beating, expression. It’s truly inspiring from a whole host of angles; those that influence our daily lives and the future of truly free art. And free people. DO try and watch the film if you can. Here follows the trailer to the film and a fascinating interview with Naomi Smyth.

Could you introduce yourself please?
I’m Naomi Smyth, I’m a filmmaker, performer and theatre writer/deviser.
How long have you been a film maker?
I’ve been freelancing as a director, camera op and editor on shorts, corporates, showreels, community films and some TV for 8 years. ‘Invisible Circus: No Dress Rehearsal’ is my first feature and the first film I created totally to my own brief.
How did you get into film making?
After my Theatre degree I did a Film and TV Production MA at Bristol Uni, more in order to get the technical skills to make my ideas happen than to get a job in TV. After that I did lots of free showreel building stuff in Bristol and became good enough to be paid.
Are you Bristol born yourself?
I was born in Portsmouth, a great place for an offbeat arty teenager to stare out to sea or in at the concrete and moan that nobody understands. Thankfully that isn’t true! My partner Sam was born in Bristol and wanted to come back here, so I came with him after my degree.
And who are The Invisible Circus?
They make groundbreaking, mindbending shows that combine site-specific, promenade, circus, spectacle and interactive theatre. They’re a large knot of very close, very creative people with a massive range of skills. Over the past four years they have emerged from the squat scene in Bristol and become professionals- both at being a circus and at managing huge derelict buildings as sister co-op Artspace Lifepace. Some crew members had lived outside the system for years , so there were lots of challenges along the way.
What initially interested you about them?
They were squatting a derelict 4-storey garage round the corner from my house. It was pretty manky but they had transformed parts of it with red draping and lighting and created this dark Victoriana aesthetic around the shows there. There was such creative energy about them and a real determination to create beauty out of waste and nothingness with their bare hands.
What made you want to film a documentary such as this; and over such a long period?
If I had known it would take four years I would never have begun! I just felt that this was an intriguing assortment of people who were going somewhere together, and they didn’t all feel the same way about where that was or should be. I thought that was interesting and there must be a story in it! It took about a year to really be sure what the thread was. I did a lot of sitting around with the camera running, wondering why I was there. When I did find the thread it took four years before I really felt the story had developed enough to be finished. CarnyVille is the Masterpiece of the circus so far, and the show that has involved the biggest part of Bristol’s creative community so I’m very glad I ended it with that. People still tell me there is more to film. They’re right, but I’m not doing it!

invisible circus by rebecca lewis
Illustration by Rebecca Lewis

Is it a social, economic and political statement/commentary?
The circus in the film is a group of very passionate creative people who start out underground, slightly flaky and disorganised and get successful, professional and popular. That process is socially interesting, and also political. It is tied into the way our economy and the power structures in our society work, but also the ones in our heads. Tough choices come up as they move further into dealing with the hierarchies of capitalism. They have a leader in Doug too, which is obvious from the outside- but for self proclaimed anarchists which many of them are, that’s a very uncomfortable idea. At the same time they are doing it all for no money, just for the love of making art together, for the sake of beauty and inspiration. That underpins the whole mission and really saves it from the traps along the way.
How did you end up getting involved in the circus yourself? What is your own act?
I don’t have a circus act- but The Invisible Circus has always been about blending theatre, circus and spectacle. It took me a while to get up the courage but now I’ve been in nearly every IC show since November 2007, so I’m pretty used to it! I work on the character and story aspects of the shows. On the night I either act and sing in stage shows, or improvise in character with audience members in our weird imaginary worlds. I’ve helped create Jobcentres, Zoos, Haunted Houses, weddings, reality TV shows, family Christmases… all with a ‘wrong’ twist.
How did you feel performing? What did you wear? How nervous were you?
The first time I performed with the circus was in a cabaret in a squatted pub in 2006. There were 200 odd people there and I sang a Tori Amos song and A Paul Simon song a capella. I was incredibly nervous- even then I was fairly confident with acting but I’d never sung in public before in my life. I had written this monologue and created a whole 20′s Southern Belle character- Tallulah La Moolah- basically as a ruse to convince myself it wasn’t ‘me’ singing.
Were you received well?
I got a great round of applause from a very generous audience. The monologue was definitely too long though!

Ringmaster by Madi
Illustration by Madi Illustration

What do you think about the ethics behind the group?
I think it is very hard to live ethically in our society. It’s much easier to accuse others of hypocrisy for falling short of perfection than it is to make whatever effort possible in your own life to act on your deep-down beliefs. The ethics and beliefs in the circus vary massively. I do feel everyone there is in some way critical of our wasteful consumer culture and is trying in whatever way they can to act on that feeling. Some avoid, some confront, some imagine other ways and some create them for themselves and others.
Did you ever live in one of the buildings the collective were residing in?
I’ve never lived with the circus. I think that made the film possible. Getting the distance to ask questions and edit footage of people I genuinely care about was hard enough. If I’d been waking up in that community every morning with all the internal politics and closeness and mix of work and friendship, then having to translate that into a film, I might have gone nuts.
How did you feel about the legality of what they were doing?
Squatting is legal and I hope it remains so, though the Tories are trying to change that. It’s a loophole that provides housing for people who need it and who take the initiative to sort a building out. Most of these places have lain derelict for ages and can be really nasty inside. It’s not for everyone but the squatters I know are responsible, self-reliant people who hate waste. It can take a lot of hard work to squat- and if they don’t trash the place they’re not costing anyone a penny. Most will do some renovations in order to make a property habitable for themselves so they can actually add value. As Nick says in the film, most squatters in the UK will move on when evicted. The stereotype of the squatters who nick an old lady’s flat while she’s on holiday is based on tabloid tales of a few isolated cases.

There are some pretty rampantly greedy property owners out there who think nothing of the effects a derelict property can have on the community around it. Look at Westmoreland House- it’s full of asbestos, a big rotted hole in Stokes Croft for the last few decades and when the council try to compulsory purchase it, the owners hike the price to way above its value. That’s perfectly legal because they own it. I think that’s a real crime.

The game changes when it comes to running events out of a squat because you can fall foul of licensing laws, health and safety etc. Personally I would like to see people having more freedom to use space and make things happen without all these costly hoops to jump through. I like to see people just doing stuff without asking for permission, and that was what attracted me to the circus in the first place. But the choice Doug and the circus made over the years was to learn what the hoops are and how to jump through them, and rise to that challenge of ‘going legit’. I respect that too because it means they now reach a wider audience and they’ve flown the flag for similar projects and showed the Council and local developers that grassroots arts organisations can be trusted with huge buildings and large scale projects.

INVISIBLE CIRCUS
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

It must have been tiring to make the film! How did you manage your days/workload?
It was pretty hard to balance my life and sanity with the hours I had to put in on the film. At first the money side was OK because I had a well paid part-time job- something I’d recommend for any struggling artist! But about halfway through when they got the huge Police Station building, the crew offered me a free space to edit in and I got possessed by enthusiasm and quit my job to go full time freelance. That was quite tough because although I was getting work, it was harder to make time for the unpaid work on my film. At one point I ‘microfunded’ a 2-month period off all other work for me to crack the edit. I raised about £1400 from friends, family and internet supporters- about 80 people chipped in. I basically lived in my studio on flapjacks and energy drink. I stopped sleeping and life got very strange for a while there.
How was your partner affected – he helped I saw on the film…?
One of the ways my partner Sam was affected was that he learned how to be a damn fine camera operator! I couldn’t always make shoots because of my job, so I trained him up on my camera and sent him out if there was something important happening. Obviously it wasn’t all roses- when I was doing my hardest stints of editing he was the one to pick up the pieces when I stumbled in all sleep deprived and teary-eyed and lay twitching on the sofa. He was also the first person to feed back on my edit, and he always said if he didn’t like something. I did go a bit mad around that time so I wasn’t always grateful for his advice shall we say! But I always made the changes in the end so I guess he was usually right.
Did your own opinion of The Invisible Circus change as the years passed?
The circus itself changed, and my friendships with them did too, so yes- but in too many ways to go into!

Invisible C
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

What about your opinions on Bristol?
What do you think about Bristol, how it has developed and how it supports creative communities?
I absolutely love Bristol. In terms of its creative output and variety of stuff happening here, it is world class. The issue it has is that it’s sometimes a bit introverted- we all just bimble about enjoying each other’s talent and not spreading the word beyond the city. So much of the best stuff happens on the level of the grassroots, where people aren’t as good at putting themselves out there or don’t have access to a world stage. There is probably stuff that the Council or arts agencies could have done better in years past but now that there is no funding, we artists have to put ourselves out there in DIY fashion! Which should mean we’re on the turf we know best.
Did the group alter your own opinions on life, art, Bristol, consumerism etc?
The biggest way the circus has changed me is to introduce me to literally hundreds of people, each with a different set of skills to bring, and thrown me into making exciting, exhausting shows with them. I’ve gained a whole new understanding of collaboration, friendship, art and my own priorities.
After that the biggest change has been the discipline required to create the whole film without anybody but me pushing me to do it. I always said that even if nobody ever wanted to see it, it was still worth making. Now to show it to people and have them respond to it, is incredible. I can’t wait to release it properly.
As filming progressed did you become, and are you still part of the group?
I am definitely part of the group now. That happened as I was making the film, and is partially documented in the story. Loads of new people have got involved over the past four years, so I’m kind of an old hand now. Though the real old hands are Dougie and Wim, who founded it 16 years ago when they were busking in Europe.
Do you still perform now?
I did theatre throughout my childhood and being in a company making new work was my big dream. I love documentary too, but yes I still perform and will continue for the rest of my life now. I get something from it that I can’t get anywhere else. I let my demons and dreams out for a run onstage. Bliss.

iCircus
Photography by Paul Blakemore of Neat Studios

How important do you think collectives like The Invisible Circus are for Bristol/the country?
Over a thousand people have worked on Invisible Circus shows in the past few years, and many thousands have been to them. And I’ve seen that nearly all those people have at some point been delighted, transported , or pushed to somewhere they’ve never seen or thought they could be. And I think people need that and I like being a part of it. So I think there should be more of it.
In their case the breadth of the imaginative worlds created is borne on the back of a very solid community who support each other in ways most people don’t with their workmates. I think that’s really positive too and I think it’s necessary to have a close community you can rely on- especially in tough economic times.
Do you have another project lined up?
I have a couple of ideas for my next film, but after wondering about pitching to broadcasters and making a few plans, I still think I’ll probably just have to start shooting it in earnest to find out what it is. I want a bit more time with it before I give it to anybody else to play with.
What do you see for the future of The Invisible Circus?
The Invisible Circus are going to be big. We’ve already had some exciting offers for this year. It’s still the old struggle of trying to financially sustain a large crew who like making elaborate sets and huge spectacles- but we are unstoppable! As the past few years have shown.
What do you hope to do with the film? Travel around the country/world with it?
I’ve had a great offer from transmedia co-op Future Artists to distribute the film. They are working on new ways of releasing films that are fairer for the artist and less expensive for everybody, and they are great people so I’m sure with them it will go far. Hopefully to some festivals first and then to screenings throughout the UK. We are talking about screening in unusual venues and ‘recycled’ spaces like the ones in the film, as well as normal cinemas. Tomorrow, the world!
And how would you like people to leave feeling?
I’d like people to leave uplifted, and inspired to do something about the idea at the back of their mind.
When and where can we next see the FILM?!
I’m not sure at the moment as I’ve just started working with Future Artists, but it shouldn’t be too long. You can keep up to date by following me on twitter: @InvisibleCFilm or visiting the website and subscribing to the mailing list.

C/Bruerberg A/W 2011 by Karla Pérez Manrique
C/Bruerberg A/W 2011 by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Four menswear designers in one fell swoop: Fashion Scout’s Ones to Watch Men was the first of its kind and my last fashion show of the A/W 2011 season.

C/Bruerberg A/W 2011 by Karla Pérez Manrique
C/Bruerberg A/W 2011 by Karla Pérez Manrique.

C/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryC/Bruerberg A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory

C/Bruerberg A/W 2011 by Rebecca Strickson
C/Bruerberg A/W 2011 by Rebecca Strickson.

My favourite was undoubtedly the first one out and the one collection designed by a girl. C/Bruerberg produces wonderful knitwear – a raggle-taggle collection of clashing materials, viagra dosage finely executed lace and draped shapes with sheer panels. Her colour palette was a confident mix of browns and greys with bright green and reds. I loved the playful accessorising of dangling head and neckpieces and the digital prints were equally strong. Camilla Bruerberg graduated from the Oslo National Academy of the Arts in 2008 and has collaborated with Royksopp and the Norwegian theatre.

A.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryA.Hallucination A/W 2011 by Alison Day
A.Hallucination A/W 2011 by Alison Day.

This season A.Hallucination by Hwan Sun Park and Chung Chung Lee showed their usual blend of well tailored suits and fine detailing, search focusing on contrasting quilted panels and sweet little touches such as bowties and ruffles. Jacket sleeves were rolled up, cure boots slouched. There was also a range of large bags slung across the back – rucksacks are a big emerging trend for men.

Mr Lipop A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMr Lipop A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMr Lipop A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMr Lipop A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMr Lipop A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMr Lipop A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMr Lipop A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMr Lipop A/W 2011 by Jane Young
Mr Lipop A/W 2011 by Jane Young.

Aside from having a rather wonderful/silly name, Mr Lipop produced what was surely the most commercial collection of Ones to Watch, rife with wearable items. Hoods, tailored leather backpacks, loose sheepskin and relaxed suiting was the order of the day. He’s worked as a tailor for Nathan Jenden for several seasons, but maybe a relaxed approach comes from his love of football – not the most obvious choice of hobby for a fashion designer. Bit concerned that was real fur trim though. Naughty step for Mr Pop if so.

Asger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryAsger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryAsger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryAsger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryAsger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryAsger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryAsger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryAsger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryAsger Juel Larson A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory
Asger Juel Larson A/W 2011. All photography by Amelia Gregory.

With his Uncle Sam collection Asger Juel Larson drew the most surprised looks from big retail buyers in the front row – maybe because of the crucifix encrusted top hat? Or the feathered headdress made from two entire wings? Or the amazing holey knitwear encrusted with what looked like deflated balloons, worn over leather hot pants and not much else? Surely these are highly sellable items, non? Asger is a London College of Fashion graduate with some considerable hype to his name since being involved with Turkish luxe label Tween. According to the press release he’s inspired by historic events to create a sharp structured silhouette, though I’d say he owes more to the fantasy of High Gothic films.

Asger Juel Larson A/W 2011 by Sam Parr
Asger Juel Larson A/W 2011 by Sam Parr.

When I worked as a stylist I loved styling men far more than women, but because I struggled to find good menswear I invariably ended up using the same brands all the time. So it’s great that the much talked about renaissance in menswear design is finally happening and is getting such great support from Fashion Scout director Martyn Roberts. I look forward to next season with anticipation.

Categories ,A.Hallucination, ,Asger Juel Larson, ,C/Bruerberg, ,Camilla Bruerberg, ,Chung Chung Lee, ,Fashion Scout, ,Freemasons’ Hall, ,High Gothic, ,Hwan Sung Park, ,Jane Young, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,lfw, ,London College of Fashion, ,London Kills Me, ,Martyn Robert, ,menswear, ,Mr Lipop, ,Nathan Jenden, ,Norwegian, ,Ones To Watch, ,Ones to Watch Men, ,Oslo National Academy of the Arts, ,Rebecca Strickson, ,Royksopp, ,Sam Parr, ,tailoring, ,Tween, ,Uncle Sam

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Amelia’s Magazine | London Fashion Week A/W 2011: Paul Costelloe (by Amelia)


Illustration by Artist Andrea

This is my first front row show at London Fashion Week, viagra sale so I’m terribly excited. So far I’ve been stomped on, there pushed and poked in my attempt to view the catwalk, so this good fortune is very much welcomed. A photographer makes his way down the catwalk before the main event starts and snaps the front row. I’m not sure I should be here, but I smile like I own my seat. And as the lights dim, then brilliantly alight once more, my camera is swiftly awakened; lens cap off, switch flicked on, pointing to shoot. Queue the music and it begins.


Illustrations by Fritha Strickland

Monochrome trails the catwalk with authority and chic; a combination of dark strong leather shorts and skirts and light flowing chiffon shirts. Military tailoring softened with fluidity. They’re embellished with a bullet detailing, which, I later learn, is inspired by the Georgian National Ballets costume worn by male ballet dancers. The Georgian National Ballet costumes have also been the source of inspiration for a variety of designers. Did you know that writer Terry Nation’s creation of the Daleks in Doctor Who was inspired by costumes of the Georgian National Ballet too?


The hair compliments the theme. Long Heidi style plaits, careful topknots and intricately braided updos. Clean, neat, confident. And what of the shoes?! I’m tempted to pull a pair of Lako Bukia stunning signature (Mary Jane-esque) heels right off the pretty feet of an unassuming model.

The catwalk changes colour, as the black and whites retreat and the wines, dusky pinks and pearly greys glide in. Colours are good. Colours make me happy. Beautiful swirling chiffon skirts accompanying softly draping silk shirts, then leather trousers and leather skirts and leather shouldered chiffon shirts.


Illustrations by Avril Kelly

On float dreamy wispy dresses. Criss-crossing leather straps add a touch of the urban, reigning in the wearer, back to the city, whilst shoulders of golden coins encourage indulgence and a retreat into the sublime.


Live illustration by Jenny Robins

But it’s the finale that really causes ooohing and aaahing and eyes to widen. A deep blood red dress, its upper half blanketed in golden coins and a skirt that sweeps the floor and ripples as the model moves. It’s obviously the piece the designer is most proud of, as she captures the stage accompanied by her final piece.

More applause and then it’s over and the audience is rushing to get to their next show. A guest sitting in the row behind me is trying to get a hold of something under my seat, so I turn to help her. She jumps back.

“Erm… Can I have your goodie bag,” she asks coyly. Oh my! She had just tried to steal my goodie bag and I had almost let her, I realise. I smile and decline her request. I should probably thank her for alerting me. I’m feeling almost guilty for refusing her now, but hey, this is my first London Fashion Week goody bag and I’m taking it!

All photography by Akeela Bhattay


Illustration by Artist Andrea

This is my first front row show at London Fashion Week, sick so I’m terribly excited. So far I’ve been stomped on, pushed and poked in my attempt to view the catwalk, so this good fortune is very much welcomed. A photographer makes his way down the catwalk before the main event starts and snaps the front row. I’m not sure I should be here, but I smile like I own my seat. And as the lights dim, then brilliantly alight once more, my camera is swiftly awakened; lens cap off, switch flicked on, pointing to shoot. Queue the music and it begins.


Illustrations by Fritha Strickland

Monochrome trails the catwalk with authority and chic; a combination of dark strong leather shorts and skirts and light flowing chiffon shirts. Military tailoring softened with fluidity. They’re embellished with a bullet detailing, which, I later learn, is inspired by the Georgian National Ballets costume worn by male ballet dancers. The Georgian National Ballet costumes have also been the source of inspiration for a variety of designers. Did you know that writer Terry Nation’s creation of the Daleks in Doctor Who was inspired by costumes of the Georgian National Ballet too?


The hair compliments the theme. Long Heidi style plaits, careful topknots and intricately braided updos. Clean, neat, confident. And what of the shoes?! I’m tempted to pull a pair of Lako Bukia stunning signature (Mary Jane-esque) heels right off the pretty feet of an unassuming model.

The catwalk changes colour, as the black and whites retreat and the wines, dusky pinks and pearly greys glide in. Colours are good. Colours make me happy. Beautiful swirling chiffon skirts accompanying softly draping silk shirts, then leather trousers and leather skirts and leather shouldered chiffon shirts.


Illustrations by Avril Kelly

On float dreamy wispy dresses. Criss-crossing leather straps add a touch of the urban, reigning in the wearer, back to the city, whilst shoulders of golden coins encourage indulgence and a retreat into the sublime.


Live illustration by Jenny Robins

But it’s the finale that really causes ooohing and aaahing and eyes to widen. A deep blood red dress, its upper half blanketed in golden coins and a skirt that sweeps the floor and ripples as the model moves. It’s obviously the piece the designer is most proud of, as she captures the stage accompanied by her final piece.

More applause and then it’s over and the audience is rushing to get to their next show. A guest sitting in the row behind me is trying to get a hold of something under my seat, so I turn to help her. She jumps back.

“Erm… Can I have your goodie bag,” she asks coyly. Oh my! She had just tried to steal my goodie bag and I had almost let her, I realise. I smile and decline her request. I should probably thank her for alerting me. I’m feeling almost guilty for refusing her now, but hey, this is my first London Fashion Week goody bag and I’m taking it!

All photography by Akeela Bhattay

See more of Artist Andrea and Jenny Robins’ illustrations in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration.

Anja Maklar by Madi

Ones to Watch is always one of my favourite parts of London Fashion Week, more about four fresh designers, drug one after another and always packed to the rafters it’s a really nice way to see contrasting styles. Generally it’s a mixed bag, ambulance read our preview here and last year’s review here. Famous spots in the audience were Susie Bubble and Laura Santamaria.

Anja Maklar

The designer presented a collection of pastels, with cut out and overlap details. In answer to Matt’s pondering in his write up of the designer, she has indeed developed some of the key styles which were seen in her SS11 show, in particular the laser cut detail and the triangle shape of her dresses.

This was a fun, pleasantly pastel, colourful collection with plenty to keep the audience interested.

Kirsty Ward

Kirsty Ward by Anne N’Toko

This is definitely a designer to keep your eye on. Part of a growing crop of young graduates who really bring jewellery into their collections, her AW11 offering was brimming with sparkly adornments and beautiful cut clothes. In particular, the use of cut out panels throughout, was very effective.

A palette with gold, bronze and brown, the autumnal colours were accented with sudden all-in-white outfits and stunning oversized necklaces. A favourite for me was the mesh bronze dress, which caught the light beautifully as the model walked down the catwalk.

Sara Bro Jorgensen

Definitely my favourite collection out of the four, Jorgensen has a hint of Mark Fast and Laura Theiss about her designs but has added an edgier, rocky feel to knitted yarns.

Sara Bro Jorgensen by Maria Papadimitriou

Mostly black, her collection showcased knitted dresses with lots of hanging threads and beads. There were also some highly covetable leggings with shiny black slivers of PVC running down the middle of the leg.

My favourite part of the collection, however, was the cute headgear sported by all the models. Little knitted caps in black and dark blue were worn with nearly every single look.

As well as the black, white knitted cardigans and dresses were worn with grey, splatter print swingy trousers and shorts. The black versus white theme was continued with trompe l’oeil printed dresses complete with tuxedo jacket, waistcoat, shirt and bow tiees.

Tze Gogh

Tze Gogh by Joe Turvey

The last of our Ones to Watch is Tze Gogh who graduated from Parsons in New York and then completed his masters at Central Saint Martins.

Gogh’s collection was understated, with clean simple lines in block colours of midnight blue, husky grey and black. The structured coats, dresses and jackets cleverly retained their shape as the models walked and I would love to know what material he uses, but I couldn’t help feeling that more could have been done to make the collection stand out.

However, I do applaud how he has retained from over designing his clothes and has kept a minimal aesthetic.

Anja Maklar by Madi

Ones to Watch is always one of my favourite parts of London Fashion Week, for sale four fresh designers, view one after another and always packed to the rafters, medications it’s a really nice way to see contrasting styles. Generally it’s a mixed bag, read our preview here and last year’s review here. Famous spots in the audience include infamous blogger Susie Bubble and ethical fashion editor Laura Santamaria. The four young designers were profiled ahead of London Fashion Week by Matt, you can read a bit more about their background, influences and style here.

Anja Maklar

The designer presented a collection of pastels, with cut out and overlap details. In answer to Matt’s pondering in his write up of the designer, she has indeed developed some of the key styles which were seen in her SS11 show, in particular the laser cut detail and the triangle shape of her dresses.

This was a fun, pleasantly pastel, colourful collection with plenty to keep the audience interested.

Kirsty Ward

Kirsty Ward by Anne N’Toko

This is definitely a designer to keep your eye on. Part of a growing crop of young graduates who really bring jewellery into their collections, her AW11 offering was brimming with sparkly adornments and beautiful cut clothes. In particular, the use of cut out panels throughout, was very effective.

A palette with gold, bronze and brown, the autumnal colours were accented with sudden all-in-white outfits and stunning oversized necklaces. A favourite for me was the mesh bronze dress, which caught the light beautifully as the model walked down the catwalk.

Sara Bro Jorgensen

Definitely my favourite collection out of the four, Jorgensen has a hint of Mark Fast and Laura Theiss about her designs but has added an edgier, rocky feel to knitted yarns.

Sara Bro Jorgensen by Maria Papadimitriou

Mostly black, her collection showcased knitted dresses with lots of hanging threads and beads. There were also some highly covetable leggings with shiny black slivers of PVC running down the middle of the leg.

My favourite part of the collection, however, was the cute headgear sported by all the models. Little knitted caps in black and dark blue were worn with nearly every single look.

As well as the black, white knitted cardigans and dresses were worn with grey, splatter print swingy trousers and shorts. The black versus white theme was continued with trompe l’oeil printed dresses complete with tuxedo jacket, waistcoat, shirt and bow tiees.

Tze Gogh

Tze Gogh by Joe Turvey

The last of our Ones to Watch is Tze Gogh who graduated from Parsons in New York and then completed his masters at Central Saint Martins.

Gogh’s collection was understated, with clean simple lines in block colours of midnight blue, husky grey and black. The structured coats, dresses and jackets cleverly retained their shape as the models walked and I would love to know what material he uses, but I couldn’t help feeling that more could have been done to make the collection stand out.

However, I do applaud how he has retained from over designing his clothes and has kept a minimal aesthetic.

Anja Maklar by Madi

Ones to Watch is always one of my favourite parts of London Fashion Week, stuff four fresh designers, discount one after another and always packed to the rafters, sales it’s a really nice way to see contrasting styles. Generally it’s a mixed bag, read our preview here and last year’s review here. Famous spots in the audience include infamous blogger Susie Bubble and ethical fashion editor Laura Santamaria. The four young designers were profiled ahead of London Fashion Week by Matt, you can read a bit more about their background, influences and style here.

Anja Maklar

The designer presented a collection of pastels, with cut out and overlap details. In answer to Matt’s pondering in his write up of the designer, she has indeed developed some of the key styles which were seen in her SS11 show, in particular the laser cut detail and the triangle shape of her dresses.

This was a fun, pleasantly pastel, colourful collection with plenty to keep the audience interested.

Kirsty Ward

Kirsty Ward by Anne N’Toko

This is definitely a designer to keep your eye on. Part of a growing crop of young graduates who really bring jewellery into their collections, her AW11 offering was brimming with sparkly adornments and beautiful cut clothes. In particular, the use of cut out panels throughout, was very effective.

A palette with gold, bronze and brown, the autumnal colours were accented with sudden all-in-white outfits and stunning oversized necklaces. A favourite for me was the mesh bronze dress, which caught the light beautifully as the model walked down the catwalk.

Sara Bro Jorgensen

Definitely my favourite collection out of the four, Jorgensen has a hint of Mark Fast and Laura Theiss about her designs but has added an edgier, rocky feel to knitted yarns.

Sara Bro Jorgensen by Maria Papadimitriou

Mostly black, her collection showcased knitted dresses with lots of hanging threads and beads. There were also some highly covetable leggings with shiny black slivers of PVC running down the middle of the leg.

My favourite part of the collection, however, was the cute headgear sported by all the models. Little knitted caps in black and dark blue were worn with nearly every single look.

As well as the black, white knitted cardigans and dresses were worn with grey, splatter print swingy trousers and shorts. The black versus white theme was continued with trompe l’oeil printed dresses complete with tuxedo jacket, waistcoat, shirt and bow tiees.

Tze Gogh

Tze Gogh by Joe Turvey

The last of our Ones to Watch is Tze Gogh who graduated from Parsons in New York and then completed his masters at Central Saint Martins.

Gogh’s collection was understated, with clean simple lines in block colours of midnight blue, husky grey and black. The structured coats, dresses and jackets cleverly retained their shape as the models walked and I would love to know what material he uses, but I couldn’t help feeling that more could have been done to make the collection stand out.

However, I do applaud how he has retained from over designing his clothes and has kept a minimal aesthetic.

Anja Maklar by Madi

Ones to Watch is always one of my favourite parts of London Fashion Week, viagra sale four fresh designers, one after another and always packed to the rafters, it’s a really nice way to see contrasting styles. Generally it’s a mixed bag, read our preview here and last year’s review here. Famous spots in the audience include infamous blogger Susie Bubble and ethical fashion editor Laura Santamaria. The four young designers were profiled ahead of London Fashion Week by Matt, you can read a bit more about their background, influences and style here.

Anja Maklar

The designer presented a collection of pastels, with cut out and overlap details. In answer to Matt’s pondering in his write up of the designer, she has indeed developed some of the key styles which were seen in her SS11 show, in particular the laser cut detail and the triangle shape of her dresses.

This was a fun, pleasantly pastel, colourful collection with plenty to keep the audience interested.

Kirsty Ward

Kirsty Ward by Anne N’Toko

This is definitely a designer to keep your eye on. Part of a growing crop of young graduates who really bring jewellery into their collections, her AW11 offering was brimming with sparkly adornments and beautiful cut clothes. In particular, the use of cut out panels throughout, was very effective.

A palette with gold, bronze and brown, the autumnal colours were accented with sudden all-in-white outfits and stunning oversized necklaces. A favourite for me was the mesh bronze dress, which caught the light beautifully as the model walked down the catwalk.

Sara Bro Jorgensen

Definitely my favourite collection out of the four, Jorgensen has a hint of Mark Fast and Laura Theiss about her designs but has added an edgier, rocky feel to knitted yarns.

Sara Bro Jorgensen by Maria Papadimitriou

Mostly black, her collection showcased knitted dresses with lots of hanging threads and beads. There were also some highly covetable leggings with shiny black slivers of PVC running down the middle of the leg.

My favourite part of the collection, however, was the cute headgear sported by all the models. Little knitted caps in black and dark blue were worn with nearly every single look.

As well as the black, white knitted cardigans and dresses were worn with grey, splatter print swingy trousers and shorts. The black versus white theme was continued with trompe l’oeil printed dresses complete with tuxedo jacket, waistcoat, shirt and bow tiees.

Tze Gogh

Tze Gogh by Joe Turvey

The last of our Ones to Watch is Tze Gogh who graduated from Parsons in New York and then completed his masters at Central Saint Martins.

Gogh’s collection was understated, with clean simple lines in block colours of midnight blue, husky grey and black. The structured coats, dresses and jackets cleverly retained their shape as the models walked and I would love to know what material he uses, but I couldn’t help feeling that more could have been done to make the collection stand out.

However, I do applaud how he has retained from over designing his clothes and has kept a minimal aesthetic.

Anja Maklar by Madi

Ones to Watch is always one of my favourite parts of London Fashion Week, information pills four fresh designers, one after another and always packed to the rafters, it’s a really nice way to see contrasting styles. Generally it’s a mixed bag, read our preview here and last year’s review here. Famous spots in the audience include infamous blogger Susie Bubble and ethical fashion editor Laura Santamaria. The four young designers were profiled ahead of London Fashion Week by Matt, you can read a bit more about their background, influences and style here.

Anja Maklar

The designer presented a collection of pastels, with cut out and overlap details. In answer to Matt’s pondering in his write up of the designer, she has indeed developed some of the key styles which were seen in her SS11 show, in particular the laser cut detail and the triangle shape of her dresses.

This was a fun, pleasantly pastel, colourful collection with plenty to keep the audience interested.

Kirsty Ward

Kirsty Ward by Anne N’Toko

This is definitely a designer to keep your eye on. Part of a growing crop of young graduates who really bring jewellery into their collections, her AW11 offering was brimming with sparkly adornments and beautiful cut clothes. In particular, the use of cut out panels throughout, was very effective.

A palette with gold, bronze and brown, the autumnal colours were accented with sudden all-in-white outfits and stunning oversized necklaces. A favourite for me was the mesh bronze dress, which caught the light beautifully as the model walked down the catwalk.

Sara Bro Jorgensen

Definitely my favourite collection out of the four, Jorgensen has a hint of Mark Fast and Laura Theiss about her designs but has added an edgier, rocky feel to knitted yarns.

Sara Bro Jorgensen by Maria Papadimitriou

Mostly black, her collection showcased knitted dresses with lots of hanging threads and beads. There were also some highly covetable leggings with shiny black slivers of PVC running down the middle of the leg.

My favourite part of the collection, however, was the cute headgear sported by all the models. Little knitted caps in black and dark blue were worn with nearly every single look.

As well as the black, white knitted cardigans and dresses were worn with grey, splatter print swingy trousers and shorts. The black versus white theme was continued with trompe l’oeil printed dresses complete with tuxedo jacket, waistcoat, shirt and bow tiees.

Tze Gogh

Tze Gogh by Joe Turvey

The last of our Ones to Watch is Tze Gogh who graduated from Parsons in New York and then completed his masters at Central Saint Martins.

Gogh’s collection was understated, with clean simple lines in block colours of midnight blue, husky grey and black. The structured coats, dresses and jackets cleverly retained their shape as the models walked and I would love to know what material he uses, but I couldn’t help feeling that more could have been done to make the collection stand out.

However, I do applaud how he has retained from over designing his clothes and has kept a minimal aesthetic.

Anja Maklar by Madi

Ones to Watch is always one of my favourite parts of London Fashion Week, online four fresh designers, pharmacy one after another and always packed to the rafters, visit this it’s a really nice way to see contrasting styles. Generally it’s a mixed bag, read our preview here and last year’s review here. Famous spots in the audience include infamous blogger Susie Bubble and ethical fashion editor Laura Santamaria. The four young designers were profiled ahead of London Fashion Week by Matt, you can read a bit more about their background, influences and style here.

Anja Maklar

The designer presented a collection of pastels, with cut out and overlap details. In answer to Matt’s pondering in his write up of the designer, she has indeed developed some of the key styles which were seen in her SS11 show, in particular the laser cut detail and the triangle shape of her dresses.

This was a fun, pleasantly pastel, colourful collection with plenty to keep the audience interested.

Kirsty Ward

Kirsty Ward by Anne N’Toko

This is definitely a designer to keep your eye on. Part of a growing crop of young graduates who really bring jewellery into their collections, her AW11 offering was brimming with sparkly adornments and beautiful cut clothes. In particular, the use of cut out panels throughout, was very effective.

A palette with gold, bronze and brown, the autumnal colours were accented with sudden all-in-white outfits and stunning oversized necklaces. A favourite for me was the mesh bronze dress, which caught the light beautifully as the model walked down the catwalk.

Sara Bro Jorgensen

Definitely my favourite collection out of the four, Jorgensen has a hint of Mark Fast and Laura Theiss about her designs but has added an edgier, rocky feel to knitted yarns.

Sara Bro Jorgensen by Maria Papadimitriou

Mostly black, her collection showcased knitted dresses with lots of hanging threads and beads. There were also some highly covetable leggings with shiny black slivers of PVC running down the middle of the leg.

My favourite part of the collection, however, was the cute headgear sported by all the models. Little knitted caps in black and dark blue were worn with nearly every single look.

As well as the black, white knitted cardigans and dresses were worn with grey, splatter print swingy trousers and shorts. The black versus white theme was continued with trompe l’oeil printed dresses complete with tuxedo jacket, waistcoat, shirt and bow tiees.

Tze Gogh

Tze Gogh by Joe Turvey

The last of our Ones to Watch is Tze Gogh who graduated from Parsons in New York and then completed his masters at Central Saint Martins.

Gogh’s collection was understated, with clean simple lines in block colours of midnight blue, husky grey and black. The structured coats, dresses and jackets cleverly retained their shape as the models walked and I would love to know what material he uses, but I couldn’t help feeling that more could have been done to make the collection stand out.

However, I do applaud how he has retained from over designing his clothes and has kept a minimal aesthetic.

Anja Maklar by Madi

Ones to Watch is always one of my favourite parts of London Fashion Week, sildenafil four fresh designers, doctor one after another and always packed to the rafters, dosage it’s a really nice way to see contrasting styles. Generally it’s a mixed bag, read our preview here and last year’s review here. Famous spots in the audience include infamous blogger Susie Bubble and ethical fashion editor Laura Santamaria. The four young designers were profiled ahead of London Fashion Week by Matt, you can read a bit more about their background, influences and style here.

Anja Maklar

The designer presented a collection of pastels, with cut out and overlap details. In answer to Matt’s pondering in his write up of the designer, she has indeed developed some of the key styles which were seen in her SS11 show, in particular the laser cut detail and the triangle shape of her dresses.

This was a fun, pleasantly pastel, colourful collection with plenty to keep the audience interested.

Kirsty Ward

Kirsty Ward by Anne N’Toko

This is definitely a designer to keep your eye on. Part of a growing crop of young graduates who really bring jewellery into their collections, her AW11 offering was brimming with sparkly adornments and beautiful cut clothes. In particular, the use of cut out panels throughout, was very effective.

A palette with gold, bronze and brown, the autumnal colours were accented with sudden all-in-white outfits and stunning oversized necklaces. A favourite for me was the mesh bronze dress, which caught the light beautifully as the model walked down the catwalk.

Sara Bro Jorgensen

Definitely my favourite collection out of the four, Jorgensen has a hint of Mark Fast and Laura Theiss about her designs but has added an edgier, rocky feel to knitted yarns.

Sara Bro Jorgensen by Maria Papadimitriou

Mostly black, her collection showcased knitted dresses with lots of hanging threads and beads. There were also some highly covetable leggings with shiny black slivers of PVC running down the middle of the leg.

My favourite part of the collection, however, was the cute headgear sported by all the models. Little knitted caps in black and dark blue were worn with nearly every single look.

As well as the black, white knitted cardigans and dresses were worn with grey, splatter print swingy trousers and shorts. The black versus white theme was continued with trompe l’oeil printed dresses complete with tuxedo jacket, waistcoat, shirt and bow tiees.

Tze Gogh

Tze Gogh by Joe Turvey

The last of our Ones to Watch is Tze Gogh who graduated from Parsons in New York and then completed his masters at Central Saint Martins.

Gogh’s collection was understated, with clean simple lines in block colours of midnight blue, husky grey and black. The structured coats, dresses and jackets cleverly retained their shape as the models walked and I would love to know what material he uses, but I couldn’t help feeling that more could have been done to make the collection stand out.

However, I do applaud how he has retained from over designing his clothes and has kept a minimal aesthetic.

Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton
Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton.

Those in the business know that I took quite a few years off from attending the shows, check but I’ve been gradually creeping back into LFW and this season Amelia’s Magazine really has been out in force. I’ve attended a record number of catwalk shows and presentations, approved leaving me very little time to actually write or edit photos and commission illustrations. Meanwhile, side effects my wonderful team of contributors have been working their collective butt off. With the result that this is our third blog post about Paul Costelloe… and only my first. And it’s a WEEK since the shows started. Tut tut.

Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Antonia ParkerAntonia-Parker-A-W-2011-Paul-Costelloe-A
Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Antonia Parker.

Last season Paul really cemented his comeback with a well received opener to S/S LFW – which would explain why this show seemed so much better attended than the last… good words can spread like wildfire in fashion land. This season he did it again, despite rumours swirling around on the day that the label went into receivership recently – a quick google search revealing that a new backer in the form of Calvelex was unveiled on the same day of his A/W show. This time it was not his sons but his towering opera singing flame-haired daughter that Paul sent down the catwalk. Does he have anymore offspring squirrelled around somewhere? If not, who the hell will do the familial duty next season?

Paul Costelloe A-W 2011-daughter Jessica
Paul’s daughter Jessica opened the show. Photography by Amelia Gregory.

Once Amazonian daughter Jessica had left centre stage with a cocky little smile it was down to business as four pink pyramid-haired ladies strode onto the catwalk en masse, resplendent in emerald and fern green boucle tweed and textured metallic silks swinging coat dresses.

Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by jenny robins
Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Jenny Robins.

Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Karla Pérez Manrique
Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Karla Pérez Manrique.

The collection swiftly moved through a spectrum of mustards, oranges and red checks on big collared dresses, boxy crop jackets and mini skater skirts, interspersed by the odd splash of luxurious menswear – my favourite being a sumptuous deep red velvet jacket. Swing shapes, splashy flower prints, cowl necks and big collars were the order of the day. Extremely delish, and very more-ish.

Paul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia GregoryPaul Costelloe A/W 2011 by Amelia Gregory

Paul Costelloe A/W 2011. All photography by Amelia Gregory.LFW A-W 2011-Paul Costelloe family
I managed to sneak a quick photo of Paul Costelloe as he was leaving Somerset House with his massive brood; Paul resplendent in a pair of sparkling new white pumps.

Read Matt Bramford’s review of the show here, and Jemma Crow’s review here. You can see more of Antonia Parker and Jenny Robins’ illustrations in Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration.

Categories ,ACOFI, ,Amazonian, ,Amelia’s Compendium of Fashion Illustration, ,Antonia Parker, ,Calvelex, ,Ellie Sutton, ,Flower prints, ,Jemma Crow, ,Jenny Robins, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,Matt Bramford, ,Paul Costelloe, ,Velvet

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Amelia’s Magazine | London Fashion Week A/W 2011 Presentation Review: Maria Francesca Pepe (by Amelia)

Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton
Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton.

Osman. Not a name that I’m overly familiar with, healing stomach although we have frequently written about designer Osman Yousefzada. He’s trained the likes of the super talented Henrietta Ludgate and when he showed as part of Fashion in Motion at the V&A we were there to admire his work.

Osman. Photography by Tim Adey
Osman. Photography by Tim Adey.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger
Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger.

So it was that with enthusiasm I went to my first Osman show, pilule settling on the front row to much amusement as another contributor befriended the head buyer of Browns. Next along some buyers threw a hissy fit when asked to move in favour of Liberty, at which they threatened to leave the show and what’s worse, cancel their Osman orders. I do find these insights into the actual trade part of LFW most intriguing – buyers are massively important at the shows where large orders from key retailers really matter… namely the shows in the BFC tent. And it’s the Liberty and Browns of this world which are Gods, something which lesser shop buyers may discover the embarrassing way. Needless to say I kept my head down and stuck to admiring the ink splodge catwalk, protected the entire length by guards.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
How much do I love this dress?!

Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton
Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton.

The Afghan designer is fabled for his clean, regal lines and this was much in evidence as the show opened with a stunning white and royal blue dress that mirrored the catwalk design, which in turn was inspired by a series of lightbox installations by the artist Catherine Yass. Satu Fox wrote in 2009 of Osman’s refusal to follow current trends and this still felt very true in a beautifully elegant show where pared down tailoring was absolutely the order of the day.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger
Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger.

Wide legged trousers, A-line maxi-dresses, a caped dress underscored with a splash of orange, beautiful marled grey boucle wool fabrics… and an intriguing gold apron outfit which opened at the back. I could imagine almost every outfit being worn and admired… there was no filler here. The show ended with a return to the royal blue splotch theme, this time across the breast area of a searing fuchsia maxi-dress. This was an extremely confident collection that explained to me precisely why Osman has the buyers salivating. Absolutely gorgeous. If only he hadn’t ruined it with that one piece of what I presume was fur… entirely unnecessary.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
Fur? Or an interesting use of alpaca wool? We’re not sure, and nor is anyone else… I really do hope the latter.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.

You can read Naomi Law’s equally admiring review here.
Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton
Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton.

Osman. Not a name that I’m overly familiar with, viagra 100mg although we have frequently written about designer Osman Yousefzada. He’s trained the likes of the super talented Henrietta Ludgate and when he showed as part of Fashion in Motion at the V&A we were there to admire his work.

Osman. Photography by Tim Adey
Osman. Photography by Tim Adey.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger
Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger.

So it was that with enthusiasm I went to my first Osman show, settling on the front row to much amusement as another contributor befriended the head buyer of Browns. Next along some buyers threw a hissy fit when asked to move in favour of Liberty, at which they threatened to leave the show and what’s worse, cancel their Osman orders. I do find these insights into the actual trade part of LFW most intriguing – buyers are massively important at the shows where large orders from key retailers really matter… namely the shows in the BFC tent. And it’s the Liberty and Browns of this world which are Gods, something which lesser shop buyers may discover the embarrassing way. Needless to say I kept my head down and stuck to admiring the ink splodge catwalk, protected the entire length by guards.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
How much do I love this dress?!

Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton
Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton.

The Afghan designer is fabled for his clean, regal lines and this was much in evidence as the show opened with a stunning white and royal blue dress that mirrored the catwalk design, which in turn was inspired by a series of lightbox installations by the artist Catherine Yass. Satu Fox wrote in 2009 of Osman’s refusal to follow current trends and this still felt very true in a beautifully elegant show where pared down tailoring was absolutely the order of the day.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger
Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger.

Wide legged trousers, A-line maxi-dresses, a caped dress underscored with a splash of orange, beautiful marled grey boucle wool fabrics… and an intriguing gold apron outfit which opened at the back. I could imagine almost every outfit being worn and admired… there was no filler here. The show ended with a return to the royal blue splotch theme, this time across the breast area of a searing fuchsia maxi-dress. This was an extremely confident collection that explained to me precisely why Osman has the buyers salivating. Absolutely gorgeous. If only he hadn’t ruined it with that one piece of what I presume was fur… entirely unnecessary.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
Fur? Or an interesting use of alpaca wool? We’re not sure, and nor is anyone else… I really do hope the latter.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.

You can read Naomi Law’s equally admiring review here.
Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton
Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton.

Osman. Not a name that I’m overly familiar with, dosage although we have frequently written about designer Osman Yousefzada. He’s trained the likes of the super talented Henrietta Ludgate and when he showed as part of Fashion in Motion at the V&A we were there to admire his work.

Osman. Photography by Tim Adey
Osman. Photography by Tim Adey.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger
Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger.

So it was that with enthusiasm I went to my first Osman show, ask settling on the front row to much amusement as another contributor befriended the head buyer of Browns. Next along some buyers threw a hissy fit when asked to move in favour of Liberty, at which they threatened to leave the show and what’s worse, cancel their Osman orders. I do find these insights into the actual trade part of LFW most intriguing – buyers are massively important at the shows where large orders from key retailers really matter… namely the shows in the BFC tent. And it’s the Liberty and Browns of this world which are Gods, something which lesser shop buyers may discover the embarrassing way. Needless to say I kept my head down and stuck to admiring the ink splodge catwalk, protected the entire length by guards.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
How much do I love this dress?!

Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton
Osman A/W 2011 by Ellie Sutton.

The Afghan designer is fabled for his clean, regal lines and this was much in evidence as the show opened with a stunning white and royal blue dress that mirrored the catwalk design, which in turn was inspired by a series of lightbox installations by the artist Catherine Yass. Satu Fox wrote in 2009 of Osman’s refusal to follow current trends and this still felt very true in a beautifully elegant show where pared down tailoring was absolutely the order of the day.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger
Osman A/W 2011 by Holly Monger.

Wide legged trousers, A-line maxi-dresses, a caped dress underscored with a splash of orange, beautiful marled grey boucle wool fabrics… and an intriguing gold apron outfit which opened at the back. I could imagine almost every outfit being worn and admired… there was no filler here. The show ended with a return to the royal blue splotch theme, this time across the breast area of a searing fuchsia maxi-dress. This was an extremely confident collection that explained to me precisely why Osman has the buyers salivating. Absolutely gorgeous. If only he hadn’t ruined it with that one piece of what I presume was fur… entirely unnecessary.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
Fur? Or an interesting use of alpaca wool? We’re not sure, and nor is anyone else… I really do hope the latter.

Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.
Osman A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.

You can read Naomi Law’s equally admiring review here.
Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique
Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique.

At the entrance there stood a horned model, visit web arms crossed and lycra-ed legs askance. Face masked. Model or mannequin? It wasn’t immediately obvious. In a season of slick presentations the one given by Maria Francesca Pepe – a true Amazonian beauty herself – really stood out for its professionalism. But it made me uncomfortable.

Maria Francesca Pepe, <a target=visit LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.” title=”Maria Francesca Pepe, price LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.” width=”480″ height=”615″ class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-37268″ />Maria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011
Maria Francesca Pepe at LFW A/W 2011. Isn’t she pretty? Photography by Amelia Gregory.

Red lighting shifted, pulsating over models that looked younger than legal. Young and nervous. One was laid prostrate on a plinth across the entrance to the next room, two more further back, and then in the far room what I can only describe as a child sat perched in front of a series of mannequins, none of which I could see in the gloaming. This girl had the face of an imp, a feeling encouraged by her amazing resin and carbon steel curved and studded hat – a bastardised version of something a gnome might wear. Beneath her flowing robes I suddenly realised why she was so uncomfortable. The bum and back of her tights were also encrusted with spikes. Is this a good idea? Should I be calling out the NSPCC?

Maria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Maria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMaria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique
Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique.

But what of the jewellery and accessories on display? I must confess that it took me awhile to look in at the details, such was the overwhelming effect of towering horned creatures. I had a brief opportunity to ask Maria who she would most like to wear her showpiece headpieces, which are heavily encrusted with hexagonal Swarovski crystals in the style of Medieval helmets. The answer was of course Lady Gaga. But the real point of all this girly S&M drama? Why of course: it was to sell a diffusion line. MFP accessories are available online at ASOS.

Maria Francesca Pepe A-W 2011-ringsMaria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique
Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Each child model sported expertly manicured hands, dangling ‘amulets’ dripping from her tiny fingers. The Fortuna collection features everyday jewellery made in workhorse metals such as brass and accessorised with crystals and pearls. And always those ever present studs.

Maria Francesca Pepe is also available at Wolf & Badger. You can read Helen Martin’s review here.

Categories ,ASOS, ,Fashion Scout, ,Freemasons’ Hall, ,Geiko Louve, ,Helen Martin, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,Lady Gaga, ,Maria Francesca Pepe, ,medieval, ,MFP, ,Swarovski, ,Trace Publicity, ,Wolf & Badger

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Amelia’s Magazine | London Fashion Week A/W 2011 Presentation Review: Maria Francesca Pepe (by Amelia)

Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique
Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique.

At the entrance there stood a horned model, arms crossed and lycra-ed legs askance. Face masked. Model or mannequin? It wasn’t immediately obvious. In a season of slick presentations the one given by Maria Francesca Pepe – a true Amazonian beauty herself – really stood out for its professionalism. But it made me uncomfortable.

Maria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Maria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011
Maria Francesca Pepe at LFW A/W 2011. Isn’t she pretty? Photography by Amelia Gregory.

Red lighting shifted, pulsating over models that looked younger than legal. Young and nervous. One was laid prostrate on a plinth across the entrance to the next room, two more further back, and then in the far room what I can only describe as a child sat perched in front of a series of mannequins, none of which I could see in the gloaming. This girl had the face of an imp, a feeling encouraged by her amazing resin and carbon steel curved and studded hat – a bastardised version of something a gnome might wear. Beneath her flowing robes I suddenly realised why she was so uncomfortable. The bum and back of her tights were also encrusted with spikes. Is this a good idea? Should I be calling out the NSPCC?

Maria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Maria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia GregoryMaria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique
Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique.

But what of the jewellery and accessories on display? I must confess that it took me awhile to look in at the details, such was the overwhelming effect of towering horned creatures. I had a brief opportunity to ask Maria who she would most like to wear her showpiece headpieces, which are heavily encrusted with hexagonal Swarovski crystals in the style of Medieval helmets. The answer was of course Lady Gaga. But the real point of all this girly S&M drama? Why of course: it was to sell a diffusion line. MFP accessories are available online at ASOS.

Maria Francesca Pepe A-W 2011-ringsMaria Francesca Pepe, LFW A/W 2011. Photography by Amelia Gregory.Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique
Maria Francesca Pepe by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Each child model sported expertly manicured hands, dangling ‘amulets’ dripping from her tiny fingers. The Fortuna collection features everyday jewellery made in workhorse metals such as brass and accessorised with crystals and pearls. And always those ever present studs.

Maria Francesca Pepe is also available at Wolf & Badger. You can read Helen Martin’s review here.

Categories ,ASOS, ,Fashion Scout, ,Freemasons’ Hall, ,Geiko Louve, ,Helen Martin, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,Lady Gaga, ,Maria Francesca Pepe, ,medieval, ,MFP, ,Swarovski, ,Trace Publicity, ,Wolf & Badger

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Amelia’s Magazine | The Science Museum Climate Science Gallery Cockroach Tour with Superflex

Kuni Awai Darkroom Valentines
Cockroach-tour-Science-Museum-by-Mina-Bach
Cockroach tour by Mina Bach.

A couple of months ago I was invited to visit the Science Museum to dress up as a Cockroach. How on earth could I resist such an invitation? So it was that with trepidation myself and boyfriend strolled up Exhibition Road on a Saturday afternoon. Who would be our fellow Cockroaches? Children? Families? Other slightly bewildered online journos and bloggers?

Cockroach-couple-by-Sarah-Matthews
Cockroach couple by Sarah Matthews

We arrived at the tail end of nibbles in the lecture theatre, healing and were hastily whisked off to the Cockroach dressing room – right at the front of the museum so that interested passers by (and slightly petrified children) could watch as we donned our Cockroach regalia.

Cockroach Amelia Gregory
That’s me, buy information pills dressed as a cockroach. Photo by Tim Adey.

Cockroach by Jessica Holt
Cockroach by Jessica Holt.

The purpose of all this Cockroach fun? Well you might ask… the Science Museum has just opened a swanky new Climate Change Science gallery, order all swelling colours and interactive screens that change the digital atmosphere. (Immediate thought: what the hell is powering all this technical gadgetry? I was assured it was green energy).

cockroach tour maria papadimitriou
Cockroach tour by Maria Papadimitriou.

The Cockroach Tour is an art installation commissioned from Danish art collective Superflex – wherein my definition of art is VERY stretched – and takes groups of Cockroaches on a tour of the museum that ends up in the high reaches of the Climate Change Science gallery. The aim being to introduce people to the concept of human idiocy, as viewed through the eyes of a Cockroach, one of the oldest and most resilient life forms on the planet.

Cockroach-boy-by-Sarah-Matthews
Cockroach boy by Sarah Matthews.

For this tour we were led by a rapidly overheating actor. Ah yes, the Cockroach costumes. These are made of fibre glass and that rubbery stuff that you find in lots of kid’s toys these days. Hardly sustainably sound in itself, but very fun, even if my shell did bang rather hard against the back of my knees as I scuttled around the exhibits.

Cockroach tour car
Cockroach tour leader

Sample Cockroach talk: “Why do humans eat pizza when the box is so much more preferable?” I must confess that I really wasn’t listening very hard: it was just too damn distracting to gaze upon Cockroach Boyfriend, knowing that I looked equally ridiculous. The tour was indeed funny, but our leader could have been talking total mumbo jumbo and I would still have been chuckling like a mad woman at the looks on people’s faces. Oh how I love to dress up – we spent most of our time trying to out silly each other’s photos. Did we feel like overgrown children? Hell yes, but that’s no bad thing every once in awhile. After a few wrong turnings we arrived at our final destination, with all it’s interactive Climate Change wizardry, where we finally de-Cockroached.

Cockroach man by Sarah Matthews
Cockroach man by Sarah Matthews.

I’d like to turn a totally blind eye to the principal sponsor of this gallery (Shell, cough, greenwash, cough) but there has clearly been a large amount of money thrown at what has now been renamed the Climate Science Gallery in the wake of the Climate Scepticism controversy last year (boo, hiss) – so why not get along and enjoy it? Hell, why not enjoy it dressed as a Cockroach?

Amelia Cockroach from behind
That’s me showing off my shiny cockroach ass in the Climate Science Gallery.

I personally feel I know enough Climate Change Science to last a lifetime, but for somebody who hasn’t got a wide knowledge this would be a really fun way to engage any kids you might have in tow. What’s more, even just this brief visit reminded me just how much there is to see in the Science Museum, which I haven’t really visited since I was a child. And if you need any more reason to get down with the Cockroaches why not check out this very fancy Cockroach Tour video:

YouTube Preview Image

Cockroach tours are being held every weekend until December 2011, and you can find out more about them and book online here. To celebrate the launch of the tours the Science Museum is offering one lucky winner four places on a tour of the weekend 12-13 February – they will be given a hand held camera and their video will be slicky edited into a film for the winner to keep. Oo-er. More information on this link. Offer closes on 8th February so get in there fast.

I’m quite tempted to go back and visit their Trash Fashion exhibition myself.

CUCARACHA  COSMOPOLITA by Geiko Louve
CUCARACHA COSMOPOLITA by Karla Pérez Manrique.

EL BAILE DE LA CUCARACHA by Karla Pérez Manrique
EL BAILE DE LA CUCARACHA by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Categories ,Climate Change, ,Climate Change Science gallery, ,Climate Science Gallery, ,Cockroach Tour, ,Exhibition Road, ,Geiko Louve, ,Jessica Holt, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,Maria Papadimitriou, ,Mina Bach., ,Sarah Matthews, ,Science Museum, ,Shell, ,Superflex, ,Trash Fashion

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Amelia’s Magazine | The Science Museum Climate Science Gallery Cockroach Tour with Superflex

Kuni Awai Darkroom Valentines
Cockroach-tour-Science-Museum-by-Mina-Bach
Cockroach tour by Mina Bach.

A couple of months ago I was invited to visit the Science Museum to dress up as a Cockroach. How on earth could I resist such an invitation? So it was that with trepidation myself and boyfriend strolled up Exhibition Road on a Saturday afternoon. Who would be our fellow Cockroaches? Children? Families? Other slightly bewildered online journos and bloggers?

Cockroach-couple-by-Sarah-Matthews
Cockroach couple by Sarah Matthews

We arrived at the tail end of nibbles in the lecture theatre, healing and were hastily whisked off to the Cockroach dressing room – right at the front of the museum so that interested passers by (and slightly petrified children) could watch as we donned our Cockroach regalia.

Cockroach Amelia Gregory
That’s me, buy information pills dressed as a cockroach. Photo by Tim Adey.

Cockroach by Jessica Holt
Cockroach by Jessica Holt.

The purpose of all this Cockroach fun? Well you might ask… the Science Museum has just opened a swanky new Climate Change Science gallery, order all swelling colours and interactive screens that change the digital atmosphere. (Immediate thought: what the hell is powering all this technical gadgetry? I was assured it was green energy).

cockroach tour maria papadimitriou
Cockroach tour by Maria Papadimitriou.

The Cockroach Tour is an art installation commissioned from Danish art collective Superflex – wherein my definition of art is VERY stretched – and takes groups of Cockroaches on a tour of the museum that ends up in the high reaches of the Climate Change Science gallery. The aim being to introduce people to the concept of human idiocy, as viewed through the eyes of a Cockroach, one of the oldest and most resilient life forms on the planet.

Cockroach-boy-by-Sarah-Matthews
Cockroach boy by Sarah Matthews.

For this tour we were led by a rapidly overheating actor. Ah yes, the Cockroach costumes. These are made of fibre glass and that rubbery stuff that you find in lots of kid’s toys these days. Hardly sustainably sound in itself, but very fun, even if my shell did bang rather hard against the back of my knees as I scuttled around the exhibits.

Cockroach tour car
Cockroach tour leader

Sample Cockroach talk: “Why do humans eat pizza when the box is so much more preferable?” I must confess that I really wasn’t listening very hard: it was just too damn distracting to gaze upon Cockroach Boyfriend, knowing that I looked equally ridiculous. The tour was indeed funny, but our leader could have been talking total mumbo jumbo and I would still have been chuckling like a mad woman at the looks on people’s faces. Oh how I love to dress up – we spent most of our time trying to out silly each other’s photos. Did we feel like overgrown children? Hell yes, but that’s no bad thing every once in awhile. After a few wrong turnings we arrived at our final destination, with all it’s interactive Climate Change wizardry, where we finally de-Cockroached.

Cockroach man by Sarah Matthews
Cockroach man by Sarah Matthews.

I’d like to turn a totally blind eye to the principal sponsor of this gallery (Shell, cough, greenwash, cough) but there has clearly been a large amount of money thrown at what has now been renamed the Climate Science Gallery in the wake of the Climate Scepticism controversy last year (boo, hiss) – so why not get along and enjoy it? Hell, why not enjoy it dressed as a Cockroach?

Amelia Cockroach from behind
That’s me showing off my shiny cockroach ass in the Climate Science Gallery.

I personally feel I know enough Climate Change Science to last a lifetime, but for somebody who hasn’t got a wide knowledge this would be a really fun way to engage any kids you might have in tow. What’s more, even just this brief visit reminded me just how much there is to see in the Science Museum, which I haven’t really visited since I was a child. And if you need any more reason to get down with the Cockroaches why not check out this very fancy Cockroach Tour video:

YouTube Preview Image

Cockroach tours are being held every weekend until December 2011, and you can find out more about them and book online here. To celebrate the launch of the tours the Science Museum is offering one lucky winner four places on a tour of the weekend 12-13 February – they will be given a hand held camera and their video will be slicky edited into a film for the winner to keep. Oo-er. More information on this link. Offer closes on 8th February so get in there fast.

I’m quite tempted to go back and visit their Trash Fashion exhibition myself.

CUCARACHA  COSMOPOLITA by Geiko Louve
CUCARACHA COSMOPOLITA by Karla Pérez Manrique.

EL BAILE DE LA CUCARACHA by Karla Pérez Manrique
EL BAILE DE LA CUCARACHA by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Categories ,Climate Change, ,Climate Change Science gallery, ,Climate Science Gallery, ,Cockroach Tour, ,Exhibition Road, ,Geiko Louve, ,Jessica Holt, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,Maria Papadimitriou, ,Mina Bach., ,Sarah Matthews, ,Science Museum, ,Shell, ,Superflex, ,Trash Fashion

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Tim Plester, director of Way of the Morris

(Alt) Way of the Morris by Rosemary Cunningham
Way of the Morris by Rosemary Cunningham.

Actor and film director Tim Plester has produced a beautiful documentary film inspired by his childhood antagonism towards the reignited Adderbury village cult of Morris Dancing. Modern footage is interspersed with old recordings as Way of the Morris follows the lives of current Adderbury Village Morris Men: the film is a touching look at the current renaissance of Morris Dancing in modern lives, adiposity put together with wonderful camera work that catches the Morris Men mid motion like brightly costumed village warriors.

WOTM-Tim Plester dressed as a Morris Dancer
Tim Plester dressed as a Morris Dancer.

What inspired you to make this film? Was there one particular thing that finally kick started the idea into action, pills and if so what was it?
There’s a single Polaroid photograph that has haunted me for most of my life. Taken in April 1976, price it shows me (aged just 5-and-a-half years old), stood outside the family home in Oxfordshire, dressed-up as a Morrisman. There’s a corn-dolly pinned to my breast and there are coloured ribbons tied about my knees. The photo shows me looking towards the camera’s lens with a smile stretched across my unblemished face. But looking at that instant image now, the smile I see displayed there betrays itself as something else entirely. For looking at that photograph now, the captured smile is clearly more of a grimace. It’s a simian smile born only of fear. The rictus grin of a scared and hairless ape. The look of someone who’s unable to turn and face his own destiny. I’ve been running away from my Morris dancing roots ever since the day that photograph was first taken.

Morris Dancers by Faye West
Morris Dancers by Faye West.

What finally stopped me in my tracks and forced me to confront my birthright, was the decision I took to travel to Northern France in the summer of 2008. I’d been invited to visit The Somme as a guest of the Adderbury Village Morris Men (a revival side which my Father and Uncle helped found in the self-same year that the Polaroid image of me was taken); there to commemorate the lives of those village dancers who lost their lives in the stinking trenches of World War One. Of the young fresh-faced team that volunteered to fight for King & Country, only one was to ever return home again. Finding out about that Lost Generation of Morrismen provided me with all the kick-start I ever needed.

WOTM-brothers

How long did it take to make, and how did you manage your other career as an actor around it?
I lost 2-and-a-half years of my life making WAY OF THE MORRIS, and had to juggle any acting work around the filming and lengthy post-production period. On-screen, my hair changes colour 2 or 3 times over the course of the documentary’s 64 minute running-time; the result of a couple of roles elsewhere, that had required a significant change of appearance. I can only recall one instance when the documentary and my acting “day-job” came into direct conflict with each other. Luckily, I have a very understanding agent. And luckily the documentary won out.

Morris Dancer by Erica Sharp
Morris Dancer by Erica Sharp.

What inspired the look of the film, which features lots of old photos and videos interspersed with some new imagery that has also been given an old patina? What feeling were you hoping to achieve?
All of the vintage super-8 used in the film was shot by my late grandfather Harold Jeffrey Plester, who I was very close to. As a child, growing up in Adderbury, I spent almost as much time with him and my paternal Grandmother as I did with my own parents. There’s something potent and magical about the flicker-flicker of 8-millimetre footage. It carries with it an in-built nostalgia. A nostalgia underpinned by melancholy. A homesickness if you like. A lament for lost lands. WAY OF THE MORRIS also features contemporary super-8 footage shot by me, my Father and my Uncle James. The idea here was to keep things in the family whilst helping echo and enforce recurring motifs of circles and cycles and death and rebirth. And finally, in a bid to counteract all of that whilst also acknowledging the reckoning of time, there is some digital HD Flip camera footage to be found right at the very tail-end of the film. This being the modern home-movie equivalent of the footage my grandfather shot. If President John Fitzgerald Kennedy were to be assassinated in public today, then I’d like to think he’d be assassinated on a HD Flip camera.

WOTM-hobby horseWOTM-triv

How easy was it to research everything? Any tales of woe?
The research was the easy part of the process really. Coming from the village, and having known all the major-players my entire life gave me an unquestioned access-all-areas pass. I am extremely grateful to Barry Davis (an old school-friend of my Father’s) for allowing me to trawl though his extensive collection of archival photographs, and also to Bryan Sheppard, the long-standing Fool of the Adderbury Village Morris Men, who kept a meticulous log-book during the team’s fledgling years, and who also (along with his sister), helped unearth all of the information we have regarding that young team that went to war. One poignant aspect of the filmmaking process that I remember clearly, (though not technically a part of the research or a tale of woe) is my initial response to visiting the WW1 memorials in Northern France.

Way_of_the_Morris_1908_by_Karla_Pérez_Manrique
Way of the Morris by Karla Pérez Manrique.

I was expecting to be moved by those great towering monoliths and the far-too-many names painstakingly carved upon their stone white walls. But what actually grabbed me by the gut, was the gently rolling countryside that surrounds them on all sides. Scalped, sodomized, and maimed beyond all recognition, those farmer’s fields were left in tatters by the 4 years of abject misery rained down upon them (1914-18). And yet today, the topsoil and the wildlife have long since returned, whilst the nearby villages of Pozières and Albert have been rebuilt brick-by-brick. The old landscape was lost beneath the blood and the clay. Only to be reborn anew. Much like the Morris dancing itself.

WOTM-fiddle

Did you find it hard to direct and feature in the film together?
For this I have to give thanks to my co-director Rob Curry of Fifth Column Films. Rob was always on hand whenever I was needed on the flip-side of the camera, and therefore in danger of neglecting any directorial duties. Amongst other things, Rob must also take a lot of the credit for the way in which we ended-up shooting the raw footage of the Adderbury dancers. Rob has long held this belief that The Morris is, in some strange way, a kind of arcane English martial art. For that reason we shot the dancing mainly in close-up, and tried to capture the kinetic energy of what it’s like to be caught-up within the maelstrom of oscillating willow-sticks and flying pocket-hankies, rather than being on the outside simply looking in.

WOTM-melodeon

??What’s the best thing about coming from a small village in England? What do you have that others can only dream of or aspire to?
I left The Shire many years ago, and have lived in North London for longer than I ever lived amidst the wheatfields. But Adderbury is still the place I go to when I daydream. She’s my own private Avalon. A place where landscape and melody entwine. The locally-brewed Hook Norton beer takes some beating that’s for sure. Sweet, full-bodied and devilishly fruity, Old Hooky is a hallowed ale, brewed-up by a benevolent Malt Giant and his 9 steam-powered billow maidens. So God speed the ploughshare and drink of it deep good people. And give thanks to birthplace and to rural brotherhood. If that in any way shape or form answers your question?

WOTM-hillsidepromo

What’s the best way to encourage community, if Morris Dancing is not an option?
In an age of interactive widescreen 3D television screens, Morris dancing is definitely one way of encouraging community spirit whilst helping maintain a strong connection with one’s cultural identity. But there are certainly others. There’s egg-yarping for one. And cheese-rolling for another. Hastings has its Jack-In-The Green sacrifice, whilst Hallaton and Medbourne have their once-yearly Hare Pie scramble and bottle-kicking fixture. And then of course there’s traditional tar-barrel racing, Tutti-kissing and various seasonal Mumming activities to consider.

Adderbury Morris Dan

How’s the Morris Dancing these days?
It’s enjoying something of a renaissance, truth be told. There are a number of younger teams springing-up around the country, and in Adderbury itself there are currently more people dancing the old ancestral dances than there were during the glory days of the longhaired 1970’s. Dances to make the crops grow tall. Dances to honour the resurrection. For Herne The Hunter and spritely Robin Goodfellow. Dances to hold up the very sky. Or, in the words of the English composer Gustav Holst; Ye who dance not, know not what we are knowing. Here endeth the lesson.

Way of the Morris poster

Tim Plester’s short film ENGLISH LANGUAGE (With English Subtitles) premiered at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival, and has gone on to screen at over 45 film festivals worldwide, picking-up 5 awards along the way. The world premiere of Way of the Morris took place at SXSW. You can catch him at the UK premiere of Way of the Morris this Sunday 15th May at 2pm as part of the London International Documentary Festival at the Barbican, where he will also be answering a Q&A. All the details of the Way of the Morris premiere can be found in this listing here.

Watch the trailers here:

Visit the Way of the Morris website for more information on further screenings.
Keep up with the Adderbury Village Morris Men on Facebook.

Way of the Morris by Karla Pérez Manrique
Way of the Morris by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Categories ,Actor, ,Adderbury, ,Adderbury Village Morris Men, ,barbican, ,Bryan Sheppard, ,cheese-rolling, ,community, ,director, ,egg-yarping, ,ENGLISH LANGUAGE [With English Subtitles], ,Erica Sharp, ,Faye West, ,Fifth Column Films, ,film, ,Gustav Holst, ,Hallaton, ,Harold Jeffrey Plester, ,HD Flip, ,Herne The Hunter, ,Hook Norton, ,interview, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,London International Documentary Festival, ,Los Angeles Film Festival, ,Medbourne, ,Morris Dancing, ,Morrisman, ,Mumming, ,Old Hooky, ,Oxfordshire, ,Premiere, ,Rob Curry, ,Robin Goodfellow, ,Rosemary Cunningham, ,Super 8, ,sxsw, ,Tim Plester, ,Way of the Morris, ,Wolf Marloh, ,World War One

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Amelia’s Magazine | An interview with Tim Plester, director of Way of the Morris

(Alt) Way of the Morris by Rosemary Cunningham
Way of the Morris by Rosemary Cunningham.

Actor and film director Tim Plester has produced a beautiful documentary film inspired by his childhood antagonism towards the reignited Adderbury village cult of Morris Dancing. Modern footage is interspersed with old recordings as Way of the Morris follows the lives of current Adderbury Village Morris Men: the film is a touching look at the current renaissance of Morris Dancing in modern lives, adiposity put together with wonderful camera work that catches the Morris Men mid motion like brightly costumed village warriors.

WOTM-Tim Plester dressed as a Morris Dancer
Tim Plester dressed as a Morris Dancer.

What inspired you to make this film? Was there one particular thing that finally kick started the idea into action, pills and if so what was it?
There’s a single Polaroid photograph that has haunted me for most of my life. Taken in April 1976, price it shows me (aged just 5-and-a-half years old), stood outside the family home in Oxfordshire, dressed-up as a Morrisman. There’s a corn-dolly pinned to my breast and there are coloured ribbons tied about my knees. The photo shows me looking towards the camera’s lens with a smile stretched across my unblemished face. But looking at that instant image now, the smile I see displayed there betrays itself as something else entirely. For looking at that photograph now, the captured smile is clearly more of a grimace. It’s a simian smile born only of fear. The rictus grin of a scared and hairless ape. The look of someone who’s unable to turn and face his own destiny. I’ve been running away from my Morris dancing roots ever since the day that photograph was first taken.

Morris Dancers by Faye West
Morris Dancers by Faye West.

What finally stopped me in my tracks and forced me to confront my birthright, was the decision I took to travel to Northern France in the summer of 2008. I’d been invited to visit The Somme as a guest of the Adderbury Village Morris Men (a revival side which my Father and Uncle helped found in the self-same year that the Polaroid image of me was taken); there to commemorate the lives of those village dancers who lost their lives in the stinking trenches of World War One. Of the young fresh-faced team that volunteered to fight for King & Country, only one was to ever return home again. Finding out about that Lost Generation of Morrismen provided me with all the kick-start I ever needed.

WOTM-brothers

How long did it take to make, and how did you manage your other career as an actor around it?
I lost 2-and-a-half years of my life making WAY OF THE MORRIS, and had to juggle any acting work around the filming and lengthy post-production period. On-screen, my hair changes colour 2 or 3 times over the course of the documentary’s 64 minute running-time; the result of a couple of roles elsewhere, that had required a significant change of appearance. I can only recall one instance when the documentary and my acting “day-job” came into direct conflict with each other. Luckily, I have a very understanding agent. And luckily the documentary won out.

Morris Dancer by Erica Sharp
Morris Dancer by Erica Sharp.

What inspired the look of the film, which features lots of old photos and videos interspersed with some new imagery that has also been given an old patina? What feeling were you hoping to achieve?
All of the vintage super-8 used in the film was shot by my late grandfather Harold Jeffrey Plester, who I was very close to. As a child, growing up in Adderbury, I spent almost as much time with him and my paternal Grandmother as I did with my own parents. There’s something potent and magical about the flicker-flicker of 8-millimetre footage. It carries with it an in-built nostalgia. A nostalgia underpinned by melancholy. A homesickness if you like. A lament for lost lands. WAY OF THE MORRIS also features contemporary super-8 footage shot by me, my Father and my Uncle James. The idea here was to keep things in the family whilst helping echo and enforce recurring motifs of circles and cycles and death and rebirth. And finally, in a bid to counteract all of that whilst also acknowledging the reckoning of time, there is some digital HD Flip camera footage to be found right at the very tail-end of the film. This being the modern home-movie equivalent of the footage my grandfather shot. If President John Fitzgerald Kennedy were to be assassinated in public today, then I’d like to think he’d be assassinated on a HD Flip camera.

WOTM-hobby horseWOTM-triv

How easy was it to research everything? Any tales of woe?
The research was the easy part of the process really. Coming from the village, and having known all the major-players my entire life gave me an unquestioned access-all-areas pass. I am extremely grateful to Barry Davis (an old school-friend of my Father’s) for allowing me to trawl though his extensive collection of archival photographs, and also to Bryan Sheppard, the long-standing Fool of the Adderbury Village Morris Men, who kept a meticulous log-book during the team’s fledgling years, and who also (along with his sister), helped unearth all of the information we have regarding that young team that went to war. One poignant aspect of the filmmaking process that I remember clearly, (though not technically a part of the research or a tale of woe) is my initial response to visiting the WW1 memorials in Northern France.

Way_of_the_Morris_1908_by_Karla_Pérez_Manrique
Way of the Morris by Karla Pérez Manrique.

I was expecting to be moved by those great towering monoliths and the far-too-many names painstakingly carved upon their stone white walls. But what actually grabbed me by the gut, was the gently rolling countryside that surrounds them on all sides. Scalped, sodomized, and maimed beyond all recognition, those farmer’s fields were left in tatters by the 4 years of abject misery rained down upon them (1914-18). And yet today, the topsoil and the wildlife have long since returned, whilst the nearby villages of Pozières and Albert have been rebuilt brick-by-brick. The old landscape was lost beneath the blood and the clay. Only to be reborn anew. Much like the Morris dancing itself.

WOTM-fiddle

Did you find it hard to direct and feature in the film together?
For this I have to give thanks to my co-director Rob Curry of Fifth Column Films. Rob was always on hand whenever I was needed on the flip-side of the camera, and therefore in danger of neglecting any directorial duties. Amongst other things, Rob must also take a lot of the credit for the way in which we ended-up shooting the raw footage of the Adderbury dancers. Rob has long held this belief that The Morris is, in some strange way, a kind of arcane English martial art. For that reason we shot the dancing mainly in close-up, and tried to capture the kinetic energy of what it’s like to be caught-up within the maelstrom of oscillating willow-sticks and flying pocket-hankies, rather than being on the outside simply looking in.

WOTM-melodeon

??What’s the best thing about coming from a small village in England? What do you have that others can only dream of or aspire to?
I left The Shire many years ago, and have lived in North London for longer than I ever lived amidst the wheatfields. But Adderbury is still the place I go to when I daydream. She’s my own private Avalon. A place where landscape and melody entwine. The locally-brewed Hook Norton beer takes some beating that’s for sure. Sweet, full-bodied and devilishly fruity, Old Hooky is a hallowed ale, brewed-up by a benevolent Malt Giant and his 9 steam-powered billow maidens. So God speed the ploughshare and drink of it deep good people. And give thanks to birthplace and to rural brotherhood. If that in any way shape or form answers your question?

WOTM-hillsidepromo

What’s the best way to encourage community, if Morris Dancing is not an option?
In an age of interactive widescreen 3D television screens, Morris dancing is definitely one way of encouraging community spirit whilst helping maintain a strong connection with one’s cultural identity. But there are certainly others. There’s egg-yarping for one. And cheese-rolling for another. Hastings has its Jack-In-The Green sacrifice, whilst Hallaton and Medbourne have their once-yearly Hare Pie scramble and bottle-kicking fixture. And then of course there’s traditional tar-barrel racing, Tutti-kissing and various seasonal Mumming activities to consider.

Adderbury Morris Dan

How’s the Morris Dancing these days?
It’s enjoying something of a renaissance, truth be told. There are a number of younger teams springing-up around the country, and in Adderbury itself there are currently more people dancing the old ancestral dances than there were during the glory days of the longhaired 1970’s. Dances to make the crops grow tall. Dances to honour the resurrection. For Herne The Hunter and spritely Robin Goodfellow. Dances to hold up the very sky. Or, in the words of the English composer Gustav Holst; Ye who dance not, know not what we are knowing. Here endeth the lesson.

Way of the Morris poster

Tim Plester’s short film ENGLISH LANGUAGE (With English Subtitles) premiered at the 2007 Los Angeles Film Festival, and has gone on to screen at over 45 film festivals worldwide, picking-up 5 awards along the way. The world premiere of Way of the Morris took place at SXSW. You can catch him at the UK premiere of Way of the Morris this Sunday 15th May at 2pm as part of the London International Documentary Festival at the Barbican, where he will also be answering a Q&A. All the details of the Way of the Morris premiere can be found in this listing here.

Watch the trailers here:

Visit the Way of the Morris website for more information on further screenings.
Keep up with the Adderbury Village Morris Men on Facebook.

Way of the Morris by Karla Pérez Manrique
Way of the Morris by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Categories ,Actor, ,Adderbury, ,Adderbury Village Morris Men, ,barbican, ,Bryan Sheppard, ,cheese-rolling, ,community, ,director, ,egg-yarping, ,ENGLISH LANGUAGE [With English Subtitles], ,Erica Sharp, ,Faye West, ,Fifth Column Films, ,film, ,Gustav Holst, ,Hallaton, ,Harold Jeffrey Plester, ,HD Flip, ,Herne The Hunter, ,Hook Norton, ,interview, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,London International Documentary Festival, ,Los Angeles Film Festival, ,Medbourne, ,Morris Dancing, ,Morrisman, ,Mumming, ,Old Hooky, ,Oxfordshire, ,Premiere, ,Rob Curry, ,Robin Goodfellow, ,Rosemary Cunningham, ,Super 8, ,sxsw, ,Tim Plester, ,Way of the Morris, ,Wolf Marloh, ,World War One

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Amelia’s Magazine | The Royal Wedding in Illustrations: Kate, Wills and the rest of the guests

Kisstch Wedding by Faye West
Kisstch Wedding by Faye West.

Continued from my first Royal Wedding blog post here
Kate and Wills For Ever by Sarah Arnett
Kate and Wills For Ever by Sarah Arnett.

Carole Middleton by Fi Blog
Carole Middleton by Fi Blog.

Miriam in Coral by Elsabe Milandri
Miriam in Coral by Elsabe Milandri.

Carole Middleton by Fi Blog
Carole Middleton by Fi Blog.

Watching the Royal Wedding drift past me on my TV screen I thought: if only everyone could afford to pay skilled craftspeople to conjure up metres of the most wonderful handmade lace for their wedding dresses. Just think, cialis 40mg it would be the most fabulous way to keep traditional skills alive. But unfortunately Kate’s beautiful dress will be copied widely and copied badly because something this marvellous is just not attainable for the majority. Dresses this good are only made for future Queens.

Kate and Wills take their vows by Jenny Robins
Kate and Wills take their vows by Jenny Robins.

Miriam Gonzalez at the Royal Wedding  by Karla Pérez Manrique
Miriam Gonzalez at the Royal Wedding by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Queen Elizabeth by Elsabe Milandri
Queen Elizabeth by Elsabe Milandri.

Sketches of the guests and procession by Jenny Robins
Sketches of the guests and procession by Jenny Robins.

I loved the minutiae of the occasion… roguish Prince Harry with his broad shoulders and the rakish glint in his eye… I’ve always loved a ginger and he’s no exception to the rule. Pippa Middleton upstaging the procession down the aisle with her perfectly shaped swaying bottom. Elton John miming to the hymns (not to your taste then Elt?) Never a Labour MP in sight.

Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice by Elsabe Milandri
Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice by Elsabe Milandri.

Royal wedding by Graham Cheal
Royal wedding street party by Graham Cheal.

Royal-Wedding-by-Melanie-Chadwick
Royal Wedding by Melanie Chadwick.

Seeing the playful page boys in their red and yellow finery, cialis 40mg and the Queen, drug always a fan of this season’s most on trend look, in her matching lemon yellow colour blocked outfit. The funny little girl with her hands on the ears for the infamous balcony kiss. Kate bending down to fiddle with something, her head at groin level (chortle chortle).

Royal Wedding - Pippa Middleton and bridesmaids by Sara Japanwalla
Pippa Middleton and bridesmaids by Sara Japanwalla.

Royal Wedding guests by Sara Japanwalla
Royal Wedding guests by Sara Japanwalla.

Royal Wedding Miriam Gonzalez Durantez by Michalis Christodoulou
Royal Wedding Miriam Gonzalez Durantez by Michalis Christodoulou.

tara palmer tomkinson by Sara Japanwalla 4
Tara Palmer Tomkinson by Sara Japanwalla.

Here then, are the illustrations produced from my wonderful illustration twitter followers. Enjoy. Why not? It will be our dirty little secret….

Royal Wedding_Tara Palmer-Tomkinson_by Michalis Christodoulou
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson by Michalis Christodoulou.

Tony & Gord by Izy Penguin
Tony & Gord by Izy Penguin.

Eugenie & Beatrice by Izy Penguin
Eugenie & Beatrice by Izy Penguin.

Prince Harry and the Royal Wedding Clean Up by neonflower
Prince Harry and the Royal Wedding Clean Up by Lizzie Campbell, aka neonflower.
An explanation for this final wonderful image from neonflower: In this illustration of Prince Harry, I wanted to acknowledge his down-to-earth approach both as Prince William’s best man, and as a member of our royal family. Eschewing the pomposity and formality of the aristocracy, we’re told that Harry organised bacon butties for peckish wedding guests partying until the wee hours at Buckingham Palace. I’m sure that he displays regular acts of such easy-going, ‘everyman’ behaviour. As such, I’ve created a visual representation of Harry, together with his namesake vacuum cleaner, clearing up after the previous night’s royal wedding celebrations.

Categories ,Carole Middleton, ,Elsabe Milandri, ,Eugenie & Beatrice, ,Faye West, ,Graham Cheal, ,Izy Penguin, ,Jenny Robins, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,Kate & Wills, ,Kate Middleton, ,Lizzie Campbell, ,Melanie Chadwick, ,Michalis Christodoulou, ,Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, ,neonflower, ,Page Boys, ,Pippa Middleton, ,Prince Harry, ,Queen, ,Royal Wedding, ,Sara Japanwalla, ,Sarah Arnett, ,Street Party, ,Tara Palmer Tomkinson

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Amelia’s Magazine | The Royal Wedding in Illustrations: Kate & Wills

Will & Kate by Gemma Milly
Will & Kate by Gemma Milly. Available to buy as a print here.

I suppose I should start this blog with a disclaimer: I am for sure no ardent royalist. The only Royal Wedding memorabilia that I’ve collected has been a kitsch charity shop find – a scuffed up Charles and Di mug. And up until Friday last week I’d given the Royal Wedding barely more than the thought that it would be nice to have the day off and encourage participation in the plethora of street parties taking place.

The Royal Wedding Dress by Bex Glover
The Royal Wedding Dress by Bex Glover. Available to buy as a print here.

But then Friday arrived and there I was, page sat in front of the telly with a glass of champers – tweeting frantically through the banal commentary as I heard news of pre-emptive arrests of anarchist friends who had planned to stage street theatre demonstrations. And you know what? Despite the horrendous political policing that took place to ensure a *trouble free* Royal Wedding I have to admit that I enjoyed the spectacle massively.

Royal wedding dress by Sarah Arnett
Royal wedding dress by Sarah Arnett.

My fashion head marvelled at the wedding attire, some truly hideous (princesses Beatrice and Eugenie please stand up) but much of it truly fabulous. And all of it an illustrator’s dream! I’ve heard not one bad word about Kate’s undeniably beautiful dress by Sarah Burton for McQueen, and despite his protestations even the boyfriend perked up when she stepped out of her royal carriage, carefully scooping up the lengthy folds of her train.

Kate waving by Jenny Robins
Kate waving by Jenny Robins.

Yes, the little girl in me woke up. The one who despite my parent’s valiant attempts to mould me into a total tomboy nevertheless loved to draw princesses with flowing gowns and elegant crowns. It seems that even I could not help but get sucked into this Royal fairy tale: all it took was a momentary suspension of reality: the reality that this Royal Wedding was paid for by our taxes at a time when the severest of cuts are being felt across the nation. Like so many others I pushed it to the back of my mind. To be continued….
Read my second blog round up of Royal Wedding illustrations by clicking here! (once you’ve looked at everything here of course)

Kate Middleton in her wedding dress by Karla Pérez Manrique
Kate Middleton in her wedding dress by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Pippa & Kate byKarla Pérez Manrique
Pippa & Kate by Karla Pérez Manrique.

Royal Wedding by Sara Japanwalla
Royal Wedding by Sara Japanwalla.

William and Kate exchanging the rings by Kristina Vasiljeva
William and Kate exchanging the rings by Kristina Vasiljeva.

Royal wedding by Fawn Carr
Royal wedding by Fawn Carr.

Royal Wedding by Karina Jarv
Royal Wedding by Karina Jarv.

wills and kate by izy penguin
Wills and Kate by Izy Penguin.

Wills and Kate by Becca Thorne
Wills and Kate by Becca Thorne.

William and Kate's wedding by Kristina Vasiljeva
William and Kate’s wedding by Kristina Vasiljeva.

Categories ,Alexander McQueen, ,Becca Thorne, ,Bex Glover, ,Catherine Middleton, ,Fawn Carr, ,Gemma Milly, ,Izy Penguin, ,Jenny Robins, ,Karina Yarv, ,Karla Pérez Manrique, ,Kate, ,Kate Middleton, ,Kristina Vasiljeva, ,Royal Wedding, ,Sara Japanwalla, ,Sarah Arnett, ,Sarah Burton, ,Severn Studios, ,Wills

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