Entertainment

Tumbling into Melbourne Fringe Festival

Three Aussie girls are back home to shake things up this Melbourne Fringe Festival.

After performing on the other side of the planet in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival in August and winning the Total Theatre Circus 2018 Award; Debra Batton (58), Sharon Gruenert (41) and the youngest of the clan, Spenser Inwood (30) are back on Australian soil for a circus extravaganza performance like no other.

These ladies certainly don’t clown around when it comes to Casting Off – all of which is self-directed and hand-knitted to provide the audience with laughs, death-defying acrobatics and of course a theatrical circus experience. Minus the pie to the face.

Casting Off by A Good Catch is the story of three women, Slip, Pearl and Knit and their radicalized lives. They’ll talk, they’ll tumble, they’ll fly and they might even have a climb.

The non-narrative circus celebrates three thoughtful, strong and resilient women.

Recently, Hunter and Bligh sat down with Debra, Sharon and Spenser of Casting Off to talk about their iconic show that’s touring Melbourne Fringe Festival and what Slip, Pearl and Knit mean to these Aussie gals.

If you could describe the show or what it means in five words or less, what would it be?

Debra: Hilarious celebration of gutsy women
Sharon: Playful circus women in conversation
Spenser: Authentic strong funny circus

For the average Melbournian sitting in the audience, what’s a piece of advice for them to keep in mind?

Your assumptions about what circus is may be challenged – in a good way. Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. Don’t forget, Slip could possibly be your mother. We are shorter than we look. Two of us are single mothers living off an artists wage.

The cast has an accumulated age of nearly 130 years; how do you think this show would’ve been received 130 years ago?

This show would have been considered a welcome addition to the suffragette movement. We may possibly have been burnt at the stake. It’s also possible that we would have been seen as uppity, hysterical women that needed a strong man to tame them. Actually, it would have been all male performers playing versions of women.

What are three things that playing Knit, Pearl and Slip have taught you?

Debra: Trust the moment, trust your collaborators and trust the audience.
Sharon: Up until this point I have pretty much been a mute performer. Now, there are times when the others can’t shut me up. The improvised nature of the show has allowed me to embrace mistakes as opportunities rather than failures. Pearl has allowed me to be my own version of feminine where as before I felt like I have had to be the tom-boy or even androgynous.
Spenser: I have become much more comfortable with improvising on stage. These women keep me on my toes. I also have loved the challenge of speaking whilst doing acrobatics. I have learnt to be sillier and braver with my clowning.

Are there any personal attributes or characteristics of yourself found in the character you play? What are they?

Debra: Acknowledging the accumulated wisdom of age and the shared insights from my younger colleagues.
Sharon: The struggle to express my emotions is real. I’m a lot more successful in the show than in real life.
Spenser: We are trying to play ourselves as closely as possible. But I’m a bit more sassier, angrier and a more playful version than my everyday self.

Debra, how has the circus and entertainment industry changed from your early experience?

The sharks have increased in number and veracity. It has become more difficult to make work that challenges the art form – all whilst feeding your family.

How would you differentiate Casting Off to other live performances?

Casting Off is circus with text. It’s not your typical Razzle Dazzle or one of those Greatest Showman’s kind of Circus. But, it still has breathtaking, jaw dropping and flying aerial acts. Then there’s flipping, climbing and flying to a soundscape of the many disparate texts (lists, poems, conversations, melodies, arguments and biographies) that embody each day. Our show stimulates both the kinesthetic and intellectual responses simultaneously.

Why is that element of ‘circus work’ so important in today’s live performance world?

Circus work is real – it is not a representation. Therefore, the audience witnesses the success or failure in real time. Live performance needs to differentiate itself from screen performance and circus achieves this. Circus highlights the elements of risk and danger as well as our need for human connection. Partner and ensemble work emphasize the endless possibilities of what can be achieved when people work together. ‘Circus Work’ can be disarming – it infiltrates the audience’s kinesthetic responses and connects the mind and body. For this reason it has been more recently treated as poetic and artistic – not just entertainment.


WANT TO CATCH THE PERFORMANCE?
Date:
Thursday 20 – Sunday 23 September, 6:30pm
Location: The Melba – Spiegeltent
Price: from $18
More information: Casting Off Melbourne Fringe Festival

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