Caro Meets Dance & Physical Interview Festivals Interview

Stephen Makin: Circus Maximus

By | Published on Wednesday 8 May 2013


This month, some of the UK’s best circus practitioners make their way to Southbank to take part in Circus Maximus, a talent contest being staged as part of Udderbelly’s summer festival. Interested? Good, because on your behalf, we put some questions to producer Stephen Makin. Here’s what he had to say.

CM: What is Circus Maximus and who came up with the idea? How did Underbelly Productions and Circus Space come together on it?
SM: Underbelly and Circus Space have been on each other’s radars for ages. Circus Space do terrific work and we often attend the showcase work for their students. Daisy Drury at Circus Space suggested the idea to us earlier this year, when we were talking about possible shows for our Udderbelly tent. I immediately saw that this was a brilliant idea – an opportunity to give a great platform for UK circus acts, and to put on a really smashing and unusual night out for audiences to enjoy. We wanted to give an opportunity to reward and exceptional act, and for Underbelly as producers of lots of circus, to forge stronger links with lots of really exciting circus performers and acts.

CM: The performances that people will see initially are heats, aren’t they? What format does it take? Is it like a talent show?
SM: Weeks one and two of Circus Maximus are indeed heats. Spread across these heats 20 acts will compete for audience votes. The top 4 will go through to the finals. Then the judging panel, which consists of people from Circus Space, Underbelly, plus luminaries from elsewhere in the industry with particular knowledge or interest in circus, select a fifth “wild card” act from the original 20. These five then go into a rehearsal room for a week to devise a new new circus show together for the finals. The final week is just performances of this “finals show”. The judges will then select a winner of the entire competition from one of these acts based on their performance in the final, and how well they engaged with the process of creating that show.

CM: How did you go about finding the participants?
SM: Entry was open to everyone over 18 years old – we had articles in the papers, and got the word out through social media and through Circus Space’s exceptional network of Circus performers. Acts applied and were short-listed to the final 20 for the heats just via video – so they’ll all be seen for the first time for us, as they will for the audience, during their first heats. Which is pretty exciting and gives you the idea that anything could happen!

CM: What prize does the winner get?
SM: They get £5,000 and the opportunity to develop a new circus show with Underbelly.

CM: Modern circus performance can be quite different to people’s possibly stuck-in-the-past expectations. What would you say to encourage audiences along?
SM: Circus is very popular at the moment, and people’s ideas of what great circus is are starting to change. So it’s now not just something that is more than traditional ideas of the “big top”, but something that can be funny, moving, sexy, modern and everything in between. That diversity and popularity are the ideal basis for a competition like this.

CM: Which circus skill would you most like to have?
SM: So many to choose from! To have even a tenth of the skills that our acts have would be a dream come true. But I’d more than anything love to be able to fly – so probably a aerial skill of some kind. That or a fire eater!

Circus Maximus is part of Udderbelly Festival at Southbank Centre, which in itself is part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of Neighbourhood. The competition runs until 1 Jun – see Underbelly’s website here for information and tickets.

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