view counter

Interview: Vicki Dela Amedume on Upswing's mockumentary about seeking for The New Face of Circus

Image: Vicki Dela Amedume, Artistic Director of Upswing


Deadpan satire Common Ground takes aim at the lack of representation of Global Majority performers in the circus industry. Set behind the scenes at a round of auditions, this spoof documentary follows circus performers hoping to be selected as the new face of circus. 


With a brilliant sense of humour, Common Ground stems from frustration, hoping to make something bigger and better from it. Parts of the short film are deliberately awkward to watch, while others provide a platform to show off their incredible skills. The film is now available to watch on YouTube. Here, Upswing’s Artistic Director, Vicki Dela Amedume, tells us about the inspiration behind the film, the power of comedy, and the company’s hope for a more representative future of circus. 


Run Riot: What first sparked your desire to make Common Ground?


Vicki Dela Amedume: The idea has emerged from the numerous experiences I have had and that have been shared with me by other Global Majority peers where you think: "I am either going to laugh or I’ll cry".


As the piece evolved, we decided we were going to mine for the ridiculousness in some of the situations that surfaced and quickly realised that we did not want to explore anything that presented (if you pardon the pun) a ‘Black and white issue’.


I was more interested in the conversations we were having with each other: what do we, as people from the Global Majority, have to say to each other when not in opposition to whiteness? It has evolved to be about the complexity of identity, about gender, class, family and culture and how those things affect ideas we hold about fairness, merit and 'giving everyone a fair shot’.


Run Riot: Why did comedy feel like the right tool to tackle the issues Global Majority performers face in the circus industry?


Vicki: In the film, we are talking about something that is a proper issue: there is a real problem in the industry about the experience of global majority artists. During the development work for the film, artists shared experiences that made my toes curl, like being told they have already cast one ‘insert ethnicity here' role so were not looking for 'another'.  


We don’t want to be laughing at those things but there was comedy in how poorly those situations are often handled and in pointing a finger directly at the things we would rather gloss over. Comedy is a great vehicle for opening up awkward conversations in a really profound way.


Run Riot: What has it been like working with Athena Kugblenu to write Common Ground? Were the filming days full of laughter?


Vicki: Through meeting Athena, I found a creative collaborator who understands the urgency of the conversation we want to have through Common Ground - she has a sharp satirical mind and it has been a real revelation digging into ideas with her and our brilliant performers.


The days have been full of laughter but we have also had a few moments where there has been frustration or upset has bubbled up: we have occasionally talked about things that still contain a sting, so have had to find strategies to make sure we are working with care for all the people in the room. 


But generally, the room has been joyful. It’s been great and one of those situations where I often leave the day thinking, is this really my job?!?


We really wanted to make a piece of work that reflects that and that will make people laugh, even if they are worried they shouldn’t, as it is the best way to communicate how we were navigating the issues we are talking about.


Run Riot: The film takes a turn halfway through, giving the performers a chance to show off their skills as well as creating a sense of strength in working together. Is this sense of power through collaboration part of the mission of Upswing?


Vicki: Yes, absolutely. The film is not just about the Global Majority experience. It is about the complexity of identity and how easy and sometimes desirable it can be to flatten complexity. More specifically, this film is about the toxicity many of the Global Majority artists we worked with expressed about the sense that often they were not being viewed against their white peers doing the same type of work but arbitrarily seen to be in ‘competition’ with other people who shared characteristics of identity but who may share very little in terms of what they actually do or make. 


The moment in the film you are describing is the moment where the artists reject the idea of competing with each other for one seat at the table. Instead, we see a vision of what they could do collectively when each of them is able to be authentic and bring their unique styles and skills together. It’s trite to say we are better together in collaboration, especially when we can hold difference with appreciation, but it sometimes feels like we need daily reminders of this.


Our society continues to tell us that success is about doing better than others and sometimes at their expense; a definite part of Upswing’s mission is reminding people of the awesome potential we have when we work together. 


Run Riot: If you could magically make one change to make circus a more welcoming and inclusive industry for Global Majority performers to work in, what would it be?


Vicki: That is a big question. If we are talking about magic, I would give everyone the power to embrace the knowledge that the limit of their personal experience is not the limit of all human experience.  


The development of this work has led us to create lots of spaces where Global Majority artists have been able to talk to each other, share experiences, find moments where experiences they have had that have been invisible in majority white spaces have been validated. We have also found numerous points where our experiences also deviate. 


Everyone leaves the room understanding more deeply the experiences that are not their own and it has been challenging, revelatory and humbling. It has changed not only the work we are making but also increased my awareness of the things that make us less welcoming.


Run Riot: Who are some of the circus performers and companies you most admire today?


Vicki: I have a huge admiration particularly for the young performers coming into the industry today. It is a tough time to be emerging and creating and there are a number of exciting companies bringing new energy into the sector like Simple Cypher and Out of Order.


Run Riot: What’s next for Upswing?


Vicki: We will be making Common Ground into a full-length indoor circus theatre show for 2024.  It will draw out themes from the film but take those ideas further. I am excited to continue working with Athena on the interaction of stand up comedy and circus and we are working with some amazing partners in the UK and Germany on what I think is going to be a unique, powerful and joyful new show.


view counter