Last year I was lucky enough to catch Extraordinary Bodies’ production of Human, and this year the team are back and better than ever with Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror. Keep on reading to find out more about the touring production and hear directly from the cast, and don’t forget to head over to Instagram for the chance to win tickets to one of their upcoming performances!
“Set in 1933 Brandenburg, the Nazis are burning books and suspending civil rights. Many are desperate to escape, but for Waldo and his travelling circus of outcasts, acrobats and aerialists, ‘the show must go on’.
As Hitler’s dictatorship strengthens and oppression grows, the daring humanity and courage of this circus troupe stay hidden beneath the painted-on glamour of Waldo’s big top. Love, loyalty and risk-taking balance on the tightwire as the world outside becomes darker and more dangerous.”Waldo’s Circus Of Magic And Terror
Informed by historical research and the experiences of real performers, the musical is based on an original idea by Hattie Naylor (Ivan and the Dogs, The Night Watch) and co-written with Jamie Beddard (Messiah, The Elephant Man) with an original score by Charles Hazlewood (Paraorchestra).
When I first experienced a performance by Extraordinary Bodies, I was blown away by the commitment to access and inclusion demonstrated both on and off-stage. This year is no exception – every single performance is chilled (relaxed), BSL interpreted, captioned and audio described, and thorough access information is available online.
Waldo’s Circus of Magic & Terror is a glorious collaboration between D/deaf, disabled, and non-disabled artists and creators, and promises to be an epic touring production. Head to the Extraordinary Bodies website to find out more about the show and book your tickets, but for now, let’s hear from some of the talented cast and creatives themselves…
Garry Robson (Performer)
You’re playing the titular role of Waldo in this production, leading a daring and courageous circus troupe amongst and within one of the darkest times in human history. What do you see as the key themes of the production, and how do you feel they translate to the world we live in today?
It’s a fabulous show that mixes up a heady stew of Circus, Music, and Theatre. It’s based upon the experiences of circus performers during the rise of Nazism in 1930’s Germany. Travelling Circuses then and now can be surrogate families for people marginalised by society. As you can imagine, these people are proud of their differences but their culture did not sit well with fascism. These circuses were gradually weeded out and their performers sent to the concentration camps.
This is a story of one such company just as this storm is about to break. But these people didn’t go down without a fight. This is a story of resistance, love, and romance and eventually, for a few, survival. It’s packed with great circus performances, humour and punchy powerful songs that drive the narrative. It’s a beautiful piece of new writing that tells a near forgotten story that has strident echoes for the world we are drifting into today where the rich get richer and the poor and marginalised groups – refugees, immigrants, disabled people, the sick and elderly – are blamed for all the ills of the world.
As an acclaimed and award-winning creative, what’s your best piece of advice for younger disabled performers hoping to pursue a career in the arts?
At the moment diversity is all the rage, so there’s no better time to pursue a career in performance. However, remember you’re not there out of charity but because you bring a unique set of skills and a unique vision of the world to the party. That said, you still often have to be better than the best to succeed. So work hard, train hard and don’t take no for an answer.
Jamie Beddard (Co-Writer)
You have a thriving freelance portfolio from your work in the arts, what initially drew you towards Diverse City and Extraordinary Bodies?
I have been in a leadership role with Diverse City for the last 5 years and this has been my primary focus, alongside keeping some freelance work going. Extraordinary Bodies is a collaboration between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City and I’ve always worked as lead artist within it. I love the chance to lead people, to be active in the planning and strategising. I also really enjoy influencing the work we make and recognise how fortunate I am to have a regular income, and not be reliant on the phone ringing! I’m proud of the journey, achievements and productions of the Company. Extraordinary Bodies has opened up my world – running away to join the circus as a disabled man in his mid-40s was, at once, reckless, liberating, naïve, enlightening, risky, eye-opening, creative and funny!
If audiences take away one single thing after experiencing this production, what would you want that to be?
Waldo’s Circus is a warning and is dealing with many issues close to my heart, which I have done a lot of research into. It asks audiences to never underestimate what people are capable of – good and bad, then and now. I would really like the show to do justice to a pretty dark time and story, and to provoke the audience into new conversations about the power of the collective. Art is a vital medium for presenting stories such as this. Entertainment is key obviously, even though that might seem contradictory, but straddling that line is the ambition of our show.
All the elements of the show present wonderful storytelling possibilities and drawing these together with our brilliant, disabled and non-disabled, artists and teams is vital to the work we do. Combining the energy, skills and creativity of artists across these disciplines of music, circus and theatre is an incredibly rich tapestry on which to create a spectacular, meaningful and vital piece.
Jonny Leitch (Performer)
Can you introduce us to the character(s) you’re playing in this production?
I am playing Renée – a disabled, queer trapeze artist (and drummer, we are not sure yet if it is this character playing the drums or if they are a separate character). They have enough confidence and skill to be whoever they want to be, but in the story the audience sees them fighting against who they truly are as the world closes in around them.
I was lucky enough to see you perform in Human last year and you have an unbelievable level of talent in so many areas, as a performer and as a musician. Do you have a favourite discipline, or is it tough to choose?
Although I will always have a soft spot for drums, as that is what I started with, theatre and circus coming into my life has brought new/exciting challenges. It has all opened up my brain in wonderful ways. I couldn’t live without any of them.
Raphaella ‘Raffie’ Julien (Performer)
You’ve been involved in the arts in all kinds of creative capacities in the past, and movement seems to be at the heart of all of them. What’s your favourite thing about being a performer?
I love to be able to share stories in such creative ways also in being able to use my language (BSL) to get the message across, being able to perform gives me the sense of no barriers and in allowing myself to be in the world of freedom.
In this production you’re playing a Mish, a clown, while also using BSL. Are there any unique challenges that come with signing in character?
Yes. The clowning sides of things can sometimes take over the BSL dialogue, however it is a visual language so I was able to incorporate the language into the clowning mannerisms. Same with movement as in dance we were able to incorporate BSL into dance also!
Thank you so much to the Extraordinary Bodies team for answering my questions! Don’t forget to check out the upcoming tour of Waldo’s Circus of Magic and Terror and book tickets at your nearest venue!
Extraordinary Bodies is a collaboration between Cirque Bijou and Diverse City, who have worked together for the last decade creating multi-disciplinary circus shows with D/deaf, disabled and non-disabled artists.