Circus Is Not the Only Fruit

A Word From the Editors

"'There’s this world,’ she banged the wall graphically, ‘and there’s this world,’ she thumped her chest. ‘If you want to make sense of either, you have to take notice of both'."

"Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently."

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

We started this project with the motivation to listen to artists talk about art. In the middle of a pandemic, understandably the dominant conversation becomes centered around survival and rescue plans. The fear of being left behind is very real, particularly in an industry that struggles so much with its identity. There is the urge to all jump into the same lifeboat if we can. Not so much in resistance to this desire, but rather in the hope that creative dialogue and difference will be an important part of any future resolution, we wanted to hold space for artistic practice amid the emergency.

The aim of this project is to explore and celebrate the diversity of expressions circus emerges as in the UK. To be from circus, rather than explicitly about circus. To pull together different practices, experiences, journeys, influence and inspiration and to build an impression of the diverse lenses these makers hold to our industry and wider society. We acknowledge completely that this publication is not representative of the sector as a whole. Rather we sought out those who defy circus as it is currently thought of in some way, in order to imagine it otherwise.

We asked all of the artists and makers the same questions and among the myriad of topics that emerged, we heard thanks for the work and influence of fellow artists (Chloe Mantripp, Daisy Drury, Mish Weaver), resistance to genre and categorisation (Milton Lopes, Carolina Ortega) and challenges for our community (Vicki Amedume, Stav Meishar, Kate Kavanagh). We explored embodied research practices (Ziggy Slingsby, Maisy Taylor) and celebrated mess, catharsis, failure and process (Ben Duke, Symoné, Marisa Carnesky).  

This project has been a way for us to connect with our sector in a time of disconnection, to converse and collaborate with artists, producers and directors, many of whom we had never met before. We hope that you can also discover something here. This was a huge endeavour for just the two of us, even with boundless amounts of time we had on our hands. What you see here is the first issue of two, with the second following in the next few months. At the point of publishing, the pandemic is far from over but the moment of pause in which this work was created has subtly shifted into a waiting room that on the surface looks a bit more like normal life. We hope that this work can be a reminder of some of the people who are out there fighting to continue and that their thoughts here contribute to the picture of circus as we imagine it in the future.

We would like to thank all of the interviewed and commissioned artists who have so generously contributed their time, reflection and honesty to this publication. We are extremely grateful to Arts Council England and National Lottery players for supporting our organisation during the COVID19 pandemic and for giving us the opportunity to create Circus is Not the Only Fruit. Many thanks to Francesca Peschier for her excellent guidance throughout the process – a pleasure as always!  Thank you to our mentors for their coaching, support and conversation: Adrian Berry (Jacksons Lane), Lina B.Frank (Cirkus Syd) and Mel Scaffold and the team at Theatre Bristol. Thanks to our proofreader Helen Day, Kate Kavanagh for her advice on commissioning and access, and the Invisible Circus for getting us out of the rain. Last but not least, we are grateful to all of the photographers and visual artists who have granted us permission to use their work. It has been a privilege to work with you all.

Laura Murphy & Nicole A’Court Stuart


A graphic novel style painting in red and black, of Milton Lopes, a mixed race man, with shoulder length dreadlocks and who doesn't have fingers on his left hand. He is doing aerial harness, in the middle of a red painted spiral, reaching towards the centre of the image with his left hand.

Milton Lopes

“I really don’t like the way that people see disabled performers as inspirational or ‘brave’, regardless of what we do on stage”

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Photo credit: Safia Almaghrabi 


Ziggy Slingsby

A black ink drawing of a human pelvis bone.


Lucy is a skeleton, female, 3.2 million years old and belongs to a species known as Australopithecus Afarensis. She was discovered in Ethiopia, 1974 and the study of her bones has advanced understanding of human evolution.

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A dark photograph of three artists covered in green, pink and blue UV paint. They are seated on a stage in a circle, at the left Ruby a white tall female with short hair is seated reaching out for Duane with Symoné's hand caressing her face. In the middle Symoné, a black female, is staring into Duane's eyes with his hand on her chin staring back. To the right, Duane, a non-binary person, has their back turned facing Symoné.

Imagining UTOPIAN

I sit near a 20ft bonfire, neon lights are slowly breathing in the distance and the faded sound of liquid drum and bass vibrates through the air.

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Francesca Hyde

Three human bodies, with white and brown skin, are seemingly merged together, to become a “ball” of different heads and limbs suspended approximately two feet above the ground. You can not see the faces on the individual performers, they appear to exist as one entity. The wall behind is made of sand coloured bricks and the floor is grey, and has a large crack pictured in the foreground of the image.


Greetings, allow me to introduce myself. I am the artistic director of Collectif and then… We make contemporary performances and installations together which draw on our various circus practices.

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Mish Weaver

A hand drawn, interlinking web-like diagram connecting different circus artists, companies, places, circus schools, venues and shows.

Streams of Influence

Streams of Influence involves slowing everything down. Having interviewed practitioners of her generation about their creative journeys, Mish slowed it down by drawing mind maps of the conversations and reflecting on what influenced them at different stages, looking at differences and similarities.

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Carolina Ortega

Photo of live circus-theatre production What The Circus?. The image shows a young black man with dreadlocks, wearing a black and gold sparkly dress, and a young white woman with shoulder length blond hair, who is wearing sunglasses, a suit jacket, tie and slightly unbuttoned shirt. He is leaning towards her cupping his hand as if to whisper something into her ear. She is holding a microphone and her mouth is slightly open as if she is saying something. Both performers are looking forward into the camera.

Redefining Form

I once received an email from the Artistic Director of a circus venue, offering a ‘residency’ so that we, myself and my company, could – with his help – ‘fix’ our show and make it more ‘circusy’.

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Katharine Kavanagh

Figure 1. Mutually influencing and mediating structures of the performing arts system. Adapted from Van Maanen (2002:180)

Getting Rid of The Circus

The language we use isn’t purely formal. It constitutes our perspective of the world. It influences the way we think (Sinha, 2017). Consider the difference between ‘The Circus’ and ‘Circus’.

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Stav Meishar

A graphite pencil sketch on a white background by bristol artist Gail Reid. The scene is the aftermath of Colston's statue being pulled down. Central is the ornate stone and bronze plinth on which the statue stood. On it now stands a young black female demonstrator, with shoulder length hair who is looking out with one fist raised in the air. At the bottom of the plinth placards are displayed, leaning in a pile. One depicts a stenciled raised fist, others read ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Silence is violence’, and another lists 20+ names of young black people who died in the custody of UK police. In the background disappearing out of frame, we can see the overturned statue of colston.


As a circus-theatre artist whose work is based on historical figures, I think celebrating lineage is important.

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Contra Project

We are a queer, female led company (Nicole A’Court Stuart & Laura Murphy) committed to making, touring & supporting the development of politically engaged, interdisciplinary, & boundary pushing work in Circus.

We are passionate about contributing to critical discourse around circus practice, making performance, and producing in the UK and mainland Europe. We produce public and industry presentations, speak about our research, and teach creative workshops. We are working to develop both organisational partnerships and new models for achieving positive social change through our work.

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