Cry from the heart: Rachel Clare interviewed in Arts Industry Magazine (AI)
Rachel Clare founded the touring company Crying Out Loud in 2002 to present theatre productions whose first quality is to be visually stunning. The company is currently visiting 14 venues with Circus Evolution.
AI: Why and where did you set up Crying Out Loud – and why Crying Out Loud?
RC: I set up the company in 2002 with a start-up Arts Council Producer’s Bursary. There were very few independent producers on the visual and physical theatre touring circuit in those days but I was inspired by Michael Morris’s Cultural Industry, ArtsAdmin and Serious. I’d dabbled in the music industry and seen how it was possible to set up something independently with a get-up-and-go attitude. The idea was to offer bespoke producing for emerging visual theatre artists and festivals in Europe and to tour shows beyond London which was rare at the time.
The name is inspired by a family declaration to stop doing something, usually when it was getting really interesting. If my brother and I were being inventively naughty, my mother would shout, ‘For crying out loud, stop doing that.’
AI: What are the art forms you present and can you blend them?
RC: We produce artists whose work is often difficult to categorise. The work is predominantly visual, telling stories through unconventional means and can combine different forms such as dance, circus, physical theatre, promenade performance, music etc. We work in theatre spaces and site-specific locations to create extraordinary experiences. For example, we have presented a durational musical installation in a shipping container for five people at a time; an inflatable structure hosting a dance event for babies and, our largest event to date, a pop-up circus in Piccadilly Circus as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. We closed central London and over 250 artists from nine countries turned iconic London landmarks into a non-stop playground for twelve hours.
AI: How did circus become perceived as theatre, and is it properly supported?
RC: Circus continues to evolve as theatre as more artists experiment with the art form. For me, the best shows happen when there is a narrative arc – when the piece is written, giving it form, structure and pace. This appetite for a new type of circus has been developing in the UK for many years. Its recent acceleration is down to greater investment from ACE, more opportunities for artists and an increasingly positive response from programmers and audiences. There are also initiatives developing the sector nationwide, including our own City Circ and Circus Evolution projects.
AI: What is Circus Evolution?
RC: It’s a UK-wide strategic partnership of venues, funded by Arts Council England’s Strategic Touring Programme, to bring more contemporary circus to more people. the first projects runs from 2013 – 2017 and the second, subject to funding, will run from 2017 to 2020. Past and present members are The Civic, Barnsley; Déda, Derby; Hat Factory, Luton; Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield; Lighthouse, Poole; The Lowry, Salford; Oxford Playhouse; Pontio, Bangor; Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry; SeaChange Arts, Great Yarmouth and New Wolsey, Ipswich.
We’ve worked closely with the Audience Agency to understand the audiences at each venue. Existing attenders have been mapped and profiled to identify the gaps in the market and venues’ existing audience development plans augmented by Circus Evolution resources. We’ve seen that contemporary circus attracts a high number of new attenders who then return to see other shows.
AI: What is your own background?
RC: My life has always been a collision of theatre and performance with a highly visual element. Having lived in Africa and the Caribbean as a child I was constantly travelling, surrounded by different cultures and languages. I was often an outsider trying to find a way in and, when I couldn’t, I’d invent my own way. I always went to local schools and somehow scraped into Manchester University to study drama. I did a post grad in theatre design and then went to John Cass School of Art to study contemporary arts practice while working as a part-time freelance programmer at Watermans, Riverside Studios, Lyric Hammersmith and Southbank Centre.
AI: You work with at least as many foreign companies as British ones – the current tour has two French acts and one Swedish. Will Brexit affect what you can do?
RC: Circus has historically attracted an eclectic mix of international artists working together so this autumn’s tour is no exception. It includes Italian, Swiss, French, Swedish and Belgian performers and as a result we have support for this tour from The Swiss Cultural Fund UK, Wallonie Bruxelles International and EUNIC (European Union National Institutes for Culture).
Undoubtably Brexit will affect us in a negative way but it won’t stop us. Our curiosity to explore other cultures will continue and artists will persist in collaborating across borders. Having spent 25 years forging international forging international partnerships and collaborations, we have friends and colleagues in theatres, arts organisations and festivals across Europe. Those relationships are not easily erased. But, if we have to apply for permits to work with our fellow European artists, well, that will be impossible.
AI: Are there other art forms you might include – performance poetry, for instance?
RC: If an artist we work with wants to include performance poetry in their work then we would of course support that, but might seek specialist advice from that sector.
AI: How does your Four Year Artists programme work, and will this be hit by Brexit too?
RC: As creative producers we have three priorities; artist development, sector development and putting on shows. We work with a stable of seven associated artists on a project-by-project basis, depending on their need and ambition. As most of these are partnered with European projects there will inevitably be an impact post-Brexit.
AI: How do you see Crying Out Loud developing?
RC: As well as Circus Evolution, our future planning currently focuses on Circus 250 in 2018, the anniversary of the very first permanent circus ring in the UK being built by Philip Astley in 1768. Look out for the UK-wide circus activity as we’ll be showing how far circus has come in the last 250 years. I can assure you it won’t be what you expect!
This interview features in the current issue of AI.