Circus Oz Brings Meaning to 'New' Circus
Circus Oz features tumblers, jugglers, acrobats, clowns, musicians and more.
(Credit: Aaron Walker)

Do you wonder where all your childhood thoughts about “running away to the circus” may have disappeared to? Well fortunately, some people were able to make their childhood dreams a reality. 

Campus Circle had the opportunity to dive deeper within this magical world and caught-up with Circus Oz, an Australian pop-up traveling circus that will be making a stop right here in Los Angeles Feb. 7 through Feb. 10 at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Circus Oz performer and percussionist Bec Matthews gave insight into this unique and exclusive circus world.

Campus Circle
: What kind of person makes for a great circus performer and why?
Bec Matthews: Someone who is curious, passionate, self-motivated, determined, has a sense of play and is capable of thriving either with a team or in complete isolation.

CC: What is the journey for someone who wants to become part of the Circus Oz ensemble?
BH: There is not really a typical path towards joining Circus Oz. Over the years, the ensemble has included performers with decades of experience and rigorous training alongside performers with no specific circus experience who are hired as MCs, clowns, dancers, singers and musicians who have often learnt circus skills on the road. Some of the current members have come through a youth circus school called the Flying Fruit Fly Circus and or a circus specific university course at the National Institute of Circus Arts. The majority of these performers also have years of experience performing before they join the Circus Oz Ensemble. The casting process is not just a matter of finding the right mix of skills, but equally is as important as finding the right mix of personalities and a commitment to gender balance within the ensemble.

CC: Where would you say Circus Oz gets much of its inspirations as far as costumes, themes, performances, etc.?
BH: Circus Oz is Australian, so a lot of the costumes and themes have reflected Australian culture, often with a sense of irony. There are also references to popular culture and current politics. This current show “From The Ground Up” is set on a building site, which reflects both the fact that Circus Oz is moving to a new site and the sense that Australia is still building its cultural identity.

CC: What are some characteristics of Circus Oz that make this ‘pop-up’ circus different from any other circus experience and why?
BH: A major difference is the prevalence of multitasking within Circus Oz. In many modern circus companies, performers or technicians are often hired to do one specific task. Whereas in Circus Oz, one performer may juggle, tumble, do flying trapeze, clown, play an instrument and assist with stage management within one show. All of this is on view to the audience. Circus Oz also encourages its performers to let their individual personalities show rather than be a replaceable cog in the wheel. Also, the material in [the] shows is largely devised through collaboration rather than a director or writer dictating what the show will be.

CC: When it comes to standing-out in the world of “big top,” what would you say are some of the guidelines or specifications Circus Oz is particularly structured after when it comes to putting on a performance?
BH: Circus Oz falls under the category of “new” circus rather than [traditional] circus. “New” circus does not involve animals, often has a theatrical through line and is generally capable of being transferred from the big top into the theatre. It is a modern interpretation of an age-old art form.

CC: Once part of the “mob,” are there key elements or aspirations in the Circus Oz  ‘way of life’ that are code?
BH: For the ensemble, the most important core value in order for us all to work well and safely together is trust. Other values that are reflected in our daily work together are respect, creativity, collaboration and passion. Beyond that, Circus Oz is committed to democracy and social justice and creating innovative live entertainment [that] is irreverent, funny and reflects Australian Cultural.

CC: As a troupe, what is something you feel you leave behind or strive to leave behind with every city you perform?
BH: Smiles, warmed hearts, new friends and a sense that anything is possible!

CC: And how do you feel you influence the next generation of circus-goers?
BH: I like to think that we demonstrate that circus is for everyone despite gender, body type, age, cultural or socio economic background and that it is possible to be entertaining at the same time, while delivering a social, political or personal message.

Circus Oz has numerous matinee and night shows Feb. 7-10 at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Westwood. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.