• stjohnscircusfest

Day 1: Love and Together

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

“If we love what we do and share it with others, then it makes sense and brings us together.” Those were the Festival's co-producer's words at yesterday's Opening Soirée. Anahareo Dölle perfectly summed up Day 1: love and together.

Love was present everywhere you looked. From the sun that shone through the Emera Innovative Exchange's windows and prompted Paul Gudgin to say that “God must love the circus given today's wonderful weather!” to the spark in people's eyes as they gathered in each of the festival's venues.

One man's love for festivals definitely gave the tone to his keynote speech. Coming fresh from his discussion with city officials on the making of a festival and what it can do to a city, Mr. Gudgin spent an hour discussing festivals, what makes them unique, and the joy that they bring. The captive audience at the Alt Hotel could almost hear an exclamation mark punctuating each of his sentences. The speed and joy with which he delivered them made him sound even more impassioned. 30 years spent producing and directing festivals such as Edinburgh's famous “Fringe” definitely fed and kept his passion very much alive. Applauding St. John's Circus Fest's initiative of having a virtual one in 2020 and still offering online content this year, the producer however pointed out that a festival's location has a lot to do with its success. “You want to go back to a festival, feel its energy, be in the moment. You want to travel, to be there, and see what makes this one place special” he added in the same breath.

The deep impacts that a festival can have on a city were other central themes. Such events really can transform any location, create an entirely new atmosphere. In parts because of the out-of-towners who contribute to its energy by adding some of their own and by how the buzz inspire locals who thought they knew their city inside-out. In spite of his deep love for festivals, Mr. Gudgin does not see them through pink glasses, nor does he ignore the other side of the medal. Festivals are working on being but aren't eco-friendly yet. Beside the alarming number of bins and alleys filled with un-recyclable items, the amounts of CO2 that pollutes our air as a result of all the planes, cars, and trucks traveling to and from festivals are undeniable. “Of course, streets and entire neighbourhoods are crowded. Ever tried finding a parking spot in Edinburgh during the Fringe? Why do you think some rent out their flats and escape when their city gets into festival mode?” he asked with a little laugh. As for the million-dollar question “What is a festival?” Mr Gudgin left his audience on that thought: “A city throws a party that everyone is invited to, including itself!”

Inspired by this impassioned speech and this idea of really seeing what a city has to offer, festival-goers took over Water street, filling its terraces and dining establishments to enjoy some of St. John's best recipes. You probably saw a bunch of red festival passes and heard various accents if you were downtown for lunch yesterday! Well-fed, each of our guests returned to the Alt next to which, appropriately enough, a submarine was floating for the “Deep Dives.”

Local and well-known theater director Jillian Keiley openly admitted wanting to “go right for the heart” and led a discussion “à la Oprah” with three artists who work behind the scene. Make-up designer Maryse Gosselin, Lighting designer Nicolas Descoteaux, and casting director Stacy Clark elaborated on their process, inspiration, and how they approach creation. In spite of the numerous hugs and encounters spread throughout the day, at no other point was the word “togetherness” more relevant. All three insisted on the importance of collaboration, on how better a team works when each member truly supports the others, and how more likely they are to reach their goal if all have the same aim.

Looking at her panel colleague, Gosselin spontaneously declared that “the lighting designer is a make-up artist's best friend” and that the first can really help the latter's work shine when working well together. She has been creating make-up designs for numerous circus shows this past decade, including for Cirque Eloize, Toruk, and Luzia by Cirque du Soleil. “I'd never be able to spend three months on a single design. I love how my work allows me to jump from one creation to the next. Make-up designers often come a little later in the creation process and it all goes very fast. We are adding the last touch to the characters and a show's atmosphere” she explained. Next to the creative team, the artists themselves are where she finds most of her inspiration. She believes in enhancing and highlighting performers' features rather than creating a make-up that will cover their natural expressions like a mask.

Inspired by a rock concert, its impressive set, and elaborate lighting concepts he rolled by in his youth, Nicolas Descoteaux removed his skates, developed an eye for photography, and a true fascination for light. Light can alter any place or face.

When asked to define his job, the creator shied away from technical terms and simply said “listening. My job is to listen and support the director's vision.” His words reinforced the day's and panel's theme of togetherness. Having lit all kinds of shows, from concerts to plays, including at Montreal's respected Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, he pointed out that recurrent collaborations allow for more freedom. Descoteaux affirmed that thinking outside the box and pitching what feels like a crazy concept is easier when one already knows the people around the table and trust has been earned.

Supporting her next-stool neighbour, Stacy Clark opened by saying that one must listen first when embarking on a new project. “Start by listening, then decide whether or not to go with your instincts. If you can demonstrate and communicate why you disagree after having really listened to others' opinions, then are you allowed to go with your instincts” she explained.

Like most casting people, her circle of friends includes very few artists who are still performing, if only to avoid her judgment being blinded by one's back story. A part must go to the person who fits it best and made it theirs in the audition room, not to someone who might need the work more or be going through a hard time. She however didn't need to be asked twice and answered in the blink of an eye that she'll always pick someone who might be a little less skilled but is a good team player over a disrupter who knocks it out of the ballpark.

A show can last weeks, months, years, and well-behaved people can ensure its longevity. “It's not only about nailing it once in the audition room but delivering quality work eight, ten times a week. A show needs a good environment created by a well-intended team to go on night after night” she added. The Circus Talk's new CEO who has spent an important part of her career in Cirque du Soleil's casting department concluded by saying that she never saw herself as a dream crusher and always tries to give feedback whenever possible. Artists can and need to learn from each audition. Some can grow and get the part a month or a year later if properly geared.

And as the sun slowly set on St. John's, the circus community made their way to the Sheraton where En Piste, the national circus arts alliance, offered the first drink to celebrate the country's first important circus gathering in the last 18 months. As if that wasn't enough, people cheered and sang “happy birthday” to Montreal's national circus school's representatives since the institution just turned 40!

Anahareo Dölle could hardly contain her laugh when introducing one of the school's future graduates of 2022 and admitting that this summer will make it 20 years since her own graduation. People from numerous provinces filled the room, shared their love for the circus arts by watching some performing their best tricks, and were together to discuss what awaited them next at the festival.

Love and together, that was Day 1 at St. John's international circus festival. Come back tomorrow for more and be sure to catch today's panels and shows, online or in-person!

Et en français au festival international de cirque de Saint John's...

Un soleil radieux annonçait une entrée en matière chaleureuse au petit matin. “Dieu doit vraiment aimer le cirque compte tenu du temps fabuleux qu'il nous offre” s'est exclamé Paul Gugin. Les représentants municipaux de Saint John's ont eu droit à un discours tout en passion et en convictions sur les impacts positifs qu'a un festival sur une ville. Ces événements suscitent intérêt et curiosité, font gagner en visibilité, et enntraînent d'importants gains touristiques et financiers.

À la question “qu'est-ce qu'un festival?” Le producteur oeuvrant dans ce domaine depuis trois décennies a répondu: “Une fête donnée par une ville à laquelle tous sont invités, incluant ses propres gens!”

L'Alt Hotel a ensuite pris des allures de studio télé où trois invités ont échangé sur la création et leurs sources d'inspiration. La conceptrice de maquillage Maryse Gosselin, l'artiste éclairagiste Nicolas Descoteaux, et la directrice de casting Stacy Clark ont ainsi fait de nombreux liens entre leurs différemts domaines et approches artistiques.

“Je serais incapable de passer trois mois sur les mêmes dessins, de me consacrer à un seul projet. La nature de notre travail me permet d'aller de création en création.” a expliqué Mademoiselle Gosselin à l'animatrice improvisée Jillian Keiley.

Cette première journée de festivités s'est terminée sur un chaleureux discours de la co-productrice Anahareo Dölle. “Si nous aimons ce que nous faisons, notre travail prend tout son sens et nous sommes en mesure de le partager avec autrui. Cet amour et ce partage sont rassembleuts” a-t-elle déclaré avant de chanter “Joyeux anniversaire” aux représentants de l'École nationale de cirque de Montréal. L'institution célébre ses 40 ans cette année.

Le plaisir de se retrouver et de retrouver le cirque a dominé ce Jour 1. La barre est haute pour la suite!

- Martin Frenette

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