Circus Oz 2013: Cranked Up

My earliest memories of the circus are not of elephants or horses, or too many clowns in a undersized car. There was no sawdust, no three rings, there was no Barnum, no Bailey, no Ringling Brothers; it was not like the circus from the movies that folks run off to. There was nothing American about it at all. One of my brothers, my father and I all have our birthdays within the same week, and family tradition dictated that each year one of us would receive tickets to the circus as their present, necessitating the need for the rest of the family to accompany them. Late January, 40 degree days and we would be at the matinee, in the vacant ruins of the Queen Vic Hospital (In case what you were wondering what QV Shopping centre stands for), baking under the canvas.

My first memories of the circus are Circus Oz, with The Flying Fruit Flies and my absolute favourite – I could watch him every year and not get bored – the astounding Upside Down Man, who defied gravity and my imagination time and time again. Circus Oz has kept on chugging along over the years, I have even been down to a show at its current location, the Big Top on Birrarung Marr and am happy to report none of the magic has faded. It still holds the same anarchic Aussie charm, a free-wheeling spirit that is both dangerous and inclusive, Circus Oz continues to deliver everything a circus should be.


“My exposure to circus as a child was through old movies like Trapeze and The Greatest Show On Earth,” says Bec Matthews, a musician and performer who has been with Circus Oz since 2010. “I was really into it when I saw films but I didn’t actually get to see a circus myself until I was about 15 and I remember thinking how amazing human beings were. There were animals in that circus but I remember leaving it thinking that they didn’t need them, those humans were incredible – so it was very inspiring. I did see Circus Oz several times along the way and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be great.’ But I never really thought about it more than that until I got the call to come and audition.”


This year they are back with Cranked Up. “It is energetic, it’s fun, it’s silly and it is awe-inspiring. This year’s show, which is a cranked up version of last year’s show, is set on a construction site,” Bec explains. “The old favourites are all there, we have got the straps and the sway pole, flying traipse, Rolla bolla, they have all been ramped up.” Disappointingly, well at least for me, is that The Upside Down Man is not in this year’s show.


“We have got a new MC, an Indigenous, roving provocateur is the current way we are describing him – Mark Sheppard. He has done a lot of work acting and had his own show, Chasing The Lollyman. He is a real asset to have in the show, he’s a great improviser, very funny, very smart and it’s been great to have fresh energy on the floor.


“I’ve got a aerial drumming act,” she continues. “It is great fun, I swing through the air drumming. The thing I think I enjoyed the most was the process of creating it. I am drawn to circus because of collaboration – so I got to work with our rigger, Chad, who built a contraption for me to fly around in, and one of the acrobats Shane. The act integrates drumming and tumbling, so for me that is now my ultimate circus experience, out there on the floor and working with the other artists.”


For a percussionist, Bec sure seems like a performer, and that is because she is. Originally she studied a Bachelor of Performing Arts at Monash but ended up in a music stream at the VCA. “I was really interested in theatre but I realised I wasn’t interested in being an actor,” she confesses. “So I pursued music but that love of theatre never left me. I find it really satisfying to put music together with theatre, whether it be dance, cabaret, spoken word or circus – it is just where it is at for me. I play anything you can hit. I was playing a lot of tuned percussion, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, timpani, playing in orchestras. In high school I had played the drum kit and piano, so I followed that combination into orchestral percussion. I wanted to work with physical theatre, not necessarily circus, and I ended up just getting involved with the Women’s Circus. So I directed shows with them over a few years, learning a little bit of circus myself along the way.”



Circus Oz 2013: Cranked Up will be under the big top on Birrarung Marr from Wednesday June 19 through Sunday July 14. Tickets from Ticketmaster.