The Mullum Circus Festival isn't just another carnival. Since its humble beginnings in 1991, it's also a home-on-the-road for performers and a place to develop their skills.
Established by Tony 'Macaroni' Rooke as the National Circus Festival on his property in Tasmania, it was initially staged as a professional retreat for circus performers to reconnect and workshop new skills.
“Because a lot of the performers that work in circus tour a lot and we're all spread out all over the world all the time, this is the one opportunity where we get to come together,” Festival Director Shien Chee says.
“We have a training programme a week before the festival, so for a week everyone is doing upskilling and learning new skills, developing new works and creating new companies, and then on the weekend festival everyone who is here performs in the programme.”
The event relocated to its current home at the Mullumbimby Showgrounds in 2001 when it was Co-Produced with local youth circus school, Spaghetti Circus and renamed the Mullum Circus Festival. Shien – also a circus performer – has a long history with the event, having spent her childhood working the festival.
“Tony passed the baton on to a bunch of us, including his son Dan,” she says.
“Dan and I used to run around as teenagers together on Tony's festivals cleaning the toilets and doing all the work. Now he's handed it over to us and Spaghetti Circus has made its home up here in Mullumbimby where we're based in the showgrounds.”
A biennial occurrence since 2013, Mullum Circus Festival is a rare meeting of world-class performers where both new and established works are presented, giving performers a chance to further hone their craft.
One Fell Swoop – 'By A Thread'
“We have over 100 artists that are already on-site and they bring their really run-in, amazing, award-winning shows or new work that they've come up with or are developing,” Shien says.
“I love that we provide this opportunity because it's hard as artists in Australia to have the opportunity to develop new work, have it seen and run it in. This is one place where you can put it in front of an audience, see how it goes and also get your peers to watch, which is a really important part of the process.”
This year, Mullum Circus Festival presents another diverse line-up of breathtaking, death-defying acrobatics and antics including 'By A Thread' from the One Fell Swoop company, which features a never-before-seen rope and pulley contraption.
“That apparatus is really interesting,” Shien says. “It's unique to them; they've developed it and it's a rope that goes through two pulleys in the rig and they do amazing things with it.”
Mullum Circus Festival in 2017 will boast two big tops for the first time, to provide all audiences with an authentic circus feel.
“Audiences are really attracted to the big top,” Shien says.
“It didn't seem to matter that we had cabaret venues or music playing under the fig trees, everyone just wanted to pile into the big top every time and it got really full for every show. So we thought we'd have less of the little stages and tents and just do two big tops.”