David Coombs’ new production Uncovered is the only one of it’s kind at this year’s Midsumma Festival. It’s a circus show that pushes and pulls the definition of circus, incorporating dance, nudity and smoke machines. Coombs took a moment to answer Katherine Back’s questions.
Uncovered uses a mix of dance and circus to tell stories – specifically, queer stories. What inspired you to use this approach to tell queer stories, and what were some of the challenges you faced in doing this?
Circus as a whole has always been a very inclusive community, where diversity is embraced and encouraged. However, most shows that combine circus and queer themes often have a small nod to gay characters or stories.
It’s been great to be able to create something where all the small moments between characters are engaging queer themes and also presenting them as normal, not as the “other”.
The challenge with creating a show aimed at the gay community is that you can’t please everyone. There’s such a huge diversity within it and people’s pathways are all so varied. We had to pick a small collection of moments and concepts to play within so we didn’t just give those small nods to little cross sections of the community that deserve to have their stories told properly.
Have you found that there are stories that are easier to tell through the medium of circus?
Definitely! Circus in itself has a very physical way of telling stories and typically I’ve found it easy to tell stories of struggle, as the physical strain of doing circus reads naturally if you allow people to see the struggle.
However, for this show we’re not looking back at the dark moments, but finding the lightness and some of the more provocative stories, which calls for the performers to hide the strain and make everything seem effortless. That’s when we can bring back those memories of first love, lust and allow the audience to have a chuckle at some of the mishaps that occur along the way too.
Many people have preconceived ideas about what circus is and what it can do? How does Uncovered challenge these ideas, and what can the audience expect from the show?
Many people see circus as a very traditional old school form of entertainment with Big Tops, clowns in bad makeup, and animals.
Uncovered is one of many shows now bringing circus to the contemporary audiences, allowing acrobats who can do amazing things with their bodies to not just perform tricks for applause, but also to make people laugh and think while maintaining that sense of wonder from back when they were a child going to the circus for the first time.
Audiences can expect a really fun night out, with more than a touch of spice.
How is this show different to shows you’ve done in the past? What’s new about it, and what are you excited to show off?
This is my first show in the Pilot’s seat, which has been a huge challenge and a fully rewarding experience. My last ensemble show I performed was in Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi where the culture is still very much about respecting modesty and subtlety. This show is fully in reverse of that concept and it’s great to be able to just create some mayhem, and have a laugh with the audience.
Midsumma is one of Melbourne’s biggest queer events, and showcases a huge range of queer talent from Melbourne and beyond. What are your thoughts on Midsumma as an event, and how do you think it impacts the community, both queer and otherwise?
I love that Midsumma is just as much about the arts, as it is about the queer community. Historically the arts has been a safe haven for people who are different and it’s great to have an opportunity for those people to have their voices heard. Once this show’s over I’m super excited to go see as many shows and events as I can to just expose myself to how great our differences can be.
As for the community, I feel it really does a great job of bringing inclusiveness to the front of the conversation about queer issues. Both in regards to highlighting the areas where the queer community hasn’t felt included in the past, to showcasing that we as a community are super welcoming of people that don’t fall under the queer umbrella.
What are you hoping that people will take away from Uncovered?
A smile. This show’s all about having a good time and remembering the good times.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the queer arts scene in Melbourne? What would you like to see more (or less) of from the scene and its participants?
Oddly specific but having just come back from a decent amount of time travelling overseas, I’d love the see the drag queens and kings be given more space to create and perform. There’s some amazing talent lurking here in Melbourne that aren’t aware of what they’re capable of, and I’d love to see them start kicking down some doors. They’ve always been an icon of queer culture and I feel that they can go places that other people just don’t have access to, which makes them so important.
What’s on the horizon for you and the rest of the crew after Midsumma?
It’s a new chapter! We really don’t have a whole lot planned as half the cast recently graduated from circus school and are still working out what’s next, and the other half are heading right back into full time training.
As for me? You know as much as I do, and that’s the way I like it!
Uncovered is on at Gasworks from the 27th until the 30th of January as part of Midsumma. Shows are at 8pm, with an extra early evening show at 5pm on Saturday. Tickets are $28 or $20 concession, and are available via www.gasworks.org.au