An interview with Circus Tsuica

As French circus company Circa Tsuica set up camp in the The Lowry Plaza
ahead of their new show Now or Never with the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford we
talk to co-director and performer Tom Neal and workshop leader and
performer Baptiste Bouquin about the show…
First of all, what is Now or Never all about? What are you trying to achieve with
the show?
Tom: Our first aim is to create a really great link between us and the audience – but
also among the audience themselves. Everyone is individually welcomed and invited
to share something to eat and drink. One way or another, we want everyone to
become part of the show.

We perform a lot on bicycles because they are universal objects that everyone uses
or sees on a daily basis. A bike is less abstract than a trapeze or teeterboard –
though we perform on those too – and it’s great to show people just what can be
done on one!

Live music, composed by Guillaume Dutrieux, is also very central in Now or Never.
It’s not just as an accompaniment – we all play our instruments and do circus tricks at
the same time. Blending the acrobatics and the music really enhances the way we
reach the audience.

In the end what people usually remember is how close to us they feel – and that is
reciprocal, we feel the same way too. This show is an ode to tolerance, sharing and
living together in peace.

The young musicians of the MAPAS Jazz Band, Salford are performing with
you in the show, how have you worked together?
Baptiste: Before the Circus arrives, we have had two sessions where we rehearse
the sections of the show that they will play with us. We help them with the usual musical parameters – rhythm, sound, playing together etc – but also with the specific
skills that they will need to be part of the show. They’ll need to know all the music by
heart so they can interact with the others, they will have to move on stage, they will
have to be characters (for example, they`ll be guests in a wedding scene). Some of
the bands are surprised that they need performance as well as music skills!
When the circus arrives, we do the dress rehearsals in the Big Top with all the team.
We want the young musicians to really make the most of the whole experience, not
just be focussed on notes or sheets of music.
Maybe that`s what we want to share with them, that music is huge and there are so
many different ways to perform it. In Now or Never, it`s linked to circus, to a
relationship with others, to joy and risk. It`s not just about playing notes – even if I
would prefer them to play the right ones!
Now or Never takes place in Circa Tsuica’s travelling Big Top rather than a
theatre. What difference does that make for you as performers? And what
about for the audience?
Tom: Performing in a circus ring is very, very different to performing on a stage.
There is no ‘cheating’ in a ring, the audience is all around you and there is nowhere
to hide. All the action is in the centre so the the focus is greater. For the audience,
every point of view is unique and close-up. For us, it is a challenge because we have
to make every perspective interesting. At the same time, we can really feel the
closeness of the audience which is a great pleasure. The audience can see each
other and we like to play with that in the show. We change people’s perspective, get
people talking to each other while eating some crepes, we want everyone to feel that
they are invited to a giant party.
Baptiste: When the audience arrives they expect to just go and find their seats but,
actually, it`s already like a party, or the main square of a village. There`s a buffet right
in the middle of the track, people are offered drinks by the artists, they are
welcomed. It a very warm atmosphere, the opposite of the pomp and circumstance
of some theatres.
How do you work together to set up the tent – and the camp around it which
you will live in while you are in town?

Tom: Well, setting up the tent and everything inside takes us about a day. It is
usually a collaboration between us and a group of local people provided by the
venue. I am the tent master and I explain to the locals how things should be done. In
our group everyone knows what to do so it’s quite organic. If the location allows it we
then place the caravans in which we live all around the Big Top to recreate a tiny
village. Before and after the show the audience is invited to walk along them to share
a glimpse of what our lives can be, since in “real life”, back in France, we live in the
same village (but in houses now) and run our company together collectively.
How does daily life work while you are there? Who does the shopping, the
cooking, the washing? Do the kids go to school?
Tom: We have a very long preparation day before the show, we need to prepare the
food and drinks we offer to the audience, clean the stage, wash the costumes, check
the props, instruments and the bicycles, warm up, rehearse the music and the circus
and so on… We also have our own showers and laundry in a semi-trailer, we have a
cook preparing nice meals, a nanny, a teacher, with a mini-circus-tent-school, in
order to be as autonomous as possible, so when I say we’re recreating a real village
it is not a joke…
Is it true that once the tent is up, that there will be music rehearsals during the
day that passerbys can come along and watch and listen to?
Tom: Sure, we’re always happy to welcome people to have a peep when we
rehearse, so come along if you hear noises in the Big Top…
Circa Tsuica will be in the Lowry Plaza from Monday 27 August
Now or Never is from Thursday 30 August to Saturday 1 September (listings below)
Thursday 30 August to Saturday 1 September at 7pm
The Lowry Plaza, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ
Booking through The Lowry
Box office: 0843 208 6000 /
Tickets: £16 (£13 concessions)

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