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In it for the long haul: Jacksons Lanes' Adrian Berry on artist development and CircusFest 2014

Twelve months after we last spoke to him Adrian Berry, Artistic Director of Jacksons Lane, has got lots to report. One of London’s top circus destinations has had a busy year, supporting emerging and established forces alike: in the next couple of weeks alone five pieces the venue has been involved in are taking part in this year’s CircusFest.

This though is just the end result of all the effort Jacksons Lane puts into bringing new names to the circus scene. Working with around 50 companies per year, offering residences, workshops, financial and in-kind support, the North London hot spot continues to make a difference in artists’ careers. It’s not every day you get to hear about this side of theatre, so we jumped at the chance to uncover the secrets of producing. How do you make work happen? How does Jacksons Lane decide which company to support? Just how important is it to get the venue’s name right? For that insider information about CircusFest and top tips on getting into circus yourself read on!

Run-Riot: It’s been almost a year since we caught up with you! What has Jacksons Lane been up to?

Adrian Berry: Let me think…. we’ve been putting a giant puppet-circus shows on in the woods, taking more exciting and bigger work out of the building, supporting brilliant companies for the London International Mime Festival, artists, bringing circus performers to our building from all over the globe to develop new work… it’s been a really great 12 months when we look back.

Run-Riot: You’re currently in the midst of CircusFest, which sees you working closely with the Roundhouse. Can you tell us about this collaboration between the two prominent circus-oriented London venues?

Adrian Berry: It sometimes feels like we’re a kind of extension of what they do in a way, but remaining totally autonomous at the same time. We support and feed in artists and work that is often too small for their main space, so we host and create work here and develop shows for their studio and outdoor big top. We’re also looking to work on an exciting project with our youth circuses and international artists called Call to Create – there’s always a plan or collaboration going on with them. It’s a great and mutually supportive relationship that we have with the Roundhouse.

Run-Riot: CircusFest offers a 5-week season of performances, often programmed in slightly longer runs than the more classic festival format would allow for. What do you see as the key benefits of curating this way?  

Adrian Berry: Giving more exposure to new and international work, but more importantly – more choice for audiences so they can, if they wish, see everything. One-offs and single-night shows are hard to market and promote but longer runs give the shows a chance to bed-in, to gain more attention and coverage and build audiences. Makes total sense. Plus the fit-ups for circus shows can take days so to pull it down after a night is often a bit senseless.

Run-Riot: The programme of CircusFest this year brings us 2 Jacksons Lane productions - Triptych and STRIKE!, as well as 3 co-productions you were involved in. Can you introduce us to these performances?

Adrian Berry: So Alice Alhart’s Triptych came though us supporting Alice over the last 2 years – she has cropped up in a fair few things at Jacksons Lane and we were keen to support her first full-length solo show. She’s really special and unique, and the attraction of having DV8’s Rob Tannion involved was a real plus. It’s trick-cycling, but it’s also acro and clowning. She’s turning into a fine, skilled and comedic performer.

Strike came out of our Transmission circus residency programme. The momentum and impetus was very sudden from scratch performance in August to full production in April for Circus Fest. We have never given so much support to a production and we are pleased to be leading the way with Keziah on what it was one of the best cross-fertilisations of theatre and circus I have seen in recent times. It’s as much object theatre as circus – hundreds of boxes, a dark and funny narrative. It’s going to be truly awesome.

Silver Lining we previewed here a few months ago – they’re an exciting and emerging collective who came out of Circus Space and their friendship really shows. They’re irreverent, quirky, daring, accessible. We love them and they’ve got a really bright future.

Circus Geeks’ BETA Testing acknowledges that many people often get bored with conventional juggling and so tip the medium on its head hilariously. Lo-fi gadgets, anarchy, and yes – even some juggling. It’s a collaboration between Jacksons Lane and four other venues in the UK and France. Really worth catching.

The last one is Ella Robsons Guilfoyle’s Echoes which was on last week. It also came out of our Transmission residency. It featured two performers from Silver Lining – Louis and Beren – and a cast of other circus performers but also contemporary dancers. It had amazing Chinese pole and trampoline work, and was presented by in a giant public space in Camden.

Run-Riot: Jacksons Lane often follows a piece from scratch to work in progress to a full-scale production, a process that can sometimes take several years. How do you assist the artists at different stages of devising?

Adrian Berry: It differs. Sometimes it is artistic, often it’s through company mentoring, usually technical and marketing support is offered too. We have a great team here with a wealth of resources and expertise to support artists. We are in it for the long haul, so it’s a process of offering space and time over a long period to enable them to have that solid base, that home, that advice and ear when needed.

Run-Riot: Companies often start developing new pieces through residencies, opening the devising process up to potential producers. Do you think there’s pressure on artists to come up with polished early stage pieces to ensure institutional support?

Adrian Berry: It’s exactly what we tell them they don’t need to do. Yes there is pressure from venues and producers often, but anyone worth their salt will give the work time to grow, breath, fail, and experiment. During our Transmit shared residency programme which we ran in March with 10 international circus artists, they developed short works over the week and I made it clear that we would show it in an informal setting with no pressure to deliver. We will only show work to a public audience when artists are ready to do so. Having said that we do advertise scratches occasionally as it’s often useful to get a totally objective viewpoint from members of the public rather than always the arts sector.

Run-Riot: What’s your advice for artists engaging in these programmes when it comes to developing relationships with venues?

Adrian Berry: Be nice. Seriously. Start off with a cup of coffee. Invite us to see work. Talk to us. Keep us informed. But above all – be nice. It goes a long way, and is always returned. 
Run-Riot: With the number of new artists making their mark each year, coming to decisions on who to work with long term must be challenging. What is involved in deciding which pieces to continue supporting?

Adrian Berry: It always sounds arbitrary I feel, but it really is organic. For Transmit, many of the artists said that the best thing about applying is that we didn’t ask for a 2000 word proposal. Some sent little poems and links to videos, some photographs and drawings, some dropped in on-spec and asked to see the space and chat with me. Maybe one day we will have to open things up more formally but for now it’s working this way. I always say that if it feels ‘Jacksons Lane’ then it’s right for us, whatever the medium. It’s hard to define, but some artists just get it. And they are the ones we choose to work with. But initially, drop us a line. Make it personal. Don’t send generic emails with ‘Dear Programmer’ and then cut and paste your proposal, usually referencing the wrong venue. The amount of times I have had to say ‘sorry I don’t work for the Barbican/Roundhouse’ is quite hilarious.

Run-Riot: Many emerging artists have to balance building a career with a day job. What’s your 2 cents on striking the right balance and knowing when to take the plunge?

Adrian Berry: I was with an artist yesterday who thought that because we were offering him a week’s space that he didn’t need to raise any funds and he could just not work for a week, like it was a gift to him. That’s a noble attitude to have, but it’s important that artists are paid for what they do even if it is in addition to their ‘day jobs’. It’s not always possible, and I worked hundreds of hours unpaid when I was starting out, but we work hard to try and get small pots of money for the artists so that when they are in our spaces they can also earn a living and pay collaborators. It’s a balance, yes, and a difficult one. I get frustrated by what I call Trust Fund companies who can afford to take 15 weeks out as they have some sort of pot of money behind them so they don’t need to work. I usually see straight through these companies – careerists, not genuine artists. We are about supporting the underdog, the impassioned committed individual. And they often do take the plunge and live in poor accommodation and fit creating work in around bar jobs, I know that. It’s reality, but we’re trying to eradicate that.
Run-Riot: What do you suggest for our (younger) readers who are hooked on watching circus and might want to give it a go themselves?

Adrian Berry: Come join our Adult Acrobalance group at Jacksons Lane. Head to the National Centre for Circus Arts and enrol on one of their short courses. Teach yourself to juggle with potatoes. Buy a low tight-wire and practice in the park. And come and talk to our artists to get inspired and see how they got started. Circus is one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet. You won’t regret it.

Check out all the things going on at jacksonslane.org.uk