Circus Mockumentary Common Ground comes from Upswing, a contemporary circus company based in London.
The circus/comedy short film (Commissioned by The Space Arts, centres the stories of performing artists from the Global Majority and is a sharp satire on the experience of auditioning for the (all too common) only Global Majority position on a new show.
We Spoke to rising comedy star Athena Kugblenu about the film and how it tackles subjects such fairness, equality in a playful, tongue-in-cheek way .
Please introduce yourself …
I am a stand-up comedian and comedy writer Athena Kugblenu
Why Common Ground?
A long time ago Vicki told me she’d like to do a show that combined circus and stand-up. And I was like “yeah, sure, that sounds fun“. And every now and again she would mention it and I would again nod and say “yep, still sounds fun“. A couple of years later she calls me up and says “I’ve got the money to do that circus/stand-up comedy show idea, now you have to help us write it.” I was kind of committed by that point.
Tell us about your character and what their goal is in Common Ground …
The live show won’t feature my character but my character in the film represents the cynical way Global Majority people are sometimes used in the creative industries; it tends to be about representing, being an ‘authentic voice‘ or in this case being a ‘face’ of a circus. It’s less often about having real competency of craft. Sometimes your art is judged more on how it educates people about whatever the heck it is you’re supposed to represent, or, make white audiences feel less guilty because you’re using art to communicate trauma. My character is trying to write a circus show with earnestness, not craft, at its core. This is very boring.
Tell us about working with your fellow cast …
I revere the cast of this film but don’t tell them because they will think I am silly. But their love of what they do for a living was infectious. Throughout our research for the live show and rehearsals for the film, they demonstrated not only insane physical ability but openness to the idea of storytelling, in what was often quite a personal way for them. They were willing to do anything for the craic. All completely good eggs, the lot of them.
What does Common Ground mean to you personally as a creative?
I work alone a lot so the chance to work with other creatives, to help them achieve their vision is not a chance to say ‘no‘ to. If we pull this off (which of course we will) we will end up with a live show that is the result of a conversation two creatives had over a coffee. How many creative ideas ever get realised, especially ones that are quite frankly, nuts? It’s a nice prospect.
Athena Kugblenu – Image Credit: Dan Martin
Tell us about a challenging moment during this project that you had to dig deep to get through it.
Shane, one of the cast, can do a Rubik’s cube in about 30 seconds. He brought it in for one rehearsal and I was mesmerised. I got obsessed and bought one. I learned, but it takes me about 28 minutes. And during the research, I coached the cast to each write and perform a little bit of stand-up. In one afternoon they all genuinely had something that could easily pass for decent comedy on an open mic stage. It took me about 6 months to get to that point. I had to dig deep to keep going with my career after that. It all ran really smoothly, I think it’s nice to be in a room and asked to be good at your job, rather than be the ‘Black‘ cast member or ‘Chinese‘ cast member or whatever. The only thing we were representing was our talent.
Tell us a memorable moment on set.
Eric is good for providing memorable moments. You’ll be sitting around eating cake and then you’ll look up just and see him doing something random like hanging upside-down from the ceiling, like Batman. Vicki was a bit too good at giving me ‘she’s an idiot‘ faces. I can’t quite shake that off either.
Which scene/character best defines what you love about this project?
So the beautiful thing about this project is that each character is an essential pillar, they represent a real-world experience that we want to completely reject when we make this show. But at a push, I would say Eric’s character is really important. If we were less willing to exploit ourselves, or educated enough to know when that is happening, we would be less complicit in the reductive roles we sometimes find ourselves playing. But, then, of course, we gotta eat.
Write the show, perform the show.
How do we keep up to date with you and your work?
I’m on everything, handle is @athenakugblenu for it all.