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 the films director Vicki Dela Amedume Artistic Director of Upswing …
Please introduce yourself …
Hi, I’m Vicki Amedume, Artistic Director of Upswing a contemporary circus company. I used to be a circus artist but now I mainly direct and choreograph other performers, which means I can spend a lot more time sitting in a chair drinking tea.
Why Common Ground?
The project came from the many conversations I have had with Black and Global Majority people about the Highlander diversity principle (if you are of a certain age, you will get that reference) but it is the idea that ’there can be only one’. We find ourselves in spaces where we are being compared with the few or only other Global Majority persons, purely on the basis of skin colour with very little to do with anything else about our individual talents, interests or tastes. That pressure or assumption of competition was usually coming from outside forces (this didn’t make it into the film) but I remember being in one audition where I could actually see the director mentally “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” between me and the only other black woman in the room, like we provided an interchangeable diversity offer.
I was interested in using circus and the audition framework to create something that was a tongue-in-cheek reflection of these situations when the message is, ‘there is only one spot’ which can fuel conflict. In the film we create reflections on some of the ways that the artists involved have experienced that pressure but in our film they break free and there is a moment where we visualise what could happen if we all choose to opt out of that manufactured conflict and choose community over competition.
Tell us about your team – who did you work with and who did you depend on the most to get the job done?
I was so lucky to be working with incredible people – firstly Athena who is brilliant, truly intelligent in a way that makes me laugh every day. I met her a few years ago and have intermittently been harassing her until we finally were able to secure the funding to make the show. The whole cast is incredible, they have been vulnerable, generous and are all of course super talented. Afrikan Boy is a dream to work with. You just give him a vague idea of a vibe and an hour later there is a whole new incredible track. And our team behind the scenes have been incredible. Seriously it was an embarrassment of riches.
What does Common Ground mean to you personally as a director?
I am always trying to find new ways that circus can communicate ideas that mean something to the way we live now. As a circus director I love the way we have found through the form and it’s context, a way to explore our increasing unease with how we manage diversity in the UK; using the structure of competition to explore the idea “fair play”, an idea that we cling dearly to in the UK, the idea of our fair society, even though the evidence suggested most people get neither equal outcomes or chances.
Cast Of Common Ground – Image Credit: Dave Pickens
Tell us about a challenging moment during this project that you had to dig deep to get through?
Circus is risky and you have to navigate the risk of injury but ironically one of our cast was injured the day before filming not because of some crazy circus-related incident but because they slept at a funny angle the night before. We had to rework some of the choreography on the fly but the team were amazing at finding adjustments that made it possible to move forwards and I think watching the film you would not notice.
Tell us a memorable moment from idea to final edit?
I remember the first R&D we did, we were in the room with five young Black male-identifying circus artists talking and it tore my heart out that they all said this was the first time they were in a room like this, with other Black men and they felt for the first time in their circus careers that they could just be themselves rather than a representative. It made me think of the roles we consciously and unconsciously cast ourselves in and how painful it can be, and it made me even more determined to make this show.
Which scene or character best defines what you love about this project?
I love Shane’s face in the film. He has a few Abbot Elementary-style looks to the camera that cracked me up. We were so lucky to have artists that are not only physically skilled but they all had fabulous comic timing.
We are making Common Ground into a full show this year We’re expanding the piece into an hour-long show that moves us out of the audition into a live talent show where the audience helps us decide which of them will win the prize to become the new (diverse) face of circus …
How do we keep up to date with you and your work?
You can keep up with our work over on:
& Youtube: @Upswing
Common Ground is available to stream now on Youtube