An interview with Will Chamberlain, Director of Belfast Community Circus School

O'Gorman, Siobhán (2015) An interview with Will Chamberlain, Director of Belfast Community Circus School. In: Devised performance in Irish theatre: histories and contemporary practice. Carysfort, Dublin, pp. 261-278. ISBN 9781909325784

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Will Chamberlain moved from Switzerland to Ireland in the late 1990s, when he took up his current role as director of Belfast Community Circus School. Prior to this, he was a professional clown and community circus teacher for twelve years. He also worked as a more general arts practitioner and advocate for community arts, serving for three years as chair of the Community Arts Forum (CAF). CAF had been founded at a meeting of community arts activists in Belfast in 1993. The forum has since ceased operation due to cuts in Arts Council funding. The conversation below took place across from CAF’s former headquarters, in the middle of Writer’s Square, in July 2013.
For three decades, Belfast Community Circus has operated as a forum for fostering the personal development of young people from some of the most disadvantaged communities in Northern Ireland. In the early 1980s, Donal McKendry and Mike Moloney had responded to diverse Northern Irish young people’s pressing needs for positive shared experiences by introducing community circus in Northern Ireland. With the help of McKendry and Moloney, Belfast Community Circus was established in 1985. Since then, the initiative has become ‘one of the most prolific arts organizations in Northern Ireland and a leading light in the international world of social circus’ (‘History’), winning such honours as the final Guardian Jerwood Award for Excellence in The Community (1999).
The school itself is located on Gordon Street and offers a range of youth circus programmes for children and young people from different communities, training for professional performers and circus arts teachers, and a venue for hosting local, national and international circus productions. In 2012, for example, Belfast Community Circus School provided training for Karen Anderson, Emily Aoibheann and Elaine McCague, the trio who had formed in 2011 PaperDolls, a Dublin-based performance group specializing in contemporary circus in addition to multidisciplinary, live, immersive and experimental art. In addition, the activities of the school featured prominently in the 2013 RTÉ four-part documentary series, John Lonergan’s Circus, offering – with the facilitation of Lonergan, former governor of Mountjoy Prison – circus training for young people from disadvantaged regions of Dublin city as a way of boosting creativity, self-esteem, teamwork and discipline. In 2004, Belfast Community Circus launched its annual international street arts festival, the Festival of Fools. The festival has been growing from strength to strength, receiving in 2006 an Arts and Business award for work in the community undertaken with the Laganside Corporation.
The ultimate mission of Belfast Community Circus is to: ‘Transform lives and communities through the power of circus arts and street theatre’ (‘Ethos and Mission’). In Chamberlain’s view, the democratic leanings of genres such as community arts and street theatre can bridge social and cultural divides by fostering a sense of togetherness in the moment for performers and audiences alike, as well as helping to overcome perceptions of the arts as the special provenance of cultural elites. He sees the potential of the arts to have an important impact on everyday lives and lived experiences, on people’s relationships with space and place, and even on commerce – although he remains steadfast in promoting the ideal of arts as an experience rather than just a commodity. In his 2004 essay, ‘Access, Authorship, Participation and Ownership,’ Chamberlain writes in detail about misconceptions concerning, and insufficient funding for, community arts. Based on this interview conducted more than a decade later, it appears that the ways in which community arts are funded and valued still need to improve. Yet, Chamberlain remains determined to fulfill a range of goals in the arts that he believes can foster positive social change.

Keywords:Theatre, circus, Community theatre, Drama, Irish Studies
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W460 Theatre Design
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V211 Irish History
W Creative Arts and Design > W440 Theatre studies
W Creative Arts and Design > W430 Producing for Theatre
W Creative Arts and Design > W420 Directing for Theatre
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Performing Arts)
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ID Code:24332
Deposited On:04 Oct 2016 10:52

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