Laughter and dare devilry without cruelty
Swamp is an animal-free circus-theater born in 1986, with an environmentally flavored artistic direction and a vegan philosophy.
In 1985, after several months of trying to get a vegan menu at Her Majesty's Pleasure, I was allowed back to menace society with vegetarian morality and launch a new circus. The 'activities' to avoid had been squarely marked out but I'd rather be controlled outside than in. Being against all suffering, it is easy to 'burn out'; it's often harder to create something fresh -- a fragile, emotional process, a gamble with painful upsets. Working closely with human beings can be that test...
I suspect scientific lies
That whales are committing suicide
A bleeding, beaching, choking fate
Struggling to communicate
That seas and skies are growing dim
As lies and waste are taken in
Threatening future life and kin
Circus-theater is an excellent medium for ideas -- comic, colorful, spectacular images, live music and audience involvement allow communication without language.
In 1988 we performed and traveled in what was the Soviet Union, where each city has its own purpose-built circus and circus arts are viewed on a level with ballets and opera. Unlike the British mobile zoos, the Soviet and Chinese circuses are based on stunning human performance. At home, new circus was growing with accessible skills in the community. Many began to juggle, fall off stilts and unicycles and dance, BMX and skateboards joined our clowns in youth centers. Our workshops and projects took us from Special Needs Units, hospitals and schools to castles, sports centers, theaters and then eventually, to our own big top.
Our Own Tent!
Since 1992 we have been touring our tent, show and circus school across Britain. A blue and yellow striped tent with 300 tiered seats, ring, two stages and backdrop forming a mobile theater with trapeze and swinging aerial acts in the air above. Our acts are very much a part of the story with live music, characters, jugglers, rope-artists, acrobats, trick-cyclists, stilt-creatures and clowns. The circus calls for multi-talented performers, varied jobs and hard work -- we would especially like to hear from vegan acrobats and administrators!
The spirit of joy
Has left the lonely boys
In the heart of the city
Though our shows have an ecological flavor our audiences come from all walks of life and we are always eager to play in new areas rather than the safe, 'right on' public. Last summer we enjoyed tremendous appreciation in Germany where green consciousness was in vogue but vegans seemed rare. Maybe it's easier to be vegan when you are poor! It was refreshing though, to receive appreciation for artistic skill and energy alongside ideological content, even from German circus proprietors. In England promoters occasionally mention that they'd like something a 'bit more traditional', but that is paranoid state of things in 1995 -- we have to go forward somehow!
Living next to the canal, one day I met an elephant chained to a steel ring set in concrete. It was part of the dwindling number of English family circuses, and a desperate reminder of the animal freak show and human greed, bleed and speciesism -- why pay good acrobats when the elephant will dance for free? Looking into the wise-weary eyes of these down-trodden giants raises a great sadness and anger. How do we fight for a new way, an expression for today? We need to support the alternatives... but where is the support and investment?
It is the struggle to continue and grow that is the thorn wedged firmly in the side of romantic ideal. How to train in human circus skills? How to raise funds and administrate an 'alternative' business? How to pay, feed and accommodate artistes in a blue and yellow collection of old trucks and caravans -- help -- any ideas -- it all comes together in the end. A mixture of characters, nationalities, temperaments and beliefs working together daily in close contact for 6 months.
The Swamp-Plan Diet
Though there is no enforced veganism the circus only cooks vegan meals. Most of the performers are vegetarian and vegan is more practical on the road where refrigeration is unreliable. An accompanying catering outfit with an exotic varied menu and tempting food for the public is a beautiful dream. It's often difficult to be gastronomically creative at the end of a long sweaty day but it's funny how palates change, and even die-hard German, sausage-eating jugglers can proclaim themselves vegetarian after half a year's rice, daal and veggie burgers! A typical Swamp menu for 15 is: Big crunchy sesame salad/pakoras/curry and cous-cous followed by flapjack. It would be excellent to introduce vegan food to inquisitive audiences in France and Germany where veganism is still in infancy.
Support the Dream
Back to the present and our church, Looking Glass Spire, set on a hill with weather worn graveyard. At last after years of hiring, borrowing space and training in France we now have a center -- Greentop. It's a circus school, theater, rehearsal space, vegan café and environmental base. It is from here that we have launched 'Earthcirc' -- a circus and tree planting project in West Africa.
To make and spread our dream needs energy and investment. We appeal for support or exchange -- write or call in at any time.
Contact: Swamp Circus Theater, Hall Road, Brightside, Sheffield S4 8AS, United Kingdom.