Case Study: Circability

Community circus connects people of all ages and abilities

Circability Photo

A group of children wait as several van loads of strangers arrive to watch the dress rehearsal of their first show using newly learnt circus skills.  To their relief, their tumbling, balancing, juggling and puppetry are met with resounding approval.

As the children meet their audience afterwards they realise these adults have a range of intellectual challenges including Down syndrome, and they are circus performers too.

“I can balance five plates in the air,” says 38-year-old Jared Barrington from A Supported Life disability service in West Auckland. He takes hold of a stick with a spinning plate balanced on top, and more  until, with a cheer from the crowd, he’s got six.

It looks difficult, but Circability creative director Thomas Hinz reckons anyone can circus, regardless of their age, ability or mobility. With a wide range of equipment and activities involved, there’s something for everyone, from acrobatics and aerial arts to balancing objects and clowning.

Connecting people from all backgrounds

Community circus is a social artform that uses circus skills to promote personal and social development. Known internationally as ‘social circus’, it is open and participatory, connecting people from all backgrounds.  The emphasis on colour, fun, movement and humour makes it attractive to children. It also holds special appeal to marginalised groups such as at-risk youth, people with disabilities, mental health, learning or behavioural issues.

As a non-mainstream artform, circus offers something unique, ‘cool’ and interesting to be part of. It is a non–competitive, inclusive alternative to traditional sports which can appeal to even reluctant exercisers.

Improving people’s physical, learning and social skills

A 2013 report on Developing Community Circus in Aotearoa found that circus skills improve people’s physical capabilities including health, fitness, co-ordination, balance and motor skills. Being part of a team effort enhanced  social skills such as co-operation, communication, trust, respect, support and empathy. Circus also supported learning by developing a willingness to try new things, concentration, aspiration, perseverance and task completion. Circus promotes mental wellbeing by creating a sense of achievement and belonging. It provided an outlet for ‘safe’ risk taking. Circus can be an agent for social change through performances with positive social messages such as anti- bullying. Circus can break down barriers, challenge prejudice and change attitudes. 

The Circability Trust has been Auckland’s Community Circus since 2012. Thanks to the Waitemata Local Board, it’s based at Victoria Park in the refurbished historic Campbell Free Kindergarten.  It provides programmes for a variety of groups as well as holding shows, forums, convention and professional development.

Winner of the 2013 Arts Access Aotearoa Community Partnership Award, Circability’s key partners are Hohepa Auckland and the Toi Ora Live Arts Trust along with a wide range of arts,  community and circus organisations in New Zealand and overseas, including a 10-year partnership with Cirque du Soleil.

A 2013 report on Developing Community Circus in Aotearoa