Interview with Spenser Inwood & Debra Iris Batton, A Good Catch Circus

"The last 2 years have definitely impacted the way we made our new work. We spent a lot of time on Zoom, talking, writing and creating on our own, a very different approach from Casting Off which was created on the training floor, trying new tricks, letting our lives interrupt and inspire us."

Interview with Spenser Inwood & Debra Iris Batton, A Good Catch Circus

Could you first introduce yourselves to the reader?

Hello, my name is Spenser Inwood, I am the artistic director and one of the 3 founding members of A Good Catch Circus. We are an Arthouse Circus company based in Melbourne, Australia. The company’s philosophy is: to disagree, to seek understanding and to grow with new knowledge. We have all been performing and making physical performances for over 20 years. 

Hello I am Debra Iris Batton, I am a senior acrobat and one of the three directors/performers of A Good Catch Circus.

How would you describe your show?

Spenser: Zoë is a mix of circus, physical theatre and movement. The show has been group devised over the last 2.5 years and we have been experimenting with costume, sound and projection. We wanted all of these artforms including the circus to be of equal value and importance in the making of Zoë, which has led to some intriguing discoveries as well as some absurd connections. Zoë is a reflection of our world as it deals with the climate crisis, capitalism and the commodification of all species and values. Zoë is a post-humanist circus, she is a vital life force, there will be a table and the world is invited. 

Debra: Zoë is atmospheric and expresses an abstracted response to the question, ‘how do we invite the world to the table?’, including the table! We all know that who is at the table makes a difference. 

Zoë grapples with the climate crises and advanced capitalism, with symbiotic relationships and respect for all species. It seeks hope and embraces the absurd as we become symbionts – or hybrid entities-. Our head pieces, designed by Clara Mee Yee Chan are soft sculptures, deliberately awkward for acrobatics, asking us to think and move differently. (https://clarameeyeechan.weebly.com/)

It is a soulful work with an original music score composed by Naima Fine that includes sound design along with the text we generated during lockdowns. (https://finefinesmallmountain.wordpress.com/naima-fine/)

We are all Zoë, we are all connected and we must care for each other as multiple identities. It is cooperation not competition that will save the world.

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

S: Why, well why wouldn’t you come to the biggest Fringe festival in the world? Especially given the last few years of disruption. We feel like it's a brilliant opportunity to re-engage with the international market. As we have been stuck in Australia for the last 2.5years. We were in Edinburgh in 2018 with our first show Casting Off, and we are stoked to bring Zoë (our newest work) as well as a return season of Casting Off to Edinburgh for this year's festival. 

D: Yes, EdFringe brings us closer to the international world, we are interested in sharing our work with audiences who are unafraid of experimental and challenging work that continues to develop what is possible in the art form of circus. We hope to develop relationships with our peers across the word as well as potential partners and presenters. We also get to see performances in a range of styles and post covid we feel bereft of this.

What differentiates it from other festivals?

S: For us, Edinburgh Fringe is one of the best ways for Australian circus to be recognised on the international stage. We also find that our particular style of circus has a place in the broad range of work that audiences have come to expect from the Edinburgh Fringe festival. EdFringe embraces everything from the weird and wonderful to the glitter and glam, the ruckus and funny to the political and serious. This means we can make very different work but still find people that want to see it. We see our experiments with circus as creative adventures and we need adventurous audiences too.

D: Audiences will take a risk in Edinburgh, they are willing and even seeking the shows that might change their thinking not just reinforce existing habits. Well, I guess that’s audience we hope to engage anyway. 

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

S: I grew up in a children's circus in Australia, called the Flying Fruit Fly Circus. I spent 10 years training and performing nationally and internationally. This is where I fell in love with all that is involved with making devised ensemble work. I started directing work in my early teen years and I have always found as much joy in the creation of work as I have in the performing of it. One of my biggest inspirations was seeing Circus Oz perform in 1999 and realising that I could continue to run away with the circus even as an adult. 

D: My body was my initial motivation, after 17 years in gymnastics I encountered contemporary dance at university. It was like finding myself again, I realised that the information in my body had another form of expression. I transformed from sporty type to arty type and after working with small companies in dance I found my way to Circus Oz, it was like returning to home. I found my authenticity as I incorporated gymnastics and dance. My curiosity soon led me to physical theatre. I cultivated making theatre that included contemporary performance principles – devising with an ensemble with text, dance, circus and harness work – I was the Artistic Director of Legs on the Wall for almost 10 years. 

My inspirations include Circus Oz too as well as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Sankai Juku, Pina Bausch, Archaos, The Judson Church collective NY.

How has your background, upbringing and education had an impact on your artistic career?

S: My parents have always been very supportive of my need to be a circus performer. My time at the Flying Fruit Fly Circus gave me so many opportunities to connect with other professional performers, makers, stage managers, riggers and all of the other roles that are connected to the performing arts, from this I was lucky enough to learn a lot of my craft on the job rather than through a tertiary institution. I also have had to deal with chronic illness in my early 20's which strengthened my desire to make my own work and to create work with other like-minded. I learned a lot in the years of my illness, things that I don't think I would have until much later in my life, I had to face my vulnerabilities, this only increased the hunger in me to make work and share my experiences with the world and to engage in the exchange between the audience and performer. 

D: It was doing a Bachelor of Education in Physical Education that introduced me to Contemporary Dance, a pivotal moment in my life when I began a transformation from sporty type to arty type. I am currently doing a MA Art in Public Space at RMIT and this course introduced me to philosopher Rosi Braidotti, her work in Posthuman Knowledge has given me a new way of thinking and this currently informs my arts practice, my thinking, my seeing and how I want to be in the world.

What is your earliest childhood art memory?

S: I must have been about 5-6yrs and I remember being in the school end of year play, I was cast as the lead Lizard in 'Wombat Stew'. I loved it and remember taking the lines very seriously and making sure my lisp was just right on all of the s's in my lines. I'm not sure you would call it art but it is the earliest memory I have of me connecting to live performance.
D: Swinging on the swing in my backyard.

If you didn’t have your current job, what would you probably be doing?

S: I am not really sure to be honest. There has never really been anything else for me. I did get into a Bachelor of Science course out of high school but I never went as I was too determined to make circus my career.

D: Teaching, academia or counselling or Gardening 

Did Covid-19 change the way you create work? Do you approach shows with a different mentality now?

S: The last 2 years have definitely impacted the way we made our new work. We spent a lot of time on Zoom, talking, writing and creating on our own, a very different approach from Casting Off which was created on the training floor, trying new tricks, letting our lives interrupt and inspire us. We do allow our work to bubble up as we try out new skills and notice interactions. As for moving forward, we are dreaming bigger for the next one, we want to reconnect with our community and invite more people into our ensemble, which also means more grant writing, and finding partnerships to take a risk with us. Perhaps covid has taught us to go for it while we can!  We realised fairly early on in the pandemic that artists were already very good at crisis management as our work is full of the unexpected so the biggest difference for us is that everyone else is in a higher level of crisis management than usual. 

D: Yes, almost 50% of Zoë’s creation was made in lockdown. We had to spend more time in theoretical discussion and find ways to nurture our creative responses. In those Zoom meetings with our creative team, we all made contributions including drawings, paintings, videos, poems, and dances/solo tumbling sequences. It was beautiful as we all felt so vulnerable working without being in a corporeal relationship. Also as mentioned above it created the space for me to begin further education and this has changed my way of being in the world (well it’s still in process).

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

S: Vital connections and uncertain deadlines.

D: Balconies, screens, waiting, stop, go

Do you subscribe to the idea that art should be exempt from ‘cancel culture’?

S: I think art is a place to challenge ideas, ask questions and help people find new and better answers. I'm not sure that it should be exempt from cancel culture but I do think art needs to be able to scrutinise the world and reflect it back to us so that we can all grow. 

D: I don’t subscribe to cancel culture, like Spenser said, art should create questions and produce further conversation not shut things down with value judgements. It can be provocative and it can offer possibilities. Art offers multiple responses and singular reactions can be unfairly attributed to an artist or their work.

If you could work with anybody, from any point in history, who would you pick and why?

S: Mary Shelly (author of Frankenstein). Why? Because she was ahead of her time, with a fantastical mind. She founded a new genre of writing all when writing was not a women’s profession.

D: The Australian suffragettes 1900s because they made changes to social and work constructs that have benefited humankind ever since. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

S: Know why you are going, whether that be to sell tickets or to get presenters to see your work, focus on that and have fun.  Edinburgh is a marathon not a sprint. Remember to play with your audience, when you are flyering, when you are partying and when you are performing. Oh and expect to lose about $10,000. 

D: Talk to lots of people who have done it before and know that every show and every artist will have a different experience. It’s tough to get audiences unless you’re a TV or screen/social media personality, but you will have the chance to understand your work in an international context at this point in time. You might get some useful reviews, you might also get other artists seeing your work and they are often open to talking about your work with you, but, you need to ask them.

When and where can people see your show?

Zoë is on from the 3rd - 14th of August @ 3:30pm, Roxy Central, Assembly 

and Casting Off is on from the 17th - 29th @ 3:30, Roxy Central, Assembly. 

And where can people find, follow and like you online?

You can find our website @ agoodcatchcircus.com, on facebook agoodcatchcircus, Instagram @agoodcatchcircus and TikTok @agoodcatchcircus. 

Header Image Credit: Claudia Sangiorgi-Dalimore

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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