By Rana Khaled
Over decades, Egyptian filmmakers used to portray the circus artist as a poor guy who struggles with his family to earn his daily living under cruel life circumstances. They would focus on the artist’s low standard of living, the lack of the required equipment he needs for his work, and the absence of the security procedures that could guarantee a safe work environment for him, blaming the government for its ignorance and negligence for those artists. Unfortunately, this image reflects the reality in a powerful and pathetic way.
After long years of struggles to overcome life’s hardships, many Egyptian circus performers decided to give up on their careers and search for other professions, aiming to find a more stable source of income. At the same time, you’ll find a country like Finland among the European countries that pays special attention to the art of circus, providing a good model and example for Arab countries where circus performers are treated like second-class artists.
In some countries like Finland, every organisation must carry the responsibility of promoting and supporting this kind of art on its shoulders. The circus organisations play a great role in supporting new artists and providing them with a space for training, as well as libraries to gain more information about the art. The government provides them with grants to produce their shows and projects, while schools provide the best artistic education. In addition, large numbers of circus festivals take place every year, allowing new recruits a chance in the spotlight, and to introduce themselves to the audiences. Also, there are many dance and circus unions that advise artists on contracts and job opportunities.
In a special interview with Daily News Egypt, Karoliina Kuosmanen, the production manager of Cirko, one of the largest centres for contemporary circus in Finland, revealed the secret recipe behind the success of the Finnish circus industry. She provided many solutions for the deterioration the Egyptian circus art suffers from nowadays, and spoke of the future of Finnish circus art and its independent troupes.
What is the Cirko association, and what is the main role it plays in supporting the art of the circus in Finland?
Cirko association was founded in 2002, when a few circus artists who were the pioneers of the Finnish contemporary circus field at that time, along with the director of the Circus Info association, thought of establishing a centre to help develop the circus field in Finland. They started to search for the successful circus experiences and examples in many other countries around the world, including Sweden and France, which have had a long history in this field. and started to analyse their success factors.
The Cirko centre has two main objectives. Firstly, to help develop the circus field by providing circus artists with a good place for creating their artistic works and holding their rehearsals, which will eventually help them find new job opportunities and sustain the quality of the art itself. Secondly, to help the Finnish independent circus artists and troops go abroad and promote themselves and their art internationally. We have two studios where artists come and stay from two to six weeks to train and develop their performances.
How does Cirko association choose the artists it will support? What are the main selection criteria?
The circus groups apply for a month-training in Cirko, but they have to provide a clear plan for their final projects. We go through the applications and select the best 20 projects and provide them with a platform for creating their new work. For the new groups or emerging artists, we usually provide them with mentors or technical directors who can help them put their ideas together and present their work progress demo. At the end of the given period, we open the doors and invite people to come and watch the group’s live performances to evaluate them. The good groups always get a chance to perform their shows in the yearly Cirko festival in front of huge numbers of audience.
What’s the first step to become a circus artist in Finland?
Because circus artists here care about academic studies, most of those who are interested in the circus arts prefer to get a bachelor’s degree in Circus first. We have two circus schools in Finland, one in Lahti and another one in Turku, where you can be a specialised bachelor’s holder in the art of circus.
Unfortunately, so many circus artists prefer to go to France and Sweden to pursue their post-graduate studies. However, we exert a lot of efforts to keep in touch with them and draw them to come back to Finland to convey their knowledge, show their work and help develop the field. Most of them like to come back to teach here in their homeland.
Talk to us more about Cirko Festival and the activities it presents.
Cirko Festival is one of the biggest festivals that are wholly devoted to circus arts and performances. In 2006, the first Cirko Festival was established, aiming to present some local circus premiers and performances and bring other performances from abroad. We brought artists from Australia, Canada or North America, Sweden and France.
The festival takes place annually in May, and it presents more than 25 shows yearly. However, we have other smaller festivals, which host other circus shows during the year. In my opinion, the festivals are a good way for introducing what circus can be to larger audiences, as well as getting bigger media coverage and raising awareness about the importance of this art.
How do people perceive the circus art, and do they have enough awareness about it?
Unfortunately, theatre and dance and other popular arts have a longer history as recognised arts in Finland more than circus, which affects people’s perception towards it. However, Cirko’s main mission is to make this art at the same level as the other popular arts.
Surprisingly, the circus schools became very popular in Finland recently. We have a new circus network that has about 40 or 50 schools, where children from different ages can learn the circus art as a hobby beside their studies. According to the teachers who work in such schools, the number of the children is gowning dramatically, which gives a good indicator that children became more curious about this art. This grabs more families and parents to come and see the circus performances and know more about this art.
What’s the role of the Finnish government in supporting the circus industry? What are the main obstacles that face circuses in Finland nowadays?
To be honest, the government pays special attention to the circus art, as it provides public funding for circus artists and provides from one to five-year individual grants funded by the ministry of culture and education. However, we have a little struggle with the funding nowadays. In Cirko, we care more about the quality of the art work, as it’s our main goal. Thus, our main income source is the tickets we sell at the festival every year, which isn’t enough.
As we know, the circus art is very dangerous. How do you guarantee the safety of the artists? Is working as a circus performer considered a profitable job in Finland?
As for the safety, we have a technical director who is responsible for the security aspects of the rehearsals and performances. He knows how to deal with accidents that rarely happens. We also ask the artists and the groups to bring their own equipment, as well as having some insurance policies against accidents.
As for making profits, it really depends on the artist himself. Artists who travel abroad or work as directors or teachers earn a lot of money, which guarantees a good standard of living for them and their families.
What are your future plans for promoting circus in Finland?
I think we still have a lot to do. Until now, some people don’t know what contemporary circus is. I believe it’s our responsibility to promote such art, make it more popular, interact with the interested audience and answer their questions about circus. I’m glad to say that the Finnish contemporary circus is well-recognised abroad for its quality and originality, but we still need to exert more efforts to promote it on a wider global scale, and we need to raise our popularity in the Middle East and the Arab world.