Walking into the Circus space in Bellambi back in 2007 was like stepping onto the mythical island of Themyscira, origin home of Wonder Woman and the Amazons, the all-female society of superhumans, based on the Amazons of Greek mythology. A utopia beyond belief here in the Illawarra. A community of amazing women of all ages and backgrounds swinging from trapeze, dancing from web ropes and silks, tumbling, performing adagio, juggling hula hooping, learning new skills, and endlessly laughing, laughing, laughing. Supportive, inclusive, inspiring, as we told our stories: a history of women.
I had the great honour of working with the wonderful women of WOW from 2008–2011. There were so many highlights in that time. The stand out was simply the privilege of being a part of this incredible community. The very essence of Circus WOW is to provide opportunities for women of all ages, abilities and cultural backgrounds. Opportunities to acquire physical and technical circus skills while working in a safe, non-competitive and supportive environment. I was blown away by the absolute and total commitment to creating work around ideas of feminism and social change.
During these years some highlights include the collaboration with the brilliant theatre and costume designer and all-round creative, Imogen Ross. With a WCC grant we developed The Aviators. This performance was a homage to women Aviators (Nancy Bird, Amelia Earhart et al) and we premiered this at Viva la Gong, and later presented at Hoopla Festival in Sydney and various other festivals and events in the Illawarra. The implementation of the WOW business plan, a WCC grant secured and orchestrated by the WOW management committee (The Fidos) by a team of dedicated volunteer WOW members, who worked tirelessly on every project, training program and problem-solving strategy that came our way.
The first stage of the Bonded project, initiated by Janys Hayes, Ellen Dunn and Wendy Regan, incorporated stories from women who had been part of the Illawarra’s historically important, and now diminished, textiles and manufacturing industry. The Ski Bunnies, which was a crazy, debauched romp involving clowning, dance and acrobatics, performed as a cabaret piece at Merrigong’s Vault program in Port Kembla, tour to Perisher Ski Resort Folk festival and various clubs and parties in Wollongong and Sydney. The Circus WOW 10th birthday pop up exhibition, supported by WCC. Clowning and performance intensive with Drew Fairly and all of the wonderful work that came out of it.
WOW also remained committed, through its outreach circus skills workshops, providing opportunities for the socially isolated and disadvantaged members of the community, as well as those that use circus to explore issues of body image, self-esteem, social disadvantage, cultural awareness, or who just want to get fit in a fun, safe and inspiring way.
Circus Wow and Circus Monoxide were sharing the fabulous Bellambi circus space. The absolute joy of so many women in one place creating work, learning new skills, conquering fears and running amok was thrilling. It was an extraordinarily vibrant space. One looming challenge of that time was the inevitable end of the Bellambi Space as a circus building and home to both Circus Monoxide and Circus Wow. WOW necessarily embarked on the huge process of finding a new home, a place to carry on with the important work of running a women’s circus in a safe environment.
Throughout the search for a new physical base and to date, Circus WOW continued to create a diverse body of work that proved inclusive, often hilarious, beautiful and moving. Work which at times encapsulated criticism of social and political inequities’ and at other times presented awe inspiring images of beauty and grace, gobsmacking humour, a moving visual feast and feats of physical amazingness, full of joy.