Libby Bloxham: An Unexpected Journey

My first experience of Circus WOW was watching, gobsmacked, as the gaily-clad Stilt Mamas wheeled their really, really tall prams down the streets of Wollongong in the Viva la Gong Parade of 2004. Wow! How awesome! I wanted to do that. I joined an ‘introduction to WOW’ class, for women over 40 the following year when I was 47 and loved it. Encouraged by Maree Alwert, I continued to come along to classes. Thanks Maree! I threw myself into aerials, adagio, stilt walking, hooping, juggling, poi and even tumbling. I loved it but one by one the more strenuous of those disciplines have disappeared for me, as I aged. Stilt walking, and the costuming that goes along with it, was my favourite and I still love dancing on my stilts at festivals at 60 years of age. Not sure if it’s doing my hips in, or not?

Upon struggling financially and losing our home, along with Circus Monoxide, when we all had to move out of Bellambi, I saw a mutually beneficial opportunity to help WOW financially and for WOW to help me with the breast cancer fundraiser that along with my daughters and some friends I had been running for about three years. The girls had moved on and I needed help! Thus Circus WOW became an integral part of the Bubbles Ball, helping to run it and, of course, providing a lot of the outrageous entertainment that helped make it so fabulous as well as the totally fantastic job Maree Alwert did as the MC for several years.

I joined the Circus WOW committee in 2011 with a desire to know how the circus operated and to help. I was successful in gaining several Wollongong Council Cultural Services grants to enable WOW to purchase equipment such as the aerial rig and fund workshops and performances. I soon took over the position of performance and outreach coordinator to relieve Wendy Regan from several years in the job. This was with quite a bit of trepidation, never having done anything like that before.

I coped and remained in that position for 7 years, organising lots of gigs and some of WOW’s shows, such as the Christmas show in the Mall, Time out of Time, the steampunk Cabaret at Viva la Gong, The Superwomen Show at Viva and The Travelling Circus at the Shellharbour Club. I absolutely loved what Circus WOW added to my life, and adds to the lives of so many women. When our 10 year anniversary came in 2011, I wanted to help make it the celebration it deserved. I offered to curate an exhibition honouring the story of WOW (just as I felt moved to do for the 20 year celebration). I also took on the position of assistant director for the 10 year show to help, and learn about that role. This was one of my favourite times in WOW, helping to make that show and exhibition a success.

Costuming is a big part of my enjoyment in WOW and mostly I create costumes by re-purposing garments and bits and pieces from the op shop. I had an amazing journey turning discarded lampshades into outfits; hats, handbags and parasols included, to create The Lampshade Ladies. Seeing all the WOW women looking fabulous in them in the Red Point Wearable Art Showcase and the Viva la Gong Parade was very special. Creating the Medieval Court Dance and the accompanying stilt costumes, also for the Wearable Art Showcase, was so exciting and they looked wonderful gracing the streets in yet another Viva la Gong Parade.

I have many favourites of characters and costumes I have created. Those that gave me the greatest joy were Gilly the Christmas Elf, my steampunk characters, and making a giant Willy Wonka bar stilt costume for New Years Eve. Very uncomfortable! Learning to walk on the tight wire and actually performing three times on it and sticking it would have to be a highlight. One of my all-time favourite gigs was being a mime with Gem. Never having been a mime before, I just totally fell into character as we made them up on the job and easily maintained it for about 4 hours! I became the cheeky one to Gem’s more responsible character. I loved it, What a wonderful, rewarding and unexpected journey Circus WOW has been in my life. I love that every woman is welcome in WOW.

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