Penelope Lowther

WOW where do I start! When I decided to form a Women’s circus in Wollongong I had no idea what an incredible adventure it would be. I was a 37 year old woman with no circus experience, a hazy memory of gymnastics when I was 14 and a fire in my belly. I had attended a 3 day circus workshop with Jean Taylor from the Melbourne Women’s Circus in the late 1990’s and was hooked. I planned to run away to Melbourne to join the circus but instead I created WOW. I was with WOW from 2001 -2006

I remember our first circus workshop at the railway institute, early January 2001 in Thirroul. We didn’t have any idea what we were doing. We tried some basic gymnastics and some fire twirling but it was obvious we needed Trainers. Maryke del Castillo was visiting Soraya on break from Circus School in New Zealand and she became one of our first trainers. We had many fabulous trainers over the years. So began my love affair with Circus.

Over hundreds of hours of blisters, aching muscles, sweat, tears and laughter I learnt the skills necessary to become a circus performer. There is nothing like the bonding, trust and camaraderie you create with each other as you strive to master skills, or build up your core flexibility and strength. The trust needed to keep each other safe, as you learn to balance on each other, flip, spin and rotate with accuracy and precision timing. To laugh at the bloopers that end with faces in crutches and pyramids collapsing in laughter.We all grew quickly in our skill levels of our chosen modalities and soon we were being asked to perform at various public events. The first big performance I remember was performing a fire show as part of the Flame finale of Viva la Gong Festival in April 2001. Myself and approximately 20 Circus WOW women trained in fire twirling with Jenny Marshall for several months.

I remember the incredible sound of the flames as we spun them through the air, dancing and twirling around our bodies, balancing on each other, creating a spectacular vision of fire in the night as we crossed the estuary to help light the finale sculptures. I also remember the laughter afterwards in the retelling of how the tide had risen since rehearsals and some women were standing on tippy toes trying to keep flames alight and not be swept out to sea. The magic of performance.

In August 2001, WOW did our first Clown Workshops with Angela de Castro, an international clown touring from the UK. This workshop changed my life and for me a clown was born. I loved everything about clown and knew that this was what I wanted to do. Soraya and I formed a life long bond and Pam and Dee were created. There are moments in time where Circus characters and acts are forged, they’re pure magic, everyone loves them and they are burnt into the collective memories for all time. Pam and Dee had this magic. Soraya and I flowed with endless possibilities and wild antics for Pam and Dee and we milked it for a good three years!

The focus on clowning and comedy was very strong in WOW as many of us were naturally funny and loved fooling around. We were also influenced by Alicia Battestini, a very funny performer for Circus Monoxide. Alicia showed us how the simplest of skills could be wonderfully entertaining if framed right, and for many of us comedy gave the perfect frame. We also lived and breathed beside Circus Monoxide and the various visiting performers/trainers, watching them develop their shows which were always humorous and quirky.

Maryke, Alicia, Soraya and Wendy joined forces and began to choreograph and up skill WOW to create better and better acts. There are so many wonderful memories of endless hours practising tricks and routines in the Bellambi warehouse, the drive to get it right, to create something clever, skilful, funny and moving. It was our second home and our Circus family.

We began to develop signature acts and aesthetics. The acrobatic, bathing girls, with their flower bathing caps, the Surf Life saving Iron Women on their ironing boards, the Stilt Mummas, with their giant pram on stilts, Seagulls on Stilts, juggling routines, adagio routines, aerials and fire. We performed in shows at The New Theatre South, IPAC, in halls, at Festivals and on the streets. We were a part of so many community Festivals and we helped change the cultural landscape of Wollongong.

In 2002 we dreamed big and created our first full theatre show at IPAC called What’s Her Story?, directed by Maryke with the help of Wendy and Soraya. We spent all year raising funds, creating acts to sell, writing grants, rehearsing the skills needed for the final acts and finally we did it. It was an incredible show that highlighted how far WOW had come in skills and performance. It was funny, delightful and moving. family friends and community loved it, We loved it. I remember the sense of pride I felt in myself and everyone involved in achieving such a huge milestone. There were times when we didn’t think we’d make it and yet we overcame all obstacles and created a memory that burns so vividly in Circus WOW’s history.

Many shows have followed this one, some with individuals some with all of WOW, but What’s Her Story? for me holds the magic as our first Theatre show. I left WOW in December 2006 and headed off to Join Maryke @ Tutti Frutti and toured SKI-BOOM, a Street Theatre show internationally for three years, based in London and two years nationally. We also created The Travelling Flea Circus.

I left Tutti Frutti in 2011 and created my own company, Lady Penelope Presents, which has several solo Puppetry and Clown acts. I also became a Clown Dr and worked in Brisbane, Gold Coast and Lismore Hospitals.

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