No Fit State are one of the few remaining circus groups who tour in a big top tent. Tom Rack tells us about Lexicon, which draws on the history of the art form

To what extent is Lexicon based on the history of circus?

Our show is not the history of circus but rather a contemporary circus company being informed and inspired by our heritage and tradition. We take a really wide look at the history of circus and the whole boom of popular entertainment that has happened in the last 250 years. We wanted to create something that speaks about that, but is also very fresh and different.

You also try and look into the future of circus, I hear.

Yes. It’s a personal point of view, but a lot of contemporary circus neglects a lot of the heritage of circus in its desire to be original and cutting-edge. The roots are forgotten. What we’ve made a point of doing is going back to those roots, back to the backbone of the circus with the seated audience and the ring. Obviously we don’t have horses in the show, but we have images that reference that. We wanted to be a contemporary circus that draws on the past and is fit for the future.

Most of your audience won’t have your intrinsic knowledge of circus’s history. Can it be a challenge to relate that to them?

Yes, although we’re not preachy or didactic. We create images that are accessible. At the heart of it is just a thumping great show. There is a narrative but there isn’t a story. It’s dramatic but it’s not drama, it’s theatrical but it’s not theatre. The kids will enjoy the excitement and the colour, and the adults might see the references to circus or film or literature. Circus can have that universal appeal, and we try and widen that appeal to make it accessible for kids from eight to 80. It amazes me how really young kids can sit there for two hours completely spellbound.

How do you see circus changing in the future?

One of the things that is a real boon is circus schools, and young talent being developed. That’s great but we also need to careful of it. We have some really talented young people in our show, but the opportunities in the industry aren’t developing at a similar pace. We formed a circus and now 30 years on we’re a company with a reasonable profile. That’s harder and harder for young artists to do.

It seems like more and more theatre shows are incorporating elements of circus. How do you feel about that?

There’s a growing interest from theatregoers and dance companies to bring circus into their work. Again, that’s great, but from a purist circus point of view, you have to wonder whether somehow... as a circus we travel in a caravan and perform in a big top. We live a traditional circus lifestyle. We feel that gives our work a heart, soul and spirit, but with this step change I feel there’s a danger of that being lost.

For us it’s not a job it’s a way of life, but for some of these people who turn up at 6pm in a theatre, it’s become a job. That becomes slightly less magic. We eat, breathe and sleep it – it’s a 24-hour job. It’s hard for young performers to set that kind of company up for themselves. Having said that, adversity breeds creativity and there are some young people doing some amazing work.

Does travelling together breed a greater level of trust between the performers?

I think that’s a fantastic by-product. Circus groups tour like that for different reasons, some of which are just financial. But you’re right, there is a trust that comes through living together and putting up the tent together. That’s the bit I feel that companies who stay in hotels and tour in theatres are missing out on.


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