A Historical Overview of Subcase: the Nordic Circus Showcase, 2009–2022 - StageLync

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A Historical Overview of Subcase: the Nordic Circus Showcase, 2009–2022

It started as a small local event but quickly grew into a large popular international showcase. Subcase has filled an important function for presenters as well as circus artists – but also for the development of the art form.

Actually, Subtopia was not supposed to be a permanent host of one of the more popular circus showcases at all. But luckily, things don’t always turn out the way you thought they would. So, what happened? To answer that question, we need to go back to the year 2009, when there was a knock on the door of Kiki Muukkonen’s office. Kiki, who had taken on the role as head of Subtopia’s circus department a year earlier, opened it. Outside were two newly graduated students from the university circus programme (which was then situated in the area of Subtopia). They explained that they needed somewhere to show and promote their performances.

“There and then, we realised that there was an important piece of the puzzle missing to create that circus hub that Subtopia was supposed to become. There were Swedish artists who created fantastic performances and there were venues that wanted to present circus, but no obvious place for them to meet. So we decided to create such a place,” Kiki says.

Said and done. They scraped together a budget of SEK 20,000. “Money that was enough for a flyer, a technician and renting some lights,” as Kiki remembers.

In May, just two months after the knock on Kiki’s door, the first Subcase fair was launched and for two days, the whole of Subtopia was filled with circus. There were sixteen companies and about twenty presenters, mostly Swedish, but also some international. “It was wonderful! Circus everywhere! Hangaren didn’t exist yet, so it was outdoor performances, performances in the Circus Hall and in Loftet,” Kiki says.

When Subcase, which was supposed to be a one-off event, was over, it was clear that the event had filled an important role. There was potential here to do more.

The circus department expanded

The following year in 2010, Subtopia’s circus activities grew. A collaboration had begun with Manegen, at the time a completely newly created membership organisation for circus, and Subtopia had already become a member of the European network Circostrada. Both Manegen and Circostrada encouraged Subcase.

“A crucial happening was when Circostrada decided to organize their annual general meeting in Botkyrka at Subcase. That was wonderful! Fifty international presenters from fifteen countries would thereby attend the second edition of the showcase,” says Kiki.

The planning for a larger and more international Subcase was underway. Wolfgang Hoffman, the producer and presenter who today owns and operates the Aurora Nova artist agency in Berlin, believes that when it started, Subcase was already different from other circus fairs. “I’ve been to many international fairs but Subcase was different in both atmosphere and performance,” he says. “It was curious and open. You could clearly feel that there was great consideration and willingness to gather around circus as an art form.”

Wolfgang reflected on the fact that fairs can easily become hard and salesy, that artists almost have to elbow their way forward and that, as a presenter, one hardly dares to say anything for fear of being misunderstood.

“Subcase managed to strip all that away,” he says. “Instead, the networking, the meetings, the development of the art form, and the desire to show Swedish and Scandinavian circus were highlighted. It was very successful.”

Matchmaking artists and presenters during Subcase 2014. Photo Petter Hellman.
The Nordic region included

Subcase was a success for the Swedish circus scene. It was now time to take the next step. Attention was turned to the Nordic countries. The neighbouring countries were invited for the third edition and Subcase, which then became a Nordic showcase. The fair was moved from May to February so that presenters would have time to book performances before the summer.

“Thanks to the Nordic approach, Subcase became even more interesting; now presenters got the Nordic field gathered in one place. For us at Subtopia, this meant that we could apply for Nordic support for the event, and as the selection became larger, we were able to ensure an even higher level for the presented performances. All in all, it led to further quality improvement in several aspects,” Kiki says.

Salla Hakanpää. Photo Petter Hellman

As always, there were both pros and cons to this expansion. In this case, one disadvantage was that the event’s relevance to the Swedish municipality presenters decreased.

“Subcase showed productions that required larger budgets. International companies also need compensation for travel, food, and accommodation,” Kiki explains. At the same time, the Swedish companies felt that the international approach provided them more opportunities.

Recognition for circus

Jenny Soddu is a trained circus performer with a Master’s degree. Today she is active in the company M.P.A.C, known for their punky clown and acrobatic performances.

“Subcase raised the status of the art form and showed that circus should be taken seriously. Being selected as an artist and being able to show our pitch there felt important and opened up a lot of opportunities. Thanks to Subcase, as an artist, I have had several gigs and contacts—opportunities that I and my companies would probably never have had otherwise. For example, I have participated in productions that have been shown in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Lithuania,” says Jenny.

Sauna, tents, and matchmaking

In the next few years from 2012–2017, the fair grew further. This expansion meant increased opportunities for newly formed and as yet unknown companies to be seen and to reach out.
Two days became four. The Baltic countries were included, too, and Subtopia focused especially on developing the meetings between artist and presenter.

“Many people feel that there is a problematic hierarchical power relationship between artists and presenters. But, actually, we are interdependent,” Kiki says.

A success factor, she believes, has been the close collaboration with artists and presenters. Together, they continuously evaluated and further developed the fair based on the question of “what is needed right now?” New methods were then tried out. One year, for example, a sauna and meditation were offered while the fair foyer was filled with one-man tents where visitors could rest their heads from the intense networking.

One-man tents for those in need of a break during the intense Subcase days. Photo Alex Hinchliffe.

“We had also received feedback that artists didn’t know how to approach the presenters. That’s why we created a type of matchmaking where I personally matched artists and presenters in blind dates. They got two dates each, and it was most often successful,” Kiki says.

In addition to networking, the fair was also about the development of the circus art form and the artists’ conditions. Jenny thinks that Subcase seminars provided additional perspective, as industry-related issues were discussed and experiences exchanged there. “I’m thinking in particular of the important role Subcase has played in uplifting women in the circus industry.”

Wolfgang also mentions gender equality, seen from several aspects, as one of Subcase’s success factors. “The women in the industry were highlighted in an exemplary way. I was impressed by their confidence and security in the artistry and I know that Subcase has played an important role in creating that context.”

Subcase lays the foundation for a circus festival

The international impact was thus a reality. When Subcase was at its peak, there were representatives from almost every continent in the world: 200 delegates from 25 countries, including Canada, the USA, Brazil, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Argentina, Morocco, South Korea, and Australia.

“It was really exciting. With participants from all over the world, the event got a completely different feel and relevance,” says Kiki.

The bigger and longer Subcase got, the more venues were needed to accommodate the event. Collaborations with Södra Teatern, Södertälje Stadsscen, Dieselverkstaden, and Tumbascenen, among others, began.

“In practical terms, we had fair visitors transported all over the place in shuttles. The collaboration with the external stages required us to fill the auditorium with ‘regular audiences,’ i.e. not just industry people. Ahead of the 2017 fair, we realised that we had four public performances in different places in town… it was actually a small festival!”

WHS with Lähtö / Départ was a performance during Subcase 2016. Photo Ben Hopper.

Elin Borrie, marketing manager at Subtopia, hatched the name CirkusMania and a pilot edition of Stockholm’s new circus festival was born. In 2018, the Subcase fair took a break and all the effort was put instead into developing the circus festival with the support of the Swedish Arts Council. Kiki and her colleagues looked at similar events around the world, interviewed artists and presenters, and created the concept of CirkusMania.

CirkusMania – Stockholm’s new circus festival sees the light of day

The concept was ready in 2019 and the first official version of CirkusMania was launched with nine public performances on eight stages. The ninth edition of Subcase was arranged at the same time. But as an organiser, Kiki felt that times had changed. The needs and infrastructure of the world and the circus had as well. As part of the climate crisis, the ways of travelling were also in focus. Also, Subcase had fulfilled its mission: to create new connections and relations for Swedish circus and make it known in the international market.

“I remember suggesting in my welcome speech in 2019 that this might be the last time we saw each other in just these forms. We knew that what we had done up until now would not happen again. We needed to look forward. What are we doing for the circus now? We realised that the next step was to work more locally and deepen the development of the public circus festival,” says Kiki.

Therefore, 2020 concentrated only on the public circus festival, a focus that led to new and expanded regional collaboration. The program exploded into 55 program events in collaboration with 23 venues in 11 municipalities in the Stockholm region. Then came the pandemic and the 2021 fair went completely digital under the name Subcase Cyber. The physical festival had to be cancelled.

In 2022, a new joining of forces took off. The CirkusMania festival was opened on the same day as restrictions were lifted, and Subcase became a hybrid event in close collaboration with Manegen and the Swedish National Touring Theatre Riksteatern.

“Even though people at this time were tired of digital meetings, we managed to create something exciting. The fair became like a TV production, it almost felt like we were hosting Eurovision,” Kiki says and laughs.

Time for the next step

Wolfgang Hoffman is convinced that Subcase has played a crucial role in the development and expansion of contemporary circus. “The pitches were of the highest quality. This was a place where presenters and artists found each other; we joined forces around the art form. I work today with several companies that I have met through Subcase. Circus is really going forward and Subcase has had an important role in that development,” he says.

There is still a great need to create meeting places for artists and presenters. Meanwhile, Kiki is convinced that the role of Subcase needs to change. She is immensely proud of the work that has been done and that Subcase has been part of an era in the development of Swedish circus.

“You have to remember that we never meant to create an institution. Actually, Subcase has never even had its own logo! Now it’s time for the next step. The project formerly known as Subcase will be cherished as an inspiring memory, and its function will be transformed into something else – into the future, into the next era. We look forward to continuing to develop circus and co-create new ways forward with various stakeholders. That’s what both we and the circus need.”

Profile picture for Subcase 2015. Photo Alex Hinchcliffe.

This article was originally published at Subtopia.se.

Since 2012 Subcase has almost every year had a specific theme. Here are some examples:2012: Fuck art, make babies | 2013: It´s now or later | 2014: The party is where you are | 2016: The party is over | 2017: Still growing strong | 2019: Thank you for joining the ride | 2021: Turning shit into roses. More aboutSubcaseand CirkusMania.

Veronica Linarfve
Journalist -SWEDEN
Veronica Linarfve is a Swedish journalist and author. With a creative heart and structured mind she also runs a communications agency
that builds strategies and tells stories at the intersection of business, culture and society. When not working you find her in the audience at the nearest circus performance.

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Veronica Linarfve

Veronica Linarfve is a Swedish journalist and author. With a creative heart and structured mind she also runs a communications agency that builds strategies and tells stories at the intersection of business, culture and society. When not working you find her in the audience at the nearest circus performance.